Fr John Chambers – gentle, faithful, humble, generous and one of nature’s finest gentlemen. He had a great love and trust in God in Jesus Christ, and this was evident in his calm, considered demeanour. He loved God and God in return made him an instrument of his love, reflecting God’s love through him to all those with whom he encountered.
John grew up in the Kingswood parish and attended Christian Brothers College until Year 7.
His call to the priestly vocation came early; 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.
He was ordained priest on July 1 1961, a challenging time for all clergy in the lead up to the Second Vatican Council.
Following his ordination, in December 1961 Fr John was appointed as assistant to Monsignor Skehan, the parish priest at Edwardstown, and in March 1962 appointed as chaplain to the Catholic Deaf Association, a relationship he maintained for all his active priestly life.
In the ensuring years his organisational and interpersonal skills were recognised with the appointment of further chaplaincies: the Young Christian Workers (YCW), Promoter of Vocations and the Lay Apostolate Liaison Committee (the forerunner to the Diocesan Pastoral Council). From 1967 to 69 he lived at Dulwich, assisting Monsignor Redden in the parish – guiding parishioners through the challenges of the post-Conciliar period.
On November 30 1974 his big break came and he was appointed parish priest of Glenelg, a position he held until January 1986 when he was appointed parish priest of the Dulwich-Burnside parish.
Fr John served this community with loving care until March 1998 when he was appointed parish priest of Kilburn where he stayed until he retired due to ill health in 2003.
In his quiet persuasive way, he had the ability to welcome parishioners, encouraging them to participate in parish activities and always acknowledging everything they did.
His administrative and organisational skills were ever evident in the smooth running of his parishes. He was a great team builder, working consultatively and delegating, but very much with his finger on the pulse in all aspects of parish activity.
The theme of collaborative ministry was of vital importance to him and in Dulwich-Burnside, for instance, in collaboration with the Parish Pastoral Council, he established a Parish Pastoral Team to handle and get a wide point of view on day-to-day issues. In 2023 we would call it a very synodal initiative.
A key aspect of Fr John’s ministry was in knowing his parishioners, knowing where they lived, visiting them, being available to them whenever he was needed. He was the true shepherd of his flock; he genuinely loved them and they knew him and loved him in return.
He had a special love for the sick, the housebound, those who were hearing impaired (he was very proud of his ability to communicate with them using sign language).
In Dulwich he worked closely with St Patrick’s Special Schools, inviting them where possible to participate in parish activities. In Kilburn he worked closely with St Brigid’s School sponsoring the redevelopment which took place after his retirement.
His mission was to be Christ to his people and he was able to do this through the very ordinary activities of parish life.
He was dedicated to his people. He said Mass daily, simply, and faithful to the rubrics even in retirement, until his declining health prevented him from doing so. He was always available for confessions and anointing of the sick. He was an insightful preacher, always faithful to the doctrine of the Church and taking into account whatever was happening in the world.
He was gentle with children at their first Reconciliation and just as gentle and encouraging for people returning to the sacrament after years away.
He was a respected and valued mentor to many seminarians and newly ordained priests.
In retirement he lived a life of simplicity, enjoying his garden, his hens, and his cat Mary of Nazareth. He loved reading and compiled his family history.
Fr John died in the same peaceful manner as he had lived, completing a life dedicated to peace and justice. Throughout his life he shared his experience of God’s work in his own life and helped others to recognise it at work in theirs – and in others.
Taken from the eulogy delivered by Deacon Remo PatroniJump to next article