Six decades later, Fr McGearty sent out invitations to his diamond anniversary Mass and one of the first people to accept was Emeritus Archbishop Leonard Faulkner.
As St Joseph’s Church at Brighton began filling with people for the anniversary Mass at 2pm on May 6, the news that Archbishop Faulkner had died just half an hour earlier began spreading through the congregation.
Not surprisingly, Fr McGearty dedicated the Mass to the man who befriended him all those years ago and who was his bishop for much of his time as a priest in Adelaide.
“It was a wonderful opportunity, with so many priests present, to offer the Mass for the late Archbishop, who in fact was one of the first to accept my invitation. He kept his invitation to his well-deserved banquet with his Lord and Master,” he said.
The last of a long line of Irish priests to come to Adelaide, Fr McGearty told the congregation that on the day of his arrival he looked “a bit like Charlie Chaplin” because he was wearing a black overcoat, a hat and carrying an umbrella and a box containing all his books and chattels.
“A tall, handsome priest came up to me and said ‘do you know if there’s a Fr Sean McGearty on the ship’,” he recalled.
“I replied, ‘yes’, and he said ‘where is he’ and I said ‘he’s standing right beside you’.”
Raised in Ballivor, County Meath, with his seven siblings, Fr McGearty was ordained at St Kieran’s College, Kilkenny, on June 8 1958 and arrived in Adelaide after a month at sea on December 2 of that year.
He served in the parishes of Murray Bridge, Goodwood, Brighton, Mt Gambier, Woodville, Colonel Light Gardens, Christies Beach, Semaphore, Tullamore (Ireland), Aberfoyle Park and Naracoorte before retiring in 1999. He continued to serve as a supply priest in more than 20 parishes around the State and will continue doing so after he returns from his 60th celebrations in his home village of Ballivor on Friday June 8.
He has already been booked for Victor Harbor/Goolwa parish from Saturday July 21 for a few weeks.
During his homily at the anniversary Mass, Fr McGearty told stories with his trademark Irish humour about getting into strife over the ‘Aussie lingo’.
He thanked the medical staff who had taken such good care of him over the past 20 years, as well as his cousin and carer Gen Traynor. He made special mention of Fr Cathal Doherty SJ from Donegal, Ireland, who was present at the Mass.
The offertory procession featured Irish piper Sam Somerset, three young Irish dancers from the Murphy School of Irish Dancing and Fr McGearty’s neighbour from Ballivor, Johnny Dempsey and his family. Young John Dempsey carried the Gaelic football, which was used in the first international match played at Norwood oval in March 1968 between the All Ireland Champions – County Meath – and the Aussies. The bread and wine was brought up by Gen Traynor and Tony Conlon, a native of County Sligo.
Vicar General Father Philip Marshall thanked Fr McGearty for his faithful service over many years and for bringing the “faith of the Irish” to Adelaide. Fr Hao, parish priest of Virginia/Two Wells who spent a week with the McGearty family in 2015, presented him with a papal blessing, on behalf of his cousin Sr Assunta Loan OP, Rose of Lima Convent in Saigon, Vietnam.
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