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Fr John Dunlea & Fr Patrick O'Reilly RIP

 Fr John Dunlea OMI  RIP
St Kieran’s Moe

Friday September 30

A man of God!

A man of prayer!

A man of the People!

A priest of God!

A priest of prayer!

A priest for the people!

A Missionary Oblate of Mary Immaculate!

Fr John was born in Cork, Ireland on August 22, 1932 to Katherine and Edward Dunlea.  Fr John found and took hold of the treasure in the field of the Kingdom of God and he was himself a hidden and silent jewel of great wealth that many people discovered and came to know and love.   Fr John Dunlea OMI had different facets to his life but he was the same jewel.  The call John received to be an Oblate and a priest gave his life reason and meaning because he had had an experience of God.  He knew Jesus and loved him.

After leaving school he worked in a bakery. Little did John know that he would move from providing the nutritional bread for life to spending some 54 years of his life nurturing the spiritual needs of God’s people with the Bread of Life through the celebration of the Eucharist.  Throughout his life John’s faith was very clear that Jesus Christ is our Lord and Saviour and that “anyone who eats the living bread will live forever”.  The daily celebration of the Eucharist was the essence of Fr John’s priestly life. It was through this sharing of the Eucharistic food that Fr John was able to bring the people of God into the presence and likeness of Christ and reproduce within his own life the mind and life of Jesus.

St Augustine said; God’s deepest desire at the mass is that we become the very thing we receive, Jesus Christ.  Fr John was ordained a priest on September 29, 1957 in Piltown, Ireland with 6 fellow Oblates and arrived in Australia in 1958 taking up his first obedience as assistant priest at St Patrick’s Basilica, Western Australia.  Today in the context of the modern Oblate Missionary we would say that the journey of Fr John as a priest and Missionary was that of “Crossing Borders”, being prepared to answer the call to serve God’s interest and not his own St Eugene de Mazenod stressed that as co-missionaries of Christ we were to “Leave nothing undared for the Kingdom of God”. 

As a Congregation we thank the Dunlea family for the gift of their son and their brother and their uncle. All those years ago it would have been difficult to say farewell knowing that they might not see each other again.  What faith! What trust! What generosity!   St John Vianney said: “The priest is not a priest for himself; he is a priest for you”.  How true this reflection was lived out through the priestly and sacramental life of Fr John Dunlea. The Eucharist, his Oblate prayer life, his reciting of the daily Office and his rosary were the sustenance and source of strength that enabled him to live a priestly life that was so involved with his people that he was able to carry, not only his own human imperfections, but to shoulder the worries and burdens of the people placed in his pastoral care.

 vividly remember at the celebration of Fr John’s 50th anniversary of priesthood here at Moe how he was so genuinely emotional in reflecting on his calling to the priesthood, for his family support, for the Oblates. He was especially grateful to God for sustaining him on life’s journey. John viewed all this as an absolute privilege and gift.  I am in no doubt that the Catholic Church in a number Dioceses throughout Australia owes a great deal of gratitude to Fr John for his legacy of laying the foundations for the Kingdom of God, leading God’s people of Fremantle, Lesmurdie, Tea Tree Gully, Burpengary and Moe to be drawn into the life and mission of Christ.

Fr John was famous in our Province for being a man of few words.  How is it that such a quiet man is so well loved? 

It is because he loved people and he let them know they were loved. He visited the sick, mourned with those who had lost loved ones and rejoiced with those who were happy.  Fr John was a pastoral priest who responded selflessly to needs of the people no matter what time of day or night. Even recently after a long trip from Melbourne he returned home to find a message that a lady was dying in the Traralgon hospital. Amidst heavy rain and floods on various parts of the road, John’s steely pastoral determination enabled him to get through and grant the dying person their wish to be anointed before death.

In fact, from a Provincial’s point of view he was the ideal Oblate. John was committed to the Oblate ministry entrusted to his care and he had a real economy of words, a simple “Yes” was all that was required to say when the needs of the people and the needs of Australian Province were put before him. It was a simple and genuine imitation of the quietness, attentiveness and openness of Mary our Mother as he responded with his personal “Fiat” to be a co-missionary in the mission of Christ. 

His priestly fidelity and care for the people saw Fr John come to St Kieran’s Moe in 1965 where through his leadership and vision and with the co-operation of the people this church from which we are farewelling him today was built. In 1973 he was sent to St David’s, Tea Tree Gully, South Australia and in 1987 he was the first parish priest of the newly established faith community at St Eugene’s, Burpengary.

John had a great ability to inspire people and to encourage them to trust and have faith in their God which has to be the foundation of any vibrant faith community life.  I remember when I arrived in Burpengary as parish priest a family shared their memories of Fr John. They were searching for a community to belong to and when they heard that the parish priest wanted to build a school first rather than a church they knew that this priest and his people had vision for building community and not just a shrine.

