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Seven decades of loyal service


After 70 years of altar serving across two continents, Michael Mulvihill could be forgiven for hanging up the cassock.

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But the 78-year-old Brooklyn Park/Richmond parishioner seems to keep finding a reason to serve – both inside and outside – the St John Bosco Church community.

And no one is more grateful than Fr Long Hai Nguyen who was appointed parish priest in 2022.

In his first leadership role since being ordained in 2016, the Vietnamese refugee quickly came to realise the contribution Michael has made to the parish in a variety of ways for more than 40 years.

Michael said he had been thinking of retiring when the Salesians left the parish in 2017 and Fr Peter Zwaans was appointed but the presbytery needed refurbishing, COVID hit and then a number of seminarians arrived as part of their pastoral year.

Similarly, when Fr Long Hai took over just before Easter and had eight services to celebrate, Michael didn’t want to abandon him.

“I felt like he’d been thrown in the deep end and I couldn’t leave him,” he said.

Speaking after Michael’s 70th anniversary as an altar server, Fr Long Hai described Michael as “just wonderful”.

“He places himself in a position to serve not only God but the people, he’s very faithful,” he said.

“Michael is at the church half an hour before 9am Sunday Mass and he also comes in on a Saturday to make sure everything is ready.

“He’s been on the parish pastoral council, he mows the lawns, trims the trees…he helps the parishioners out as well as helping me, it’s not just inside the church that he serves.”

A builder by trade, Michael played a big part in refurbishing the presbytery a few years ago – at half the expected cost – and is always on hand to do maintenance work in the parish.

At Easter he organises Stations of the Cross and at Christmas he prepares the nativity scene and repairs any damaged animals, including replacing the ears on the donkeys.

Michael clearly remembers the first day he served on the altar in the UK seaside town of Hastings. It was the weekend of June 10/11 1953, a week after the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.

“I was supposed to start the week of the coronation but there was a street party so I couldn’t go,” he recalled.

“I was eight years old and the Mass was all in Latin. I was coming back down the steps after changing the missal over with the gospel and I tripped and fell flat on my face.

“The ribbons came out of the missal and I thought that would be it, I’d never serve again.”

But he persisted and when his father migrated to Australia for work opportunities in 1956 and his mother followed a year later with six children, he served every day on the ship in a bid to improve his Latin.

In Adelaide, Michael was educated by the Marist Brothers at Thebarton and St Michael’s College. He was an altar server at Queen of Angels Church, then St Aloysius Church at Richmond.

On the weekend of his anniversary, Fr Long Hai was away on leave and Fr Maurice Shinnick gave him a blessing.

“I wasn’t expecting it,” Michael said.

“Then the next week Fr Long Hai came back and did the same again.”

A member of the Guild of St Stephen since 1980, Michael received an altar server medal blessed by Pope John Paul II the year he joined and it still takes pride of place in the sacristy, despite later receiving a second medal.

In 2015 he received an Archbishop’s Award for service to parish life after being nominated by parish priest Fr Joseph Lee.

Other highlights of the past seven decades include organising the priests for the Papal Mass at Victoria Park in 1986 and, more recently, serving alongside seminarians, including Fr James Thompson whom he called “the fireman because he rang the Angelus bells too fast and too loud”.

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