Born in Melbourne to Eileen and Perce Rate, John was the dependable, responsible first child.
As the elder brother of Colleen and Paul, he was a hard act to follow. He kept a tidy room, did the dishes and never had to be asked to do anything. He was top of his class 12 years straight and had an innate intellectual curiosity – in languages, history, philosophy and literature.
John was professed as a Missionary of the Sacred Heart in February 1965 and was ordained in Melbourne in 1973.
He started his priestly ministry in Papua New Guinea as a teacher and then studied in Paris and Rome preparing to lecture in the seminary. However, parish ministry became his calling from the 1970s and he was appointed to parishes in Canberra, Sydney and Adelaide.
As a pastor he was available and reached out to those who struggled. In the Archdiocese he was involved in the Diocesan Liturgical Commission and in the formation of Clergy Life and Ministry. His involvement and commitment to Marriage Encounter and Teams of Our Lady took him beyond the parish and overseas.
John came to the Henley Beach parish at the beginning of 1986 as a young and energetic assistant priest with a clear vision for the future. He took up the position of parish priest at the beginning of 1987.
In 1988, it soon became clear that decisions needed to be made with regard to the repair and maintenance of the four Mass centres. Through a prayerful discernment process with the community, the decision was made to consolidate the parish into one community and Mass centre and to sell the other properties.
As a consequence, the beautiful worship space of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Church came to fruition.
To ensure parishioners maintained a sense of belonging, connectedness and healing during the restructuring process, the parish established Passionist Family Groups, several of which continue to meet.
During this early period, John was actively involved with Antioch. He loved the youth of the parish and saw them as its future. And they adored him in return.
The quilt they made for him after his kidney surgery says it all. He also saw a need for support for 22 to 40 year olds, resulting in the formation of the Barnabas group.
As parish priest John recognised and identified the gifts people held. His affirming and loving approach made it very hard to even think of saying no. John was able to trust his people and let go.
In 1993 John was appointed to the Kippax parish in Canberra, followed by the challenge of Randwick, the mother parish for the MSCs in Australia.
John loved to stay in touch with current world events and current thinking. He always provided parishioners with access to relevant articles and reflections and he conducted several series of scripture talks over a period of time. While at Randwick he prepared a number of scripture talks which are available on You Tube.
Although his opinion was that you should never come back to a parish where you’ve been the parish priest, he returned to Henley Beach in 2009 with his extraordinary sense of vision and his love of parish and people very much intact.
He still wanted the people of the parish to be at the forefront of decision making and the direction of the parish. He saw himself as a member of the Parish Pastoral Council.
One of John’s great loves was travelling, especially on overseas pilgrimages, including his memorable personal journey along the Camino de Santiago. There was always a cheeky grin when he’d boast he’d already been to such and such a country.
Up until a few weeks ago he was still hopeful of doing one more pilgrimage to Russia. But he knew his hip was problematic and he was actually scheduled for a hip replacement on October 2.
John also had a deep appreciation of married couples which came through in his long and valued involvement with Teams of Our Lady and Marriage Encounter both in Australia and internationally. He said he got his best support for his priesthood from being with married couples who were trying to love each other every day. He thought the Marriage Encounter experience was the best gift the Church had for married couples. And he saw family as the heart of the Church. He also loved engaged couples. He said their new love had already changed the world.
His passion for rich and creative liturgy was evident; he recognised the importance of beautiful music to enhance prayer; he introduced the 9pm candlelit Mass on Monday nights; he delivered heartfelt, meaningful and courageous homilies – he was not frightened to tackle some very challenging issues in our Church.
Family was paramount for John. He really worked at maintaining regular contact with his 10 nieces and nephews and was always interested in what they were doing. He was the family priest too, celebrating Mass around the kitchen table, marrying and baptising everyone. He buried aunties, his baby nephew, his dad and, just a few months ago, his dear mum. He was always there for the birth of babies and all the big moments in the family.
He died doing what he loved and where he was happiest. What he wanted most was to make a deep connection with people, and he continued to do this until his last day.
Taken from the eulogies by friend John Wallace and sister Colleen.
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