Recently, our Mission Director Fr. David Wilton, assigned me to preach three parish missions in Australia along with three other priests of our Congregation. Upon hearing the news, I was excited and felt very blessed to have been chosen to preach the Gospel in another country. This would be my first trip overseas which also added to my enthusiasm. The flight was very long – fourteen and one half hours — but once my confreres and I landed in Melbourne the lengthy flight was soon forgotten. We were met in the airport by two very fine priests, Fr. Peter Austin and Fr. Brian Carey of the Diocese of Sandhurst in the State of Victoria. For the past two years, Fr. Austin has been the priest in Australia who has organized the missions for us.
Our first few days in Australia were spent at Fr. Austin’s parish in Rochester so that we could recuperate from our jet lag. While there I quickly learned that there are many words that we use here in America that when spoken in Australia have a very different (and not so good) connotation. As well, there are many phrases that they would use that we do not use in our country. For example, they refer to desert as “sweets.” This was one of my first lessons. Another aspect of Australia that I learned about was that there are very many English/Irish customs and traditions that are practiced there. Since Australia was originally a penal colony of England and many an Irish Catholic was sent there, justly and unjustly, it is no wonder that this is the case. One example among many is their love for tea and lamb.
I was very much amazed at how well each Parish Priest (we would say Pastor) along with members of his parish planned, organized and promoted the mission. The enthusiasm for the missions was readily apparent and its fruit shone brightly. The people in the various parishes where I preached were very receptive to the mission talks and they were very good about going to the Sacrament of Confession.
On a couple of occasions we had the opportunity to visit and socialize with several gatherings of priests. They are a great group of priests who are solidly with the Church. What impressed me the most about the priests I met was their fraternity and camaraderie which I rarely find among the clergy here in America. They welcomed me and my confreres with open arms and were very gracious and generous to us.
I had the privilege of addressing about one thousand high school students at St. Peter’s College in Cranbourne in the State of Victoria. They were very open to what I had to say and they asked me to present a pin to the young lady who would lead them to the World Youth Day celebrations in Sydney in 2008. While at Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Parish in Elmore, Victoria, I was again honored to have been asked to lay a wreath at their ANZAC Day services which is the biggest national holiday in Australia. ANZAC is an acronym for “Australian New Zealand Army Corps.” ANZAC Day began as a commemoration of the ANZAC soldiers who died during the battle of Gallipoli during the First World War. As time past and more wars were fought, this day would come to commemorate all Australian soldiers who died in war. Every year on ANZAC day there is a parade followed by a prayer service and the laying of wreaths in memory of the fallen soldiers. As I said above, I was asked to place the wreath from Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Parish. One evening after Confessions were over at this same mission, I was walking back to the Presbytery (we would say Rectory) and as I looked up into the sky I saw the formation known as the Southern Cross. It was exceedingly beautiful and breath taking. I had only heard about this before but now was actually able to see it.
At St. Brendan’s in Ganmain in the State of New South Wales, I had the pleasure of meeting the uncle of the parish priest. His name is Paul Krigovsky. Both he and his nephew, Fr. Peter Krigovsky, are originally from the country of Slovakia. Paul escaped the brutal communist regime and eventually made his way to Australia . Many years later Fr. Peter would escape and join his uncle. Paul is an amazing man and one whom I consider to be very holy. I had a wonderful time learning about Slovakia, its history and especially the Church, from Fr. Peter and Paul. Fr. Peter had a cat named Mickey who was the Queen of the Rectory. Amazingly, she was a black cat with one stripe of white on her collar area. The perfect cat for a Catholic priest! While in Ganmain, I met a young lady who was originally from Kentucky. She grew up south of Ashland, Kentucky about four to five hours from where I am stationed.
While in Australia, I met many people from lands that I had only heard of before. For example, Malaysia, India, Solomon Islands as well as Aborigines. The Australian Rules Football season was just beginning and everyone there loves football or “footie” as they call it. My fellow missionaries and I took a liking to “footie” and so we went to the Melbourne Cricket Grounds, known simply as the MCG, to watch an Australian Rules Football game. Their version of football is much different than ours. The pace is constant and fast moving with very little time to rest. We watched Port Adelaide and Melbourne play. The game was a thriller that was decided in the very last seconds of play.
Our Superior arranged for us to have a week off between our second and third mission and so we spent it in the city of Melbourne. It is truly a wonderful city that reminds one of European cities with its ethnic areas and old builds both secular or religious.
To some it may seem that such a long and arduous journey across the Pacific Ocean is not worth the trouble. However, I always remember what our senior most priest, Fr. John Molloy, once said to me when I was a novice: “if you help one soul, the mission is worth it.”