Fr John had a great affection for this country area of Gippsland perhaps it reminded him of the rolling green hills of County Cork? He returned to Gippsland and his people of Moe in 1996 where he remained until he decided to semi-retire. In the last few weeks ill health meant that he had to endure an unwanted separation from the place and the people he loved. It was his wish to return to Moe to celebrate his last few days.

Fr John was a devoted and dedicated Missionary Oblate of Mary Immaculate but at the same time he felt totally at home in and with the priests of this Sale Diocese with whom he worked closely and enjoyed his weekly game of golf. 

The Australian Province is thankful for the gift that Fr John has been to us and we are pleased that his sister, Katherine, and his niece, Hillary, can be with us to celebrate his life.

Fr John Dunlea OMI, you will be remembered in our prayers and thoughts with love and affection and a deep gratitude for all that you have been to our Province and the people you have ministered to over 54 years. 

We give thanks to God for the gift you have been to your family, our Congregation, the Australian Church, we pray for you and we ask that as members of the Communion of Saints you continue pray for and with each of us so that those of us who are still on the Christian journey will remain faithful to the message of Jesus who was the inspiration for your life.

Fr John in your youth you were well known for your athletic ability as a sprinter. Today we celebrate the race you ran in your faith life through the encouraging words of St Paul who reminds us that you have fought the good fight to the end; you have run the race to the finish: you have kept the faith, all there is to come now is the crown of righteousness reserved for you. 

Rest in peace good and faithful servant. 

Fr Patrick O’Reilly OMI
St John Vianney’s Parish, Mulgrave

(October 13, 2011)

We live in a politically correct society and so I am not sure if it is politically correct to mention the Queen in a homily about an Oblate who hails from Ireland?  Given the call of Eugene de Mazenod to be ‘daring’ I will anyway.  The Queen made a famous speech when she recalled that the year of 1992 was her “Annus Horribilis”, her ‘Horrible Year’.

As we come together to celebrate the life of Fr Patrick O’Reilly OMI, priest and Missionary Oblate of Mary Immaculate, I do so with a similar feeling that this year of 2011 is our ‘Annus Horribilis’ with the death of our third brother Oblate after Frs John Maher OMI and John Dunlea OMI.

When we experience a loss we often think about how the loss affects us, what it is that we are missing.  Today there is no doubting that we are feeling the loss of a priest, a priest who cared for his people, a priest of vision for his particular communities, a family member, a friend and our brother Oblate.  However, we shouldn’t dwell too much on our loss but allow ourselves, as people of faith, to celebrate and be grateful to God for giving us this gift of a man of God who through his priestly ministry has been present amongst us during our journey of life. 

We are a people and a Congregation of hope, a hope that gives the believer the consolation that life has changed not ended. We express our hope and gratefulness to God by coming together in prayer and thanksgiving for what Fr Patrick O’Reilly has been and done for us over his 51 years of his missionary priesthood as a servant of God. If we take one thing from the life of Fr Pat, it would be that each one of us is called to be a witness to and a faithful servant of our Lord Jesus Christ; it is how we respond to this call that makes the difference. Fr Patrick O’Reilly was born in Ardagh Co. Monagah, Ireland on December 30, 1932 to his parents Thomas and Elizabeth. Fr Pat’s secondary education was in Middlesex, England. After school he worked as a Civil Servant before entering the Oblate Novitiate in 1954. 

Fr Pat made his life commitment to the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate in September 1958 and was ordained to the priesthood on September 25, 1960.  Each one of us is uniquely called – uniquely gifted – we are lead by Jesus down unique pathways in our lives. Our relationship with Christ, our personalities, our spiritual gifts, our humanness are all the aspects of our being that make each one of us a unique person in and for God’s Kingdom. Jesus calls us to use all that is unique to us to serve and follow him, enabling us to remain focused on what God our Father has in store for us.  

The Gospel of today reminds us of the unique call we all receive from Jesus and how Fr Pat responded. The three -fold command of Jesus was to Love, Lead and Feed the people. Fr Pat served his God, his Congregation and the people of God devoutly in and through this three-fold service of Loving, Feeding and Leading by using the talents, gifts and opportunities that God had graced him with over his 51 years of service to the priesthood and religious life. 

In contrast to the people considering a Religious vocation at this time Fr Pat didn’t view his vocation as a priest and religious as sacrificing his talents and gifts, but rather a fruitful and enriching way for building the Kingdom of God through the variety of opportunities that would present themselves during his life.

Fr Pat began his mission of ‘Feeding, Loving and Leading’ the people of God upon his arrival in Australia in 1961. 

It is important for us to recall that the departure of a Missionary at this time was a great sacrifice for families, like the O’Reilly family. They gifted the Congregation of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate and the Church with their son, brother and uncle knowing that in their farewell they might not see each other again.  Fr Pat’s first appointment in Australia was to the mission staff at Camberwell followed by 11 years on the Mission Staff at Eagle Junction, Queensland. 

Through his ministry Fr Pat accepted the challenge of ‘Feeding’ the people through his preaching, taking the Gospel message to thousands of people throughout this vast continent of Australia. This mission would also enhance his reputation as a preacher and so opened for him opportunities to preach the Word in parishes, youth gatherings as well for his fellow priests and religious.

