Paul liked the poetry of Gerard Manly Hopkins. Hopkins said what you look hard at seems to look hard at you.
If you look at a life hard enough, it will look back at you, and you see more clearly that what you thought mundane shines at you. Nothing has insignificance.
There are many abiding places in my Father’s house. Paul remembered people as inhabitants of place, belonging to families.
Towns and suburbs were places where family trees took root. Schools were places where faith was taught, careers made, YCS Leaders formed, vocations realised, and where sport was played competitively, fiercely.
Parishes were places where people went to Mass, played tennis, joined the YCW, met their partners; where vows were made and kept, and babies made children of God in Christ. A parish was the forecourt of a more permanent dwelling place in the Father’s house.
Place gave Paul permanence and predictability: Armidale, Inverel, Grafton, Sandy Beach, Coffs Harbour, Blue Street Nth Sydney, where his father lived before marriage; East Kew, South Yarra, Fawkner, Mercy College Coburg. Memories and affections tethered to place and given permanence.
A Wallaby player would flourish if he were out of St Joseph’s School in Sydney.
Some people might have heard that Paul’s first appointment was to Kilmore, which used be on the Hume highway. Going north, you by-pass it. Unless, of course, it has been revealed to you who have ears to hear that the distance along the two sides of a triangle is shorter than the hypotenuse. Treasured memories mock measurement and logic.
Over coffee after golf, Fr Barry Caldwell, Fr Ted Teal and I fined each other 10 cents if we gave Paul the narrowest of openings to talk about Kilmore. It didn’t help when his nephew Paul became Principal of Assumption College. The risk was increased to $5.
Places of origin, of abiding, of initiation and growth in faith are surely hints of the permanent dwelling places Jesus is preparing for us, which makes them rather sacred, transcendent. As Barry said ‘the rooms in my Father’s house’ has a reference to the earthly dwelling places occupied by his people.
On the day of Paul’s death, the priest on the phone said, "A lovely man, a lovely, lovely man". And it was said with a lovely Irish accent. My sister Gabrielle was drawn to Paul’s charm, as were many others. Another priest said, "we have lost another good man". And we have lost a friend.
When a crisis occurs you know who is in charge.
Michelle Cotter, Principal of Mercy College Coburg, and her helpers quickly took control in the first crisis.
If you are a sick priest in Melbourne, you’re in luck; several people take charge and you get spoilt.
Paul had his brother Greg, his sister-in-law Breeta, his niece Margaret, her husband Russell, nephew John and his wife Angela, their families, and his nephew Br Paul FMS; he had the Archbishop's man, Greg Bourke and the team, Bernadette Mills and Ruth Dickenson. And then Sr Maria's Justin Villa family, that he could not stop talking about. At Epworth Hospital individual lives are important and receive technical and personal attention.
In Caritas, he was cared for by an Irish nurse with music in her voice, lovelier than Fr Jim Staunton’s.
If you look hard enough at things they will look back at you. Field guide in hand, Paul used look hard into trees after a Tawny Owl or a Rufus Whistler, drawn to the colours and the song. The Ebor falls, and the massive roadwork on the north central coast of NSW fascinated him - the work of creation and the work of human hands on a scale beyond belief.
He used write prayers in a book. I fancy they were a sort of review of life, what Fr Peter Steele SJ called an ‘ocean of significances’- a practice found in YCS manuals. A theologian who works a vast canvas said our response to the Gospel could be reduced to the little way of St Therese of Lisieux. I have seen the burliest ex-YCW shirt-fronting seminarian reading the autobiography of the Little Flower, probably overwhelmed by the thought of putting love into smallest and most menial of tasks. I fancy Paul’s homemade prayers were derived from even the smallest of things and events seen sub specie aeternitatis, under the aspect of eternity.
We have lost a friend
Vincent Buckley said this about his friend the Tasmanian poet Gwen Harwood: “However much a lover of humanity, she is a ‘solitary’ as she avowed in a letter. Probably because of that her, ‘life is linked together by very long friendships’ ”. There is something of that in all of us, certainly in Paul.
PAUL A LOVER OF HUMANITY
Paul had started to write the history of the Young Christian Students Movement, YCS. Would it be have been a catalogue of lists, conferences, dates? Would it have been speculative, analytic, lovely?
Who knows? We know it would have been crowded with names, personalities, and friendships.
In those heady days, when he was National Chaplain of the YCS, there were 36,000 affiliated students. A lot of humanity to work with.
Music was important to him, It mediates humanity. Comic, tragic, joyful, transposed, resurrected humanity. Just like the book of psalms, his other field guide. Why important? He never said.
To say so would have come a poor second to what was said musically; and would have been a disclosure of the heart.
The stories of settlement, the displacement of the Aboriginals. The early priests fascinated him. Their daring, the traveling on horseback, the fasting. Humanity at its best and humanity denied.
He kept a directory of Australian priests and religious in his glove box in case he wanted to check who was in this place or that.
A LIFE TIED TOGETHER BY LONG FRIENDSHIPS:
Close and cultivated friendships from every parish, every appointment, from the very earliest days. Even Kilmore. I’ve done me $5.
And his life tied together by long commitments.
Over 30 years on the Mercy College Coburg Board, many years on the Diocesan Pastoral and Development Fund and as President of the Clergy Golf, handing out trophies, many to himself.
For 50 years he met occasionally with a group of YCW girls from South Yarra for a meal at an Oakleigh Hotel. That was a serious and dedicated attachment to a hotel.
PAUL, A SOLITARY
Over many years he looked hard and long at his family tree and saw only good. No skeletons. He found it difficult to face skeletons, frailty, or regrets that were close by, hemming him in. He hoped they would just go away, like a Kilmore winter. They were given no place to dwell.
There is another tree, which gave Paul his vocation, and if you look hard at that tree you will see wounded humanity. Now, Christ risen from that tree wears those wounds like trophies.
Paul the solitary, in gatherings often he made his way towards the easily accessible company of long-established friends.
He loved the poet Les Murray, partly because, as Murray said about himself, he came from a verandah on a farm between Forster and Gloucester in NSW.
Murray in his poem ‘The Future’ said that the man we put on a tree for a lookout said little about it
Well we can say this at least or at most: to borrow a phrase from the theologian James Alison, Paul can now relax in the presence and the safe ground of the one who loves him.
Fr Ted said in his homily on Sunday that in making us sit down to be fed Jesus did not start from nothing; he started with the work of human hands.
Well in a few moments the family will present the work of human hands, and then we will celebrate the sacred tree which gave Paul’s life its purpose and which as St Paul said, defies logic.