“In those days just before we celebrated Mass at seven in the morning the Sisters would come from the convent and would chant morning prayer in the side chapel,” the now 75 year old recalled.
“So getting ready for Mass, there was this chanting going on in the background and all of it combined to say, this is something special. I think that was drawing (me) into that mystique.”
He continued to serve at the church nearly every day until he joined the minor seminary at Rostrevor at the age of 16, and upon completing his secondary schooling embarked on his journey to the priesthood.
Discussing his strong Catholic upbringing, Fr Peter said he had fond memories of walking to Mass with his parents, brother and four sisters each Sunday. The children were all educated by the Dominican Sisters at Semaphore, with Fr Peter going on to be taught by the Marist Brothers at Alberton.
His parents were “over the moon” when he announced he was going to attend the seminary and their joy was amplified when his sister Margaret also followed into Religious life and joined the Dominicans. Tragically she died of a brain aneurysm in her thirties.
Ordained in 1970, Fr Peter’s first appointment was to Goodwood, then Colonel Light Gardens and Thebarton. He served as Archbishop Gleeson’s secretary in Church Office for six years and in 1986 received his first posting as a parish priest, moving to Kapunda.
“All the parishes where I was priest were in the country and country ministry is different,” he said.
“There is a closeness and a familiarity with people there. You are much closer to their lives.”
After a decade in Kapunda he served in the Mallee Border parish for four years and was then appointed to Tailem Bend.
While at Tailem Bend, with the great help of family and a brother priest, Fr Peter realised he was suffering the disease of alcoholism and travelled to Sydney to enter a rehabilitation program. Before the program started he went to North Sydney and prayed at the tomb of St Mary of the Cross, and he is sure Mary’s intercession helped him in attaining sobriety and keeping it.
Leaving Tailem Bend after six years, Fr Peter served in Victor Harbor for seven years and in 2013 took up residence as assistant priest of Brighton/Hallett Cove where he continues to celebrate weekend Masses as needed.
The golden anniversary of Fr Peter’s ordination last month was a joyful occasion, with Archbishop O’Regan concelebrating Mass at St Martin de Porres Church with 12 other priests. Fr Peter was delighted that so many family, friends and members of various parishes joined him on the day, with one of the “special” groups being the Catholics he led on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 2011 and who have remained close friends with him since.
Reflecting on his ministry, Fr Peter said he had always felt humbled to be included in the lives of others.
“It is an extraordinary life in that people let you into their lives at the really important moments, either of sorrow or happiness,” he said.
“There is something special about the Catholic community and the priests, and that they share all these high and low moments of life.
“People welcome the priest, the person, the man and I guess that is part of our whole Catholic tradition of the sacramental system. There is something really personal about it.
“That’s part of the mystery of the call to priesthood – it is not just a job, it’s a ministry, it is being with people and part of their lives. I guess it’s what Jesus did.”
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