John O’Doherty was born in Brisbane and growing up one of his passions was sailing, which he once said taught him to handle challenges because “you never know what the sea will do”.
From an early age he was attracted to the life of a missionary but it wasn’t until he was in his mid 20s and embarking on a career in the insurance industry in country New South Wales that he decided to do something about it.
Working for the South British Insurance Company in Casino, John attended a parish mission conducted by three Oblates of Mary Immaculate, one of whom was the director of vocations for the order.
He began to ask the question ‘how do I know if this is for me?’ and the Oblates told him ‘you just have to try it’.
Commencing his novitiate at Sorrento, Victoria Fr John went on to study in the Oblates Seminary in South Africa, at St Mary’s Mulgrave Victoria and Corpus Christi College Glen Waverley.
At the age of 33 he was ordained with a number of diocesan priests at St Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne on July 22 1967.
His first posting was to Hillcrest parish in Adelaide in 1968 then after two years he was appointed director of novices at Mulgrave and in 1979 he became the first parish priest of Rosebud on the Mornington Peninsula.
An interest in Indonesia resulting from his studies of the Indonesian language and culture at Monash University prompted him to volunteer as a missionary to that country. He was officially appointed to the mission in October 1982, marking the beginning of a 28-year ministry which he described as a ‘great privilege’.
His ministry works included visiting the prison on the island of Nusa Kambangan. This is known as ‘execution island’ and has been newsworthy in conjunction with the Bali bombers and the Bali Nine.
With mission team members, Fr John worked amongst poor villages in Java to improve health, personal development and secondary education of the people.
The mission assisted village leaders in how to develop their own programs, so small ventures might start producing some income. Fr John also worked in Jakarta where, over time, the large and growing Oblate parish was eventually split into two: one parish having 12,000 parishioners and the other 10,000.
Thankfully Fr John never felt threatened whilst living in Indonesia, although he was well aware that in some other areas churches were burnt to the ground.
Fr John also worked as a team leader for English sessions within the Oblate renewal program in Aix-en-Provence, Southern France. It was in this region that the Oblates of Mary Immaculate were founded by Saint Eugene de Mazenod in 1816. The program provided a time for Oblates to take time for prayer and spiritual renewal.
In 2011 Fr John returned to Australia, reducing his ‘active ministry’, but taking a keen interest in providing pastoral care to the Oblate Dernancourt parish in Adelaide. This included his involvement in sacramental programs and conducting parish and school Masses. Fr John celebrated monthly Mass in Indonesian which was greatly appreciated by members of the Indonesian community.
A cartoon on his desk said: ‘The only trouble with retirement, is you never get a day off’. Fr John had such an energy for ministry; he never wished to retire as such. His unexpected passing in Brisbane following a stroke was a huge shock to his relatives, Oblate brothers and friends.
Fr John was a truly dedicated priest and his presence is sadly missed. His funeral Mass was held at Iona College, Lindum, Brisbane, on August 3.
A memorial Mass at Dernancourt on August 9 was concelebrated by 19 priests including Administrator Delegate Fr Philip Marshall, Fr Slawek Plonka OMI from Sydney and Fr John McGinty OMI from Melbourne.
More than 400 worshippers gathered to pray and celebrate Fr John’s life of service, spanning 51 years as an Oblate priest. The choir from St Pius X School led the hymns beautifully, with organist and harpist accompaniment.
Rest in peace our much beloved Fr John O’Doherty.
– Compiled by Carmel PrenticeJump to next article