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Footy tackle tests resolve


Accidents on the football field can sometimes have a devastating and lasting impact on someone’s life, as was the case for Father Noel Mansfield MSC for whom a relatively harmless sling tackle almost ended his dreams of becoming a priest.

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It was 1958 and the Queenslander was playing in a friendly Aussie Rules football match with fellow seminarians in Melbourne when tragedy struck. (He had completed his novitiate as an MSC and was professed in February 1953.)

“The man who tackled me was later to become the Bishop of Darwin, the late Ted Collins MSC. He was a big man and had been a policeman on the beat in Sydney and he just grabbed me and slung me like a rag doll and I landed on the back of my head,” Fr Noel explained.

The resultant concussion led to him having an epileptic fit a few days later and while his condition could be managed with medication, the diagnosis had far-reaching implications. Under 1917 Canon Law, those suffering from epilepsy weren’t permitted to be ordained as they were considered ‘either not quite in their right mind or possessed by the Evil One’.

Fortunately, changes under the Second Vatican Council meant that at the age of 34 he was finally ordained, celebrating his 50th anniversary as a priest on June 10. However, as Fr Noel told The Southern Cross there were times after his epilepsy diagnosis that he doubted if he would ever fulfil what he thought was his calling of becoming a priest.

“My classmates were ordained in 1959 and waiting for my ordination was my real ‘dark night’. At the time I had enough things to keep my mind occupied, but every now and then there was a real feeling of emptiness… the dark night.

“Many times I thought of leaving. I never questioned my faith but what came through most clearly to me is that priesthood is a gift – it’s not something I can claim for myself, it’s a gift and something I really treasure now.”

Not that his years of waiting were wasted. During his “dark night” he found much light and happiness teaching at Monivae College in Hamilton, Victoria. He became sports master and in the wider community took up roles as secretary of the local football league and cricket association.

“I got to know a lot of people around Hamilton so when I was ordained there were 400 invitees – because I knew so many not only at the school but in the town.”

After his ordination he continued working as a teacher, spending five years at Daramalan College in Canberra and then back to Hamilton for a further eight years, the last five as principal of the junior campus. It was during this time he taught Adelaide Football Club coach Phil Walsh and this connection saw him asked by the family to conduct the private funeral service for Walsh in 2015.

He studied for a Masters of Religious Education at Fordham University in New York. A couple of years later he was asked to go to Papua New Guinea, spending seven of the next eight years looking after a minor seminary, Chanel College, in Rabaul on the island of New Britain.

“This was a real highlight for me – and so was being principal of the junior campus at Monivae. There were 240 students in Year 7 and 8 alone there and by Easter I knew every student by name and their families – so Hamilton really is like my second home.”

On his return to Australia he completed a Spiritual Directors’ course at the Heart of Life Spirituality Centre in Box Hill, Victoria, and in 1999 Fr Noel accepted an appointment at Sacred Heart Parish Hindmarsh/Findon which is under the care of the MSC.

Today, he continues to serve the needs of parishioners and also spends much time writing, with his current topic of choice the ‘spirituality of ageing’. He is also a regular visitor to nursing homes and the house-bound in the parish.

And despite the football incident so many years ago that had such an impact on his life, Fr Noel has always maintained an interest in sports and keeping fit… striving to achieve a goal of 10,000 steps each day.


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