Fr John Boyle: a vocation spanning 40 years
|Fr John Boyle and parishioners Michael Wong and Sophie Li receive the holy oils from Bishop Anthony at the Chrism Mass.|
Photo: Alphonsus Fok & Grace Lu
By Virginia Knight
The quintessential Parramatta boy, born, raised and schooled in the parish of Parramatta, Very Rev John Boyle EV celebrates his 40th anniversary of ordination to priesthood on 21 August.
And in this our diocesan Silver Jubilee year as we discussed his priestly journey and the changes in his ministry since his ordination in 1971, asking Fr John to talk about the past is like opening a window into Parramatta’s history.
He was born on 10 July 1945, the eldest of two children to Jack and Mollie Boyle in St Margaret’s Hospital at Darlinghurst. “Thirty years later I found I was the chaplain at the same hospital where I was born. In fact, some of the nuns were still working there, in particular Sr Anne who was present at my delivery,” Fr John said.
As a member of his family’s little orchestra ensemble, you might say he began his journey in pastoral ministry at an early age. “As a child I visited Parramatta jail frequently. My family provided light music for the prisoners. They also performed at the Girls’ Industrial School (the former St Patrick’s orphanage) and at the nearby psychiatric hospital.
“I spent my youth among pregnant teenagers, murderers and mad people. But I thought this was normal and that everyone did it.”
Educated at St Patrick’s Primary and Parramatta Marist Brothers, Fr John said has great admiration for the Brothers.
“They were gifted teachers, great sportsmen, wonderful coaches and very intelligent, and had a down to earth spirituality.”
At age 15 most of the boys of his era left school following the Intermediate Certificate. Despite an expectation that he would follow his father into a trade, John talked to his parents about becoming a priest.
“They weren’t really thrilled about it,” he said. “But overall they were very encouraging and said they would support my efforts to do the extra two years at school, get the Leaving Certificate and go straight into the seminary.”
Maybe part of the appeal was the sheer number of young people entering religious life straight from school, giving it a vibrancy and youthful vigour.
“Many people today haven’t made up their minds,” Fr John said. “It is not necessarily a case of more options – we were only ever limited by our imagination. But the system now prefers men to have some experience of life and a job before entering the seminary.”
Vatican II: “We were the agents for change”
When John joined 63 fellow students more than 40 years ago, it was like a small community and there was always someone to hang out with, someone to play sport with or talk to, and having grown up without brothers, John thrived on that companionship.
|Very Rev Fr John Boyle EV.|
Photo: Virginia Knight
His first appointment was the relatively new parish of Gymea in the Sutherland Shire.
Like so many of the young priests of his generation, much of his early parish work was in youth ministry.
“I was particularly involved with the Catholic Youth Organisation, which was part social club, part sporting club, part marriage bureau.”
He was part of the first group to be immersed in the theology of Vatican II and in turn expected to educate the community in aspects of the new ritual such as why for the first time the faithful had the privilege of holding Christ in their hands and drinking from the cup.
“This is why I am so passionate about the teachings of Vatican II,” he said. “We were the agents for change.”
Fr John said the highlight of his priestly ministry was his time at Darlinghurst, as chaplain at St Margaret’s Hospital. “There were five priests assigned to the parish. At day’s end when we came back from our various ministries we would make a cup of tea and have supper, then stay up late just talking and debriefing until someone got a late night call to the hospital. Then we realised we all had to get up for early Mass and rushed off to bed. It was a great time and I probably enjoyed it most of all.”
One of the biggest changes Fr John has seen is the reduced number of priests attached to a parish. Back when a parish had many assistant priests there was companionship and camaraderie, with the workload shared and more time for pastoral ministry.
Many priests now live solitary lives and are lucky to have an assistant priest. “We are all old and overworked and don’t have enough quality time with the young people who would be our prospective candidates as we are often too involved in administration,” he said.
On the up side, Fr John said this had led to greater participation of the laity in the life of the parish. “It is energising to see their involvement,” he said.
However, one of the biggest challenges is making Catholicism cool again and stopping the drift of young people away from the institutional Church. He regrets the loss of a bond that was once rock solid.
“You went to Catholic school and you went to Mass on Sunday. Now students are attending school but they and their families are not necessarily entering into the life of the Church,” he said.
“The correct Church protocol for vocations is to pray. I believe we must be more proactive than just praying,” he said. “We must address it. Parents have to encourage their children to consider vocations – it is their children who will answer the call.
“When I learn that someone is considering becoming a priest I feel endorsed and it is a privilege to hear it as it affirms me in my ministry. I would invite them to come and see what we do, then ask: Is it meaningful for you? Is it fulfilling for you? Does this give you life?”
Fr John returned to Parramatta parish, appointed as Dean of the Cathedral in 1991. In February 1996, at the time of the tragic fire, he felt as keenly as the parishioners the loss of what was for many a comfortable, homey, but uniquely beautiful Church.
“I went to school at St Patrick’s Primary Parramatta, where my mother had been to school, before me. I was taught by nuns in primary school and when I returned as Parish Priest of Parramatta, some of my teachers were living in the convent and were my parishioners.”
Currently the parish priest at St Bernadette’s, Castle Hill, Fr John said that what brought him the most joy was being with people at the significant times in their lives.
“It is beautiful to be able to be with people at a Baptism or marriage, or even when they are sick. As you get older, you are celebrating the sacraments with the next generation. You are now presiding at the marriages of children you may have baptised, or the baptisms of their children.”
Fr John said the greatest gift in being a diocesan priest was that you made the journey of priestly life within the same relative geographical area, staying in touch with local communities, and building up friendships and relationships with the parishioners of your diocese.A 40th anniversary dinner for Fr John will be held on 27 August at Crowne Plaza Norwest. Tickets: Monica O’Callaghan tel 0438 204 497.