Sixty years to the day, at his Diamond Jubilee Mass in Our Lady of Victories Church, Glenelg, Fr Chambers said he had kept that promise to all the “good people who have worked with me, supported me and encouraged me”.
Seated at a portable altar in the sanctuary, Fr Chambers made a subtle reference to his health struggles: “Quite frankly I am surprised to be here with you today … I was even more surprised 60 years ago to be ordained a priest by Archbishop Beovich in St Francis Xavier’s Cathedral, a day very much like today in weather,” he said.
“It’s the period between that ordination and this 60th anniversary that, above all, is most surprising to me. I couldn’t believe that I could become a priest and I am delighted that I have served our Lord for 60 years. Thanks to people like you who have helped me in that time. Thanks be to God for these 60 years of priesthood with Christ.”
Born on May 12 1938, Fr Chambers grew up in the Kingswood parish and attended Christian Brothers College until Year 7.
At the age of 12, he became a ‘schoolboy seminarian’ moving to St Francis Xavier Seminary, Rostrevor, where he completed his secondary education and began his preparation for the priesthood.
Fr Chambers recalled the instruction given by Archbishop Matthew Beovich: “The diocesan priest is to be in the world, yet not of the world, thus your spiritual training must go on in close association with the normal duties of your schoolboy or student life. You will be studying like other boys, playing the same games, but in the inner sanctuary of your soul you will be seeking perfection of the highest order…. In piety, purity, humility, obedience, discipline and study, strive under the guidance of your worthy Rector and of your Spiritual Advisor, and your teachers, the Christian Brothers, to prepare yourselves, that with God’s grace you may one day become priests after the heart of God.”
From his early years as a seminarian through the formal years of formation in the study of philosophy and theology, the young John Chambers saw the beginnings of a changing Church. The new seminary at Rostrevor needed ongoing work and all who lived at the seminary – rector, professors and students – worked together to create and build the physical seminary as well as a community of faith and support.
Throughout his years of service, Fr Chambers worked in the parishes of Edwardstown, Glenelg, Dulwich/Burnside and Kilburn. As Diocesan Vocations director his warmth and generosity of service encouraged young men considering a vocation to the priesthood to reflect, pray and deepen their love of God with an eye to a lifelong service of God and the people of God.
One of Fr Chambers’ proudest achievements is the establishment of the Catholic Deaf Association. With the blessing and support of Archbishop Beovich, he became the first chaplain to the Deaf Community and worked energetically with Kevin and Anne Cresdee (deceased) to establish a ministry to the deaf and hearing impaired in the Archdiocese.
From humble beginnings this ministry grew to be an inclusive and vital link for the deaf in the living of their faith, one which continues today with the support of Catholic Charities and its chaplain Fr Kevin Taylor and pastoral associate Sr Majella O’Sullivan rsj.
Fr Chambers lived through the years of the Second Vatican Council and witnessed many changes to the life and structure of the Archdiocese. He walked with the people entrusted to his care in a spirit of solidarity, friendship and generous service. He is remembered by many as being a gentle but ardent preacher of the Gospel. He worked with people rather than dominate or dictate to them.
Asked what has sustained him in his life as a priest Fr Chambers said: “The Eucharist, my prayer life and good friendships”.
While his jubilee celebration was impacted by COVID restrictions, Fr Chambers said it was a joyful occasion and those who couldn’t make it were “held in my heart as they hold me in theirs”.
“In God we are united in thanksgiving,” he added.
Joining Fr Chambers for the Jubilee Mass and morning tea were Vicar General Fr Philip Marshall, Glenelg parish priest Fr John Herd and Fr Kevin Taylor JCL, along with about 40 members of his family and close friends.
In his homily Fr Marshall said he had a special fondness for Fr Chambers, dating back to when he first met him as a 15-year-old student contemplating a future as a Catholic priest, an experience shared by Fr Taylor who was also encouraged by Fr Chambers in discerning his vocation.
“It was a big moment, I was meeting a great man,” Fr Marshall said. “I was met by this extraordinary graciousness and kindness, with such warmth; you will always be part of my story,” Fr Marshall said.
“You have been a pillar of our Archdiocese, one of our great priests … over 60 years of generous, beautiful ministry, to people when they needed it most in their lives.
“Today we give thanks to God for John and to John for your generous response that has touched our lives in beautiful ways.
“Ad Multos Annos.”
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