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50 years of listening to the people

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It isn’t often that one can celebrate 50 years in the same job, yet this is the reality for Father Paul Cashen MSC who on May 31 marked half a century of priestly life.

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Fr Paul’s impressive resume includes roles as parish priest, administrator and Vicar General across three separate Australian dioceses since 1969, and being awarded a PhD in 2004.

Despite his achievements, the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart (MSC) priest wanted a ‘no-fuss’ celebration with the Henley Beach and Hindmarsh MSC parishes and wider Adelaide communities. It’s this humility and his focus on others which parishioners and colleagues attribute to his popularity.

Henley Beach parish priest Fr John Rate MSC spoke fondly of Paul during a community celebration on June 9, describing him as “one of the kindest men I’ve ever met”, and reflected on Fr Paul’s unwavering care of the late Fr Frank Perry MSC during his final days.

At just 15 years of age and in Year 10 at St Michael’s College at Henley Beach, Fr Paul responded to inner rumblings calling him to the priesthood and left home to study in the minor seminary at Douglas Park, NSW, while also completing Years 11 and 12. Looking back on the challenge of being away from family from such a young age, Fr Paul said he treasured weekly handwritten letters from his father, reminders of love and support which remain with him to this day.

At the age of 29, Fr Paul was appointed parish priest of Henley Beach which at the time consisted of five separate churches ministered to by only three priests. It wasn’t long before Fr Paul was forced to make major changes to Mass times.

“It was a matter of listening to people and helping them understand,” he said. “Ultimately, it brought the parish together.”

Referring to the challenges of a vocation to religious life and the priesthood, Fr Paul credited his family who “sacrificed so much” to support him at the beginning.

“I belong to a loving family who care for me, and that’s essential for priests and Religious,” he said.

“Having women in my family helped me too, because they would tell me if I said or did the wrong thing…the role of women in the Church today is so vital.”

“Most priests are asked, ‘Do you miss not having children?’, and of course you do. But I’ve got 20 great nieces and nephews, and I know and love them all, and that’s a gift too.”

Acknowledging the challenge of being a Catholic today, Fr Paul’s advice for others was to remember that “the Church is people”.

“As Pope Francis says, it’s the ordinary people, that’s where Jesus is,” he said. “The task of a priest is to help people understand that.

“The most important task of anyone who believes or accepts Jesus is to share God’s love with others.

“How to give expression to that is what the Church (everyone) is challenged with.”

For information on the MSCs, visit www.misacor.org.au

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