Fr Pat was known for his preaching which reflected his dedication to preparation through reflection on the Word of God, preparing his notes and then being able to deliver the message with a clear and engaging voice.  I remember attending a Sunday Mass in Moe with Fr Pat as the celebrant.  He preached on the ‘Exchange of Peace’ that we offer each other during the Eucharist. Unfortunately I cannot remember the details of the sermon but to this day I regret not asking for his notes as it was the clearest and insightful sermon on this community action that I have heard. For a person discerning God’s call at the time it was an important moment in my spiritual journey.  

Fr Pat meticulously prepared the content and delivery of his homilies so that the people of God had every opportunity to be inspired, encouraged and able to relate the Word of God to their lives as God wanted them to hear it. This remains a great example and challenge to all of us priests today. Fr Pat was also devoted to the daily celebration of the Eucharist. It was through this celebration that he ‘Feed’ the people with the spiritual nourishment of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. The Eucharistic food is necessary for us as Christians as it sustains and nourishes our daily lives. It constantly reminds us that we are loved by Christ and called to become what we receive - the Body of Christ. Fr Pat recognized that the Eucharistic food is essential in keeping us spiritually healthy and helps us grow into the image and likeness of Christ.

After his time with the mission bands, Fr Pat accepted another opportunity to exercise his gifts and talents, this time in the pastoral roles as parish priest. It was a within this ministry that Fr Pat was able to ‘Lead’ the people by witnessing to them the love of Jesus, encouraging them to respond to this love by loving each other and in turn building communities of faith. 

His first appointment as parish priest was in 1976 to Immaculate Heart of Mary parish, Sefton, Sydney followed by St Kieran’s, Moe, Our Lady of Fatima, Rosebud, Lourdes Monastery, Lesmurdie, Western Australia, and then St David’s, Tea Tree Gully, South Australia. Fr Pat was again meticulous in using his administrative gifts and having the vision to transform ageing parish and school buildings into modern facilities. Whist in Moe he was invited to use his talents to assist on the pastoral team of the Sale Diocese to implement the Renew Program.

The scriptures remind all of us to ‘Love one another as Jesus has loved us’. Fr Pat had a great ability to ‘Love’ the people entrusted to his pastoral care. He was respected for his pastoral visitation of the people of his parish. He encouraged individuals to discover their gifts and talents and to use them for the benefit of the community. His love for his people was also witnessed through the other two facets of his priestly ministry of ‘Feeding’ and ‘Leading’.

I believe Fr Pat also showed his love and respect for his people in the way he presented himself personally and through his immaculate sense of dress. Whether it was socially or as he presided at the celebration of the sacraments Fr Pat was a great example to students and the newly ordained priests, sent to his care for mentoring, of how to present the priesthood, not just as a pastoral leader, but also as a professional in one’s chosen vocation.

In the last few years, Fr Pat did not enjoy good health. After a period of time at Sorrento he moved to the John R. Hannah Aged Care Facility, Mulgrave where he was wonderfully cared for until his death on Sunday morning October 9.

The Gospel of today highlights all these aspects of Fr Pat O’Reilly’s life. As a young and energetic priest he was able to travel where he was sent without feeling burdened by the journey.

He was able to practice his ministry in the way he knew God was calling him to use his unique gifts and talents.  The Gospel also highlights the later years of his life, at which time he was ‘led where he would rather not go’, yet at the same time he understood that this was also God calling him to a new phase on his journey of life. He accepted this call, perhaps the toughest of his religious life, with obedience and graciousness.

The scriptures chosen for today are an encouragement for each of us on our Christian journey as they were for Fr Patrick O’Reilly OMI. We want to serve Jesus. We have put our faith in Him. We desire to follow Him. Yet at times we struggle. We have our fears and failures. We get distracted and stumble as we try to follow what Jesus wants of us.

And yet – for however many years we’ve been following Jesus and get it wrong, Jesus always reaches out to us and invites us to once again “Follow Him”. 

Fr Patrick O’Reilly OMI, you will be remembered in our prayers and thoughts with love and affection and with a deep gratitude for all that you have been to our Province and the people you have ministered to over 51 years.  

We give thanks to God for the way you were able to ‘Lead, Feed and Love’ all of us who had the opportunity to encounter you on life’s journey. We thank you for the gift you have been to your family, our Congregation and the Australian Church.

We promise pray for you and we ask that as members of the Communion of Saints you continue pray for and with each of us so that those of us who are still on the Christian journey will remain faithful to the message of Jesus who was the inspiration for your life.

St Eugene de Mazenod the man who inspired Fr Pat to be a Missionary Oblate of Mary Immaculate said to his Brother Oblates: ‘Leave nothing undared for the Kingdom of God”.

Fr Patrick O’Reilly OMI, our brother, priest and friend you can now rest in Peace knowing that you have fulfilled this call with daring. 

Well done good and faithful servant.

Copyright 2014 OMI Australia