Design image

Fr Walter Fogarty: community involvement is essential

By Virginia Knight, Catholic Outlook, April 2010

YEAR FOR PRIESTS: 10 June 2009 – 10 June 2010

Fr Walter Fogarty with St Monica's Primary principal, Lyn Legrand, and new member of school staff Leanne Duval. Photo: Virginia Knight

“Being a priest is all about creating a balance in life so that you are available for people. It is about being involved in people’s lives.” This is how Fr Fr Walter Fogarty, parish priest of Richmond, describes a priest’s role in the 21st Century. 

“One way of achieving that involvement is through celebrating the sacraments as part of a community,” he said. “That is what it is about, being part of the community.

“Whether you are at the altar or out and about in the community it is the same. You have to be real. Priesthood is not something you can put on and take off. Underlying it all is a sense of a personal relationship with God and the challenge to live out that relationship.”

Fr Walter has been ordained for nine years and Richmond is his first appointment as parish priest. He values the opportunity to interconnect with the community, to be able to touch people’s lives and give real meaning to the sacraments and the place of God in people’s lives.

He seeks to make connections with families through his ministry, to meet people where they are at in terms of the practice of their faith and to get to know them better.

Fr Walter said one of the biggest personal challenges about this appointment was the administration of the parish; something people do not generally associate with a priest’s duties.

It reminds him of something a priest friend once said: “I spend most of my time doing what I was never actually ordained to do, like administration and attending meetings.”

Fr Walter has spent much of the past 22 months observing and looking at how the parish of Richmond can expand to meet the needs of the local community. With the new building program at St Monica’s Primary drawing to completion, he is still keen to continue developing closer ties between the school and wider parish community.

In the same way, he has been liaising with the chaplains at the local Richmond RAAF base to develop community relationships and address how Defence families can become more integrated into the parish community. A similar approach will be adopted this year with the Hawkesbury campus of the University of Western Sydney.

Figures in the Bureau of Statistics census indicate more Catholics live within the Hawkesbury than are attending Mass. Reaching out to this wider community is a significant ongoing priority for the parish.

Participation in the parish’s sacramental programs has increased considerably indicating a growing number of families becoming involved within the parish. This is perhaps the result of the parish fostering an open and welcoming approach to community.

“How do you evangelise? Fr Walter said. “How do you compete in the marketplace with all the other voices that are out there? These are significant challenges that the whole parish needs to address.”

As a member of the diocesan Sacraments of Initiation Subcommittee, Diocesan Liturgical Commission and Ongoing Formation of the Clergy Committee, Fr Walter will be one of a team actively involved in the implementation across the Diocese of the new translation of the Missal during 2010.

“One of our greatest challenges in the next 12 to 24 months will be to learn from past experiences,” he said. “We need to work a lot more at ensuring people come along on the journey of change; that it is not just a case of instruction from on high. People need to understand the reason why the new translation has come about, and be a part of the transition process.” 

So what does the Year for Priests mean to Fr Walter Fogarty? “It is a chance for us (clergy) to focus on our own priesthood, our own personal call,” he said. “Sometimes we are so caught up in day-to-day matters that we forget to stop and reflect on what it means for us personally to be priests.

“There is a sense of taking account of how my priesthood is going in relation to the mission of the Church. It is a year to focus, and an opportunity to bring personal reflection into our dealings with the people we are called to serve.”

« Return to Catholic Outlook April 2010