Four priests celebrate 50 years of ‘being there’
Half a century ago they were part of a record number of young men to be ordained priests in the Archdiocese. Frs Allan Winter, John Vildzius, Richard Morris and Peter Fountain reflected on their combined 200 years of priesthood after their anniversary celebrations last month.
Fr Allan Winter recalls his ordination on September 4 1971, as the most wonderful day of his life, despite a slight glitch.
“As the nine deacons knelt in front of Archbishop Gleeson I noticed that my deacon’s stole was on the wrong way,” Fr Winter told The Southern Cross.
“All the others had their stoles going from left to right, mine was going from right to left. Was I validly ordained? It brought a smile from my classmates.”
Fr Winter is one of five remaining clergy from the group of nine, one of whom lives in Brisbane
(Mgr John Butler). Four of the group left the priesthood.
Fr Winter said his calling came when he was a student at Christian Brothers College, city, and the newly ordained Fr Michael Rodger returned to his old school to speak at an assembly.
“We became good friends,” Fr Winter said.
“The Holy Spirit hit me and I went to the seminary at Rostrevor, determined to be like him.”
Fr Winter was the only one in the group who was sent to the country on their first appointment, serving in Mount Gambier for two years. But it was his posting two years later to Tranmere parish that had the biggest impact on his vocation.
The parish priest was Fr Luke Roberts and he encouraged the young Fr Winter to learn the Italian language and serve the Italian community, which he has done for the past 48 years.
“Fr Roberts was my mentor and the greatest influence on my life as a priest,” Fr Winter said.
After six years in the Tranmere Parish Fr Winter received his first appointment as parish priest in the Parkside. Seven years later he was appointed to the Payneham parish where he has served for 34 years.
Fr Winter said being a priest, for him, meant “bringing God to the people”.
“It is the most wonderful experience to help people find God in their lives, especially those who have gone away from the Church,” he said.
“To comfort those who are suffering is a special gift a priest has and I love to exercise that.
“Summing up my 50 years as a priest, I would say I have been blessed by God and thank Him for bringing St Anthony into my life.
“St Anthony and the feast of St Anthony and our link with Padua has been a real blessing. It culminated with the 50th anniversary of the feast of St Anthony this year here at Payneham on June 13.”
Fr Winter said he was looking forward to his retirement at the end of the year with “some peace and harmony”.
“I will still be of service to the Church pastorally, but on my terms,” he added.
Fr John Vildzius, who will retire at the end of the year, said no day was the same for a priest.
“Yes, there are the scheduled Masses and sacraments and various meetings, but apart from those I’ve found a priest’s life is full of the unexpected, full of variety,” he explained.
“Even at the usual commitments I’ve found that people will come up to express some concern, seek some support, pass on information about a person in need or some information I need to know.”
Looking back on his ordination Mass, Fr Vildzius said being somewhat shy, it was a relief for him to be ordained with eight others by Archbishop Gleeson.
“Our experience of a seminary preparation bonded us as a group, and we celebrate our ordination together annually,” he said.
With two deacons in the Class of ’71 ordained in the Port Pirie Diocese and four in interstate dioceses, this is one of the few years that the group hasn’t gathered for their anniversary due to COVID.
Fr Vildzius remembered his first appointment to St Mary’s parish and said the people welcomed “this new and naïve priest” and brought out different qualities in him that he didn’t know he had.
“In every parish I was stationed I found wonderful, faith-filled people who are an inspiration to my own faith and ministry,” he said.
A number of factors led to him choosing to become a priest.
“God nudged me through the faith of my parents and the practice of our faith,” he said.
“Through the example of priests such as Fr Barrymore Hynes, through being involved at Mass as an altar server, through my Catholic education, through the example of another young man I knew in the parish who was going to the seminary and through those who guided me in the seminary journey.
“My priestly life hasn’t all been plain sailing and there have been difficult personal moments.
“But in the end, when I reflected on where I’m most happy, where I’m most at peace, where I’m most fulfilled, it was to continue to follow Jesus in his love of people, in his practical care for them, in his values and in his spirituality as his priest.
“It’s been a wonderful ride!”
Fr Peter Fountain has had plenty of time to reflect on the past while recovering from a leg operation in the Penola Hospital for three months.
He recalled his ordination in a full Cathedral with lots of family in attendance as a very happy occasion. Seating had to be “rationed”, he said, because of the size of the group.
It was the first ordination Archbishop Gleeson who was joined at the altar by Archbishop Beovich and the then Bishop Leonard Faulkner.
The seed of priesthood was sown in Fr Fountain when he was a child.
“I was critically ill when I was 10,” he said.
“I nearly died, I had peritonitis and glandular fever at the same time…I was anointed, obviously that worked because that was 66 years ago.”
“I thought if I get through this I’ll think about being a priest, which I did except for about 18 months when I considered being a teacher.”
Raised in Mile End “under the flight path of the airport”,
Fr Fountain was educated at Star of the Sea Primary School and St Ignatius’ College Norwood, but completed his final two years of school as a boarder at Rostrevor College. His grandmother became ill and was being cared for by his parents in their home so they sent him to boarding school to ensure his studies weren’t affected.
It meant he didn’t have to go far when he joined St Francis Xavier Seminary.
“I literally walked out the back gate of Rostrevor across the road to the front gate of the seminary,” he said.
His first appointment as a priest was as an assistant to Mgr Vincent Tiggeman at Hectorville parish, then five years at Brighton under two of the “stars of the diocese” in Fr Gavin Kennare and Fr Anthony Kain.
“I was fairly shy, and here I was with those two,” he said.
“The parish secretary told me to be myself, don’t try to copy those two. And when I left she said ‘thanks for being yourself’.”
Appointments at Semaphore, Millicent, Tranmere and the Cathedral followed, before a long career in the country, including six years as parish priest at Pinnaroo, four years at Yorketown and 10 years at Bordertown.
Subsequent appointments to Naracoorte and Penola mean he has served in every parish in the South East over a period of 21 years, excluding Mount Gambier where he retired in 2018. He also had a year in San Francisco on sabbatical in 2008 which he enjoyed before it was cut short by a week or two because his mother died.
Fr Fountain said he liked “the quietness and lack of traffic” in the country and it was his choice to stay there.
“I love being with the people, helping them as much as possible,” he added.
“The past 50 years have been very happy years, quite fulfilling, a few frustrations but I have seen myself change a lot.”
He remembered celebrating an Italian funeral as a young priest just out of training. “There was a lot of weeping and wailing, I said if you don’t stop I’m going home,” he said.
“That turned the tap off…but I would never do that now.”
Preparing couples for marriage has been a high point for Fr Fountain.
“I see them about six or seven times before the wedding, so by the time they get married you’ve got to know them, that’s one of the things I’ve enjoyed the most.”
He also feels blessed to have been in the South East in the lead up and at the time of the canonisation of Mary MacKillop.
Fr Richard Morris doesn’t remember much about his ordination, except being humbled by “lying on the floor being prayed for”.
He said being able to give a blessing after the ordination was also something that stayed with him.
While the call to become a priest is “a mystery”, Fr Morris said he was attracted to the idea as a young altar server.
As with Fr Vildzius, Fr Barrymore Hynes was a priest who influenced him greatly and a person he “respected deeply”.
Currently parish priest of Mt Barker and Strathalbyn, Fr Morris has served in the west of the city at Semaphore, Croydon and Woodville, in the north at Elizabeth and Salisbury and, for nearly half his priestly life, in the South East.Jump to next article
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