Society Matters | Volume 29 No. 2 | Winter 2019

7 Volume 29 No. 2 | Winter 2019 “They kept me and I took my final vows and was ordained in 1969.” Fr Michael’s first missionary assignment was to Paraguay, where he set about immersing himself in a new culture and learning a new language. “I became fairly fluent in Spanish and I learned some of the local Guarani language,” he says. “I wasn’t very proficient at it, but I tried. “It was a big town, with fairly poor people and I was mainly doing parish work. I used to go to every house in the area, visiting the people.” Fr Michael contracted Hepatitis, and, following a relapse, he left Paraguay after five years and returned to Ireland to recover. During his time back home, he taught older men with a late vocation, who hadn’t finished their second level at school, which was necessary for them to undertake theological studies. “Then I became the organiser of a course for novices from different religious orders who came together every day to listen to different speakers and discuss what they heard.” After a number of years back in Ireland, Fr Michael undertook a renewal course at the SVD retreat house in Nemi, Italy, where he met Fr Bill Burt SVD who was “on fire with the idea of a mission to New Zealand”. “So I joined Bill and two other SVDs in New Zealand, two in Auckland and two of us in the Wellington area,” he says. Arriving in 1988, Fr Michael was based at St Michael’s Parish, Taita, Lower Hutt, where he stayed for 10 years and also worked with the youth. In 1998, he accepted an assignment to Brisbane, where he was Parish Priest at St Cecilia’s Parish in Hamilton for another 10 years. In all of his parish work, Fr Michael says that music and singing helped create a great bond between him and the people. “God gave me a good voice,” he says. “I’m fairly shy, but I like to sing. For example, I would sing the Responsorial Psalm and then have the people sing the response. “And then, of course, if there was any kind of party I’d do a few numbers, until they shut me up.” At age 75, when many people consider retiring, Fr Michael took up a new post in Melbourne at the SVD formation house, Dorish Maru College. “They wanted somebody in Melbourne to help improve the English of the students,” he says. “I enjoyed being there. I liked working with the young missionaries. And my voice helped there too, because these young guys, who all come from non-Australian backgrounds weren’t used to the Anglo-Saxon liturgy and they didn’t know the hymns, so we’d sing them together. It was good.” Fr Michael has recently moved from Melbourne to the SVD Marsfield community in Sydney where he now lives in retirement with the senior missionaries. Despite having a recent knee replacement, he likes to keep active, especially on the golf course. “I had a single figure golf handicap until I was 70,” he says. “I’m still playing.” Looking back on his life since leaving Ireland at age 36, Fr Michael says his life and faith were enhanced by the people he met along the way. “All those I worked with, their faith rubbed off on me,” he says. “I always tried to be consultative. I don’t think I was guilty of clericalism. I tried to be an ordinary bloke. And I tried to do God’s will.” Fr Michael with parishioners in Paraguay el prepares to baptise a woman in Paraguay Chicken raising by self-help group in village