No regrets for man of the people
Fr George Nader turned up to celebrate Mass on Kangaroo Island one Sunday wearing dark sunglasses, not because it was a particularly sunny day but because he had a black eye from playing Aussie Rules footy the day before.
A member of the Kingscote 1970 premiership team, Fr Nader is one of a handful of South Australian priests who continued to play sport after their ordination – Bishop Eugene Hurley and Fr Adrian Noonan are two others that come to mind.
“I always found it was a wonderful way of getting to know the younger people, they see that this bloke is just human, he gets a black eye like everyone else, or a blood nose,”
Fr Nader said.
“After the games you’d get together with the lads and have a chat and a lemonade!”
Fr Nader could well have had a successful career as a league footballer for West Adelaide had he not chosen to enter the seminary at the age of 19.
A talented sportsman at Christian Brothers College, he played Colts and Reserves for Westies before being invited along with some of the other younger players to train with the league team at the end of 1954.
“The others went on to play league and I joined the seminary,” Fr Nader recalled after celebrating his 60th anniversary as a priest on June 30.
“The thought was always there and it stayed with me, even though I was very passionate about my sport.”
He has no regrets about his decision to pursue a vocation in the priesthood.
“I’d probably do the same again,” he said with a chuckle.
Fr Nader’s parents, John and Catherine, emigrated to Australia from Lebanon in 1923, a year after their first child was born. They settled in the west end of the city where John was a bootmaker and Catherine had eight more children, George being the second youngest.
With other Lebanese Maronite Catholics in Adelaide, they worshipped at St Patrick’s Church, Grote Street, but the Mass was in English and there was no Maronite priest until much later.
“We assimilated very well,”
Fr Nader said, adding the children spoke mostly English at home.
Educated by the Dominicans at what is now St Mary’s College, Fr Nader said the Sisters had their “hands full trying to discipline us…we were pretty wild”. After completing junior primary the boys continued their education at CBC.
All his brothers played football and cricket. “We loved sport, we lived for sport,” he said.
“Around the West End it was very important. In those days we could put a box out in the middle of Gray Street to play our Test matches, or we could kick the football up Waymouth Street, only occasionally having to step aside to let a motor car go through.”
After school Fr Nader worked at Commercial Motors for one year before entering St Francis Xavier Seminary at Rostrevor in 1955.
At the time there were about 50 students at varying stages of study, more than enough to field a decent football team which played matches against the Catholic Young Men’s Society, the Young Christian Workers, Rostrevor Firsts and Aquinas College.
He was ordained by Archbishop Matthew Beovich with classmate bishop-to-be Philip Kennedy, John Stratton (a Columban) and four seminarians from Sandhurst Diocese.
His first appointment was Goodwood parish where he gladly acceded to the parish priest’s request to form a football team and he played for Goodwood YCW for three years.
Moving to Mount Gambier, where sport was a big part of the community, he played for West Gambier Football Club.
“It was a good parish to be in, a big parish and a busy parish…and there was plenty of sport,” he said.
Promoted to parish priest of Kangaroo Island, he continued to play footy and enjoy country life but said he sometimes felt the “isolation” of being away from other priests and Religious.
“The Josephite Sisters would come once a year to help prepare the children for their sacraments and that was great for families to have that support,” he said.
Whether in the country or the city, he said being a priest was a “really privileged position”.
“Families invite you to be part of their lives and they share so much with us, their happy times, their sad times, that’s one of the great consolations of being a priest, that we’re able to be there for people when they need us most.”
Returning to Adelaide in the early 70s, Fr Nader spent five years as chaplain to the Largs Bay Orphanage run by the Sisters of St Joseph and was also chaplain to the seafarers. From there he moved to Glenelg for three years as an assistant parish priest and then became parish priest of Colonel Light Gardens where he remained for 13 years. During this time he was chaplain to the Repatriation Hospital.
It was after his appointment to Plympton parish in 1994 that he met horse trainer George Smith and began helping him train his trotters at nearby Weigall Oval track at 5.30am on weekdays.
“It was something different,” he said.
“I was in my 50s by then and I did it for the next five or six years.
“When we were kids we used to ride horses bareback in the West Parklands for a family friend who had a poultry run. We used to help him out by riding the horses for his carrying business.”
After 16 years at Plympton parish where he oversaw its twinning with Glenelg, the much-loved Fr Nader retired in 2010 and for the past 12 years has been a supply priest to various parishes. In recent times has celebrated Mass regularly at Calvary Flora McDonald.
He still fills in at St John the Baptist Church, Plympton, and the shed at the back of his Plympton home is the meeting point for the popular Glenelg Plympton Men’s Shed group which meets every Wednesday morning.
At 87 and living independently, he still looks like he could have a dob of the footy but a gym session on Tuesday afternoons has to suffice and he enjoys a cooked lunch at Francis Murphy Villa most days.
Only one sibling is still alive, his younger sister, but many of Fr Nader’s nieces and nephews came together for his jubilee on the feast of St John the Baptist in June and he celebrated with the parish at a Mass followed by morning tea on July 3.
“It was lovely to be invited to say Mass, and we had a lovely morning tea, it was really good,” the humble Fr Nader said.
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