Fr Gerry Iverson golden jubilee of ordination
By Virginia Knight, Catholic Outlook July 2010
|Fr Gerry (seated right) is grateful for the support of the parish team including (standing, from left): Louise Woefl, Sacramental Coordinator; Sabine Harriss, Parish Secretary; Sr Helen Cunningham OP, Pastoral Associate; Fr Zakaria Gayed, Assistant Priest; and Richard Ward, Parish Manager (seated left). |
At times self deprecating despite the many achievements in his priestly ministry, but with a wonderfully wry sense of humour, Rev Gerry Iverson celebrates his golden jubilee in July.
Exactly 50 years to the day of his ordination on 16 July 1960, Fr Gerry will be joined by Bishop Anthony, parishioners and friends from across the Diocese at Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish for Mass at 7pm followed by a reception in the parish hall.
The eldest of four children (he has two brothers and one sister) Gerry Iverson was born in 1937 to Claude and Kathleen Iverson. He grew up in Albury and was educated at Brigid’s Primary and Christian Bros College.
After completing his schooling, the young Gerry went straight into the seminary in 1954 at just 17 years of age.
“Later at Manly, I used to tell my own students that had I been the rector of the seminary at the time I would have said, ‘Gerry Iverson go away and grow up a bit and come back later on’.”
He said a number of things drew him to priesthood.
“It was a vocation which had a lot more prestige attached to it than it does now,” Fr Gerry explains.
With such a strong Irish Catholic presence in the parish, the priest at that time was almost an icon in the community.
One of the teachers at his high school also had a very strong influence on his decision to become a priest.
“Br Tom Davitt, a Christian Brother, was a wild eccentric Irishman, but his love of the priesthood was profound and his influence on us was extraordinary. It seemed like a very fulfilling kind of vocation.”
Gerry spent two years at St Columba’s Seminary in Springwood, and a further seven years at St Patrick’s College, Manly, including two years of graduate studies. He was ordained by Most Rev Francis Henschke, Bishop of Wagga Wagga, in St Patrick’s Church, Albury, in 1960.
His first appointment was in 1963 to the parish of Junee as second curate. He did “a lot of knocking on doors” for home visitation and set up a young people’s group.
After 12 months at Junee he was transferred to the Cathedral parish at Wagga Wagga as fourth curate for four years. “I was the bottom of the barrel,” he said grinning.
Following a three-year appointment at Griffith he returned to the Cathedral as Administrator from 1973-78 under Bishop Frank Carroll. As the leader of the parish team, it was during this time that Fr Gerry began working officially in the ministry that has been one of the focuses of his priesthood.
Working with counsellors from Charles Sturt University and other Christian clergy he helped to establish a marriage and personal counselling service in Wagga, which was similar to the type of service now provided by Centacare.
In 1979, Fr Gerry returned to academia in a very different way as he puts it, when he went off for a ‘mid-life re-education’ at the Institute of Pastoral Studies in Chicago in the US.
He completed a Masters degree with a wide scope for developing pastoral skills, updating his knowledge of theology and scripture, psychology and understanding human behaviour. He said this was a wonderfully enriching period in his life.
On his return to Australia, he accepted an appointment as curate in Albury and then Griffith while becoming Director of Marriage Education and Family Support for five years in the Diocese of Wagga Wagga.
From 1985-90, Fr Gerry was rector of the seminary at St Patrick’s College, Manly.
“And God laughed,” he said. “It was a rewarding experience to be in charge of the formation of these young people and dealing with their enthusiasm and their questions of commitment; facing up to the realities of inconsistency and human failure, and all the things that can interfere with the best of our intentions.”
Archbishop Ted Clancy sent Fr Gerry to look at what was happening in formation at seminaries around the world for three months. He came back determined to ensure the students were more active in the evaluation process of their formation experience than they had been before.
He aimed to produce a fairer process of participation in which they would give the educators feedback and they, in turn, would react and respond. It was an enjoyable but challenging time, and he feels he worked harder there than anywhere else in terms of a sense of responsibility.
However, he missed the variety of closeness with families that parish ministry brings.
“It was in one sense a desert experience. But, of course, in the desert the flowers bloom after the rain comes; so it was also a very rich experience.”
Looking for a change of pace, he then applied for temporary work in the Diocese of Parramatta. Bishop Bede Heather sent him to Mt Kurrajong House of Prayer, which was a much more relaxed lifestyle in comparison to his time at the seminary.
Once he was incardinated in Parramatta, he was appointed to Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish. Fr Gerry came to Greystanes on Easter Sunday 1994 in the fallout of the sexual abuse accusations that had seen the Brothers of St Gerard Majella depart that year and the parish subsequently handed back to the diocesan clergy.
Living a fulfilling human life
Fr Gerry was faced with another career challenge, this time to rebuild and reunite the parish. He saw his job as reinforcing the positives achieved by the brothers during their administration, and focussed on high-quality liturgy and a strong adult formation program.
While many felt disillusioned and walked away, many others recognised the chance of a new beginning. Now in his 17th year at Greystanes, Fr Gerry is proud that the parish has achieved a sense of ownership.
“There is a significant number of people involved in ministry and the quality of the leadership is extraordinary,” he said.
But by far the most enduring part of Fr Gerry’s ministry has been assisting in marriages. At Greystanes, he has enjoyed preparing couples for marriage and watching the growth in their understanding of the challenges and the strengths they develop with each other.
“The best thing about being a priest is the entrée card it gives you into people’s lives. You can be with them in their most precious moments, their moments of grace.
“It is not just the celebration of the sacraments that is important, but the sharing of the joy and the sorrow, struggles and hopefulness, and all those human emotions that go with those different stages of life.”
The hardest part is sometimes the loneliness.
“The biggest burden as one grows older is the sense of loss of sharing in the most common of human experience; that of raising children and being a father,” he said.
“What helps you to cope is the trust people bring to you in inviting you to be a part of their family life. The cultivation of friendships is the essential counterpart of priestly ministry. You are a friend to a great number of people and it is a great support in maintaining a priestly ministry.”
As he prepares to celebrate 50 years of priesthood, Fr Gerry cites the words of Jesus in John 10:10 as his choice in Scripture: “I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.” He feels it sums up the priesthood and Christian life, and is a most wonderful way of living a fulfilling human life.
Fr Gerry will celebrate his golden jubilee with a Mass at 7pm on 16 July followed by a reception in the parish hall. For catering purposes, please advise the parish if you will be attending, by phoning (02) 9631 8135.
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