Fr Frank Brennan SJ's remarks on the occasion of the retirement of Fr John Dobson OAM, parish priest of Caloundra, Qld, on Palm Sunday, 1 April 2012.
In 1962, I moved from the Brigidine Convent at Indooroopilly in Brisbane to St Joseph's College, Nudgee Junior, under the care of the Christian Brothers. I was an impressionable eight-year-old and was in grade three.
I well recall Brother Pender taking the class up to the top floor of the school. We gathered outside the chapel in front of the large portrait of our Lady of Perpetual Succour. Brother told us that there were very significant events occurring in Rome. Pope John XXIII had convened a Vatican Council. We were instructed to pray for all the bishops because this council would affect the future of the church.
I have no real recollection of the prayers we offered, and thus am not in a position to say whether or not they were answered. But like you, I know that things have changed very significantly in the Church and in the world since that group of eight-year-old boys offered prayer and supplication.
For 30 of those intervening 50 years, John Dobson has been your parish priest here in Caloundra, guiding the 13 faith communities in this region.
He has accompanied you in good times and in bad; he has buried your parents, married you, and baptised your children. He has challenged you and supported you as he has broken open the word here at this pulpit and broken the bread there at that altar. He has been your priest; he has been your friend.
We have all come to know him as Dobbo who is justifiably proud of being Chancellor of your local university. As we have heard him in today’s homily, he will commence Holy Week handing 600 students their degrees on their happiest of days. He will then come into this church to bury 14 year old lifesaver Matthew Barclay whose dad Steve has already talked heart to heart with Dobbo about the reality, tragedy and mystery of such a death.
And then he will join with you on each of the steps of the paschal mystery at week’s end — passion, death and resurrection. And it is all done in that wonderful, laidback Queensland way.
Though I come originally from Queensland, I have spent most of my life as a priest in the south where people love to compare Sydney and Melbourne Catholicism. Some think there is no other. But as I often tell my friends south of the Tweed, no matter what side of the Murray they live on: no one does it quite as ecumenically, quite as incarnationally immersed in the daily lives and world of others, and quite as laidback as in Queensland.
There is something distinctive and admirable about Queensland Catholicism. And it is summed up in our friend and priest John Dobson. Where else would you find a parish priest as Chancellor of a University?
It is part of a great tradition. I have long taunted people down south with the observation that I attended the University of Queensland where the main library was the Duhig Library. There is no Mannix Library at Melbourne University and it is not likely that there will be a Pell Library at Sydney University.
Today after mass at a barbie overlooking the Pacific Ocean you will celebrate with civic leaders and members of other churches. Why? Because you are farewelling your parish priest who has immersed himself completely in the life of the local community, at all levels, and without fuss.
I recall Bishop James Foley, Bishop of Cairns, reflecting on the farewell mass for Bishop Bill Morris in Toowoomba last year. He praised 'the solid no-nonsense Catholic faith of the people (which) was un-selfconsciously and un-pretentiously on display'. So it is today.
John we thank you as priest and friend. We pay tribute to your many achievements, the greatest of which is gathered around this table of the Eucharist this day.
Though you are retiring as parish priest, we expect you will continue to engage in the world, reflecting on life's demands and opportunities in the light of the scriptures and our Catholic tradition, and continuing as a challenging companion on the journey reminding us, 'Did not our hearts burn within us as we walked along the road and heard him explaining those Scriptures?'
Though you won’t be with us each day, we expect that you will still be there on your block near Murgon pointing to the transcendent reality of our lives beyond the everyday.
Here's to the next 30 years for the People of God in Caloundra.
Fr Frank Brennan SJ is professor of law at the Public Policy Institute, Australian Catholic University and adjunct professor at the College of Law and the National Centre for Indigenous Studies, Australian National University.