Stynes a man of flesh and steel


It was a warm December afternoon in 1984 and I was at my parents' home on holidays from the seminary where I had just completed my first year of training to become a priest. I could hear this incessant bouncing of a football up and down our back path — surely this was cricket season and far too hot for football.

But the big raw-boned 18-year-old from Ireland who stayed for his first year in Australia with my parents had no interest in cricket. He was utterly determined to learn this new game with the awkwardly shaped oval ball. That determination and toughness characterised the 'man of steel', Jim Stynes, who against the odds not only learned how to play AFL but eventually took its ultimate individual honour, the 1991 Brownlow Medal, in 1991.

He was so determined that he joined me in swimming the 1985 Pier to Pub at Lorne, even though he did not know how to swim he completed the 1200m open water swim doing a kind of dog paddle. It took him 20 minutes longer than anyone else, and no doubt he alarmed more than a few of the lifesavers, but he completed it!

Over the years the evidence mounted that Stynes was a man of steel — a record number of consecutive games in the AFL, defying all injury and pain; taking on the chairmanship of a broken AFL club and restoring its spirit and its finances; and finally the heroic way that he took on the cancer that was to rapidly overtake him. This battle made him a hero and source of inspiration for thousands, maybe millions.

But Stynes was not only a man of steel, he was also a man of flesh and blood. So moved was he by the plight of young people drifting, lost and without direction that he started the Reach Foundation to support young people and help them to realise their dreams and potential.

He loved his family deeply and in spite of a very busy life was always fully present to them and their needs. And for their part they were always there for him, showering him with the love and blessings he needed to sustain himself in the good times and in the times of struggle.

Finally he suffered through his disease and was on record saying that this suffering actually helped him to empathise with others who were suffering in their own various ways.

Steel, yes, but a man of flesh and blood. Determined and grim, yes, but with an enormous heart. Tough on himself but so understanding of others.

Our paths crossed from time to time over the past 27 years years at various family functions, 21sts, Christmases and so on. In 2001 I officiated at his wedding where he married his beautiful wife Sam. Last Saturday I was called by his mother to his bedside where I led some prayers with his family as he received the sacrament of the sick.

Today I will be one of the clergy officiating at his funeral. I don't know if I will play any particular role in the ceremony, but I will feel honoured to be involved in the send-off for a great man.

Joe CaddyFr Joe Caddy is CEO of CatholicCare, Melbourne.

Topic tags: Joe Caddy, Jim Stynes, AFL



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Existing comments

Thank you, Eureka Street, for publishing Father Joe's article. While I had the greatest respect for Jim Stynes as a footballer and as a man with a social conscience I knew next to nothing about his spiritual life. Reading the pages of adulation in the Melbourne newspapers did not add to my limited knowledge. The sorts of things written by Fr Caddy were what I needed to learn. A fitting testimony to a great Irish-Australian.
Uncle Pat | 27 March 2012

Delighted to hear that this wonderful man is having an ecumenical funeral service : eschewing the Catholic Church's posturing about proper funerals and those called " a celebration of someone's life." His was a life we should celebrate and my hunch is God feels so too.
Josie Gregory | 27 March 2012

Jim Stynes will be greatly missed. I am glad that it will be Fr Joe Caddy who will today help celebrate his life's journey and contribution to our city; as a footballer, an Irish-Australian, and advocate and worker for social justice. Jim made a difference.
Kate | 27 March 2012

Jim did his secondary schooling at De La Salle Churchtown, a relatively small school (about 450) which played rugby, not Gaelic football. For those who understand rugby, DLS played 15-man rugby - 15 forwards, happy to win 6-3 or 3-0. I think they were coached for some time by Gordon Wood. They won the Leinster Senior Cup in the 80s against much bigger and better endowed schools, but I don't know if Jim ever played the game. It is just a year since Sean Wight died, another Irishman who made a go of Aussie Rules, a marvellous full back. He played Kerry minor (as Tadhg Kennelly did) and seems to have been a more private person; I have been told that in his retirement he was a daily Mass attender. Is there some jinx on Irish lads joining Melbourne? God rest them both.
Frank | 27 March 2012

My son loved Jim, after he came to his school as a motivational guest speaker in 1998 and began his "Reach for the Stars" campaign with young people .He read his books, everything about him and stayed a proud Dees supporter through all seasons. He was inspirational on the field and even more so among those who needed hope. He had a BIG heart, humility and compassion to reach out to everyone he met. I will always remember a cold winter's night in outer suburban Lilydale where Jim came to talk to parents about caring and making a difference to young people's lives. "The Vineyard", a place for getting a meal if you are homeless, a small building in an industrial estate, was where he spoke... Jim used anything he could to give hope and love to others, no matter what circumstances. An ordinary man, Jim knew about suffering and how to turn a life around.Life could be extraordinary. Thank you for all Jim. May this gift continue to be given. We will always support Reach xxxxx
Catherine | 27 March 2012

A fine piece Joe.
Bill Hannan | 27 March 2012

A good tribute, Joe! It appears that Jim Stynes had a good life with good standards of moral and ethical behavior and I am sure his spirit will continue to influence his family, friends and the Reach Foundation.
Mark Doyle | 28 March 2012

A great article Fr Joe. Cuts through the hype to give a reality check on the humaness inside a man who accomplished much during his life. Rekindles the warmth of spirit that continues to accompany the relationship between our county and what will always be a distant homeland to many. Jim's life is a reminder of the strong willed and dogged spirit that marks so many of Australia's immigrants who built so much more of modern Ausrralia than its bricks and mortar.
Toby oConnor | 17 April 2012


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