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New café in good hands

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Mick Beech is certain that his wife Tammy-Lee is looking down on him as he embarks on a new business venture running the High Street Café at Mary MacKillop Precinct, Kensington.

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And he reckons St Mary MacKillop is right by her side.

Tammy-Lee (Tammy) died four years ago on October 5 after a short battle with lung cancer.

“People think you’re a bit weird but since Tammy has gone to heaven there’s been things happening and I think one of the things she’s been able to do is to line up this café,” said Mick.

“There’s just been a lot of stuff, even with our kids, that’s happened, and for the better.

“I think she’s got really pally with Mary MacKillop up there.”

The 53-year-old mother of five and Catholic convert first came to know Australia’s first saint through the family’s association with the Josephite Sisters.

The Beech children attended St Joseph’s School in Barmera where Mick and Tammy were heavily involved in the local Catholic community.

Tammy and her daughter Sheridan accompanied Sr Kerry Keenan rsj to World Youth Day in Cologne in 2005 and the whole family made the pilgrimage to WYD Sydney in 2008.

Mick was coordinator of faith formation for Catholic youth in the Riverland for a number of years before being enticed to Adelaide in 2011 to take on the role of Conference coordinator for Vinnies.

Sheridan and their eldest son Jonathon, who was recruited by West Adelaide Football Club, were already living in the city and a year later the rest of the family followed.

Raised an Anglican, Tammy surprised Mick by telling him in 2012 that she wanted to become a Catholic.

“I said ‘what for, you’re already a Catholic in my eyes’? I mean she brought the kids up Catholic, played music at church, started a playgroup up at the Catholic school, she was the head of the P&F, became a board member and then chair of the school board after me for six or seven years.

“She said ‘well I don’t get to receive the sacraments’ and I said ‘bloody hell’ I didn’t even think of that.”

Riverland priest Fr Steve Ardill took her through the RCIA program when he was in Adelaide once a month and she was baptised at Easter 2013.

Two years later Tammy had a sore back that turned out to be a fractured spine from secondary bone cancer, followed by a fractured neck. Despite hoping and praying for the best, the prognosis was grim and Sheridan’s wedding was brought forward by six months to ensure Tammy could be there.

Mick said throughout her illness, Tammy prayed every day to Mary MacKillop while tightly holding a wooden cross with Mary’s image in the middle – a gift from Sr Kerry.

“She held onto that cross all the time, even when she was in hospital at the Queen Elizabeth…it really helped her get through that one year.”

When their eldest son Jonathon (Jono) made his debut for the Adelaide Crows six months after Tammy died, coach Don Pyke asked Mick to present him with his guernsey.

In front of the playing group and his children an emotional Mick told Jono that his mum had “the best seat in the house” and would be proud of him.

The Beech family before Tammy’s death four years ago.

Mick said Tammy’s death was particularly hard on their youngest son, Kylan, who was only 14 at the time. Now in Year 12 at Nazareth College, he is an IT whiz and is planning to help Mick with this aspect of the business.

Middle brothers Nicholas, 28, and Jordan, 26, whose band McKenzie has been performing at gigs in Queensland, returned to Adelaide to play at the official launch of the café on the weekend of October 16-18.

The family’s talents don’t end there. Sheridan, a teacher at Nazareth, has sung the national anthem at three SANFL grand finals at Adelaide Oval and also performed over the opening weekend.

Mick said he and Tammy would stop at different cafés on their drives to Adelaide and talk about what they would do it if it were their place.

“We used to talk about owning our own café when we were closer to retirement,” he said.

“After she passed away I could hear her saying ‘stop wallowing in your own self-pity and go and open a bloody café.”

After four years of looking around for a place, Mick heard through Sheridan who had begun volunteering at the Mary MacKillop Museum, that the Sisters were still looking for someone to run the café next door.

He started looking into the feasibility of the business and when his role at Vinnies was cut back to one day a week due to COVID-19, he had more time to plan the fit-out of the building and train as a barista.

The High Street Café adjoins the museum gift shop and there is a window with an engraving of Mary MacKillop’s face which Mick can see while he’s making coffee. He said it felt like Tammy was looking at him and telling him everything would be okay.

While friends from outside the Church have questioned him about his faith considering what happened to Tammy, Mick said he continued to look to Mary MacKillop as an intercessory. “We don’t know the big picture,” he insisted.

And he is thankful for the 30 years the couple had together after meeting at the Berri Winery where Mick was a cellar hand and Tammy was a lab assistant before becoming a dental nurse.

“When I saw her in her white lab coat I thought ‘oh she’s a hottie’ and then one day I got the courage up to ask her out,” he said.

“I probably would have ended up in the gutter if she hadn’t come along.”

Mick said he tells his kids and friends, “I know she’s gone and it’s bloody shit but you’ve got to think of the amazing times we had together”.

Opening the café on October 16, Mayor of Norwood Payneham St Peters Robert Bria congratulated Mick for “taking a punt, or should I say calculated risk” in difficult economic circumstances.

With John Lochowiak conducting a smoking ceremony to ward off the evil spirits, Fr Paul Mullins SJ blessing the café and the Sisters of St Joseph his best customers, there seems little doubt it will be a winner.

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