Issue 45 - 23 Nov - Final

Final Silver Lining by Richard Leonard SJ

This is my final Silver Lining column. This time next week I will be the 26th priest and 24th Jesuit to serve, love and lead you as Pastor. Our parish community started with a diocesan priest, Rev Dr Peter Powell, 165 years ago and was given into the care of the Jesuits in 1878, 143 years ago this week.

I will be communicating with you in all sorts of other ways, so I will not be able to maintain my contribution to this weekly column. I hope other women and men might come forward to write for it.

I started writing Silver Lining after I lost my job with the Australian Catholic Bishop’s Conference (ACBC) as their director of Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting. Budget cuts saw the Bishops Conference close several agencies, including my Office which was founded in 1975.

For a long time I have been struck by how angry some people are when they leave the employ of the Catholic Church. I always thought that was odd. I don’t anymore. I now understand it and share the pain. I was the director of the film office for 22 years. I was loyal and hard working. My employment was cancelled in a two minute phone call on the 14th September 2020 from the Bishop who was my direct-report. Those calls are never easy to make.

Six months later, and only after I pointed it out to this good man, did that Bishop send me an email about another matter in which he also included one sentence thanking me for my service. Except for that line I have not received a single card, letter, note or bunch of flowers from the ACBC to say thank you. Because I was a Religious I was not even made redundant with an accompanying package – just a phone call and then administrative emails cancelling everything.

After 22 years of faithful service it was a hard lesson to learn. Given what I hope will be only a few tough decisions that will invariably come my way, I will strive as parish priest to always treat people with gratitude and respect. Please hold me to it.               

Every cloud has a silver lining, so in late September 2020 the parish team thought that in the COVID crisis people might have the time and the need for some adult faith formation. I now had the time to write for you.

Since September 28 2020 I have looked at Father’s Day and Mother’s Day, ANZAC and Australia Days, Science Week, RuOK, Creation Sunday, UN Mental Health Day and Mission Sunday. I wrote on the lives of Mary MacKillop, Ignatius Loyola, Thomas More, Mary Magdalene, Thomas the Apostle, Francis of Assisi, Peter & Paul, John XXIII and Carmelite spirituality, each time trying to uncover something most people didn’t know. I looked afresh at the Feasts of the Transfiguration, Assumption, Epiphany, Easter, the Advent series, Christmas, All Saints, All Souls, the Dedication of the Cathedral of St John Lateran, Christ the King and so much more besides.

Of all the silver linings I have written, there are four which elicited the greatest response: Safeguarding Sunday (formerly Child Protection Sunday); the critical need for women’s leadership in the Catholic Church; my tribute to Phil Crotty SJ after his death in April this year; and my most recent reflections on my mother’s dementia.  

On Safeguarding Sunday people expressed their grief and anger at what the Royal Commission exposed in our and other communities. Everyone wants to make our community the safest place it can be for children and adults.

There was not a single dissenting voice in regard to how women should have a greater and equal role at every level and layer of decision-making in the Catholic Church. I hope I practise what I preach in this regard in our own parish over the coming years. I’m delighted that our parish team in the Ron Dyer Centre is presently gender balanced: six men (three Jesuits and three laymen) and six wonderful women. 

The Silver Lining correspondents cheered on this summary of Phil Crotty’s life: “… Phil may never be canonised a saint, but he was one. That doesn’t mean he was perfect. Saints aren’t perfect, they’re holy. Phil, by his own quick admission would say he was far from perfect, but I can attest that he was one of the holiest men I have ever had the privilege to know and love. The title given to Barnabas in the New Testament could well sum Phil up. He was a ‘son of encouragement’ to everyone he met regardless of who they were….”  Thank God we now have Phil praying for us in heaven.

Last week’s column on dementia triggered an avalanche of stories and empathy. It’s an issue so many of us now have in common and yet we do not share the burden enough. I hope we can change that in the coming years.

Finally, the unsung hero of this column is my good friend Jack Ford, who has been the most attentive proof reader for which one could hope. In this regard, as in everything else, I need all the help I can get.

So, as a new chapter opens for my life and ministry, a final prayer:

God of every silver lining, for all that has been – thank you.

And for all that is to come – yes.

Amen.

Rev Dr Richard Leonard SJ is the 28th Pastor of Our Lady of the Way Parish, North Sydney.