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Breaking down barriers with empathy, humour


Fr Kevin O’Loughlin - Born: June 23 1935 | Died: July 12 2023

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Kevin was born in Pinnaroo, South Australia, the fifth of six children to John Francis O’Loughlin and Mary Ursula McCabe.

Kevin was born with club feet (talipes) which his mother described as looking like two little fists turned inwards.

As a baby he travelled with his mother to the Children’s Hospital in Adelaide where he underwent treatment for his talipes. He was put in plaster from his toes to his waist. When he was 18 months old the plaster was reduced to his thighs and later to his knees.

Kevin continued to spend much of his early childhood attending the hospital in Adelaide. His father died of pneumonia when he was three and this meant his mother couldn’t accompany him on the seven-hour rail journey. She would ask other passengers to look after her son and he was met at the train station by relatives living in Adelaide.

The treatment for his club feet involved being anaesthetised by ether while his feet were straightened a bit more and replastered. Throughout life he hated the smell of methylated spirits because it reminded him of ether.

He often had calipers fitted and had to use crutches after some operations. This restricted his movements and his ability to engage in the rough and tumble of childhood activities with his brothers.

In those early years in hospital and enforced stillness Kevin continued his school work and also began to keep notes which turned into journals and then later into a book called Childhood to Priesthood.

Kevin told some stories of the Mallee through a child’s eyes: events on farms, attending a one room school, staying with relatives closer to school because he couldn’t walk very far, his brothers pushing him to the train station in a wheeled wooden cart.

He also wrote of going to boarding school at Sacred Heart College in Adelaide and how much he hated the bullying and being in the cadets. At the same time, he was thankful that the school gave him a strong grounding in social justice and a social conscience.

After Intermediate, Kevin went back to Pinnaroo where he cleaned the windows of the Eudunda Farmers Store then went to work at the Bank of Adelaide, starting as office boy and moving through the ranks over four years to acting teller. He didn’t want to move to another town for promotion as his mother was widowed and his rent was useful to her.

Kevin was a member of the Country Fire Service with his brother Maurice and Kevin was also honorary secretary of the Pinnaroo South Football Club.

He had a second job as night telephonist at the Telephone Exchange in the Post Office and that one pound a week supplemented his bank pay of five pounds a week.

When he decided to leave the bank he explored joining the RAAF. Kevin’s medical history prevented him from being accepted and he returned to Pinnaroo a bit relieved as he hadn’t wanted to do all the marching.

After resigning from the bank and not knowing what he would do next, he took up an invitation from three young men from the Riverland to go on a working holiday around Australia.

Kevin recorded some of their adventures in his journals. There are funny stories of luck and hard work, drinking and gambling, serendipity and solidarity. All through their journey Kevin and one of the other young men continued to attend Mass every Sunday and on feast days. While in Cairns Kevin visited the cathedral and spoke to Father McCarthy about a nagging idea to become a priest. He also wrote to his brother Jim, who was in his first years as assistant priest at Thebarton, for advice. In his journal he said he decided to ‘try my luck’.

Priest training at the seminary was long, hard work but Kevin got through and was ordained on July 9 1966.

His first appointments were assistant priest to the Cathedral, Thebarton and Woodville parishes followed by parish priest of Bordertown, Barossa Valley, Victor Harbor and North Adelaide.

He was a good priest and enjoyed his parish work and his parishioners loved him. He brought compassion to the role based on empathy and a real understanding of how people lived their lives.

Kevin could quickly connect with people, even with people who had never really spoken to a priest before. He had the ability to gently move through barriers because he had a genuine interest in people and what they had to say and he could engage on a range of topics.

Priests work hard and Kevin had several country parishes where he did a lot of driving between distant churches. On one occasion he fell asleep while driving and woke up with the car stalled in a sand drift and him hanging out the open car door. He was uninjured and the car was undamaged. He woke himself properly, got out of the sand and on to his next Mass.

While serving in the North Adelaide parish in 1994 he was appointed chaplain of the Women’s and Children’s Hospital where he had spent so much time as a patient in his early life. Kevin remembered what he had gone through, and he understood how it felt to be a patient and what it meant to parents to have a sick child.

For the next 23 years he provided support through listening and offering advice when needed. He brought fun to their lives through an array of jokes, by wearing bright cartoon-character ties and through his amazing giggling laugh.

After he retired as a priest Kevin continued to support a range of people and organisations. He was generous with donations including to Vinnies, St John Ambulance, the Australian Conservation Foundation, the Heart Foundation, MS Society, Australian Red Cross, Medecins Sans Frontieres, Women’s and Children’s Hospital Foundation, Australian Refugee Association, Autism Spectrum, Refugee Council and Caritas.

Kevin could be angry and frustrated at injustice, unfairness and mistreatment. He was deeply concerned about the plight of refugees; he wanted justice for the Palestinians and he had shelves of books on the Middle East, especially Jerusalem and Palestine; he wanted the Catholic Church to be more compassionate, including to consider allowing priests to form relationships to provide them support.

In later years Kevin lived with mild dementia. It changed his world and limited what he could do confidently. He was aware of these changes and worked with them. His well-structured regimes and his neatness were maintained and helped him to live by himself to the end. He had a modest wardrobe of clothes; he knew his appointments from his diary; he mapped out and prepared his own meals, and he accepted assistance gracefully and gratefully.

An avid reader, books became much more difficult but that didn’t stop him from buying the Greta Thunberg and Michelle Obama biographies. And he took refuge in his journals and would often read passages to his visitors. Many years earlier he had been persuaded to edit some stories into a document and this was put into a book of memoirs for him for his 88th birthday.

After a fall in June, visiting care was arranged and the night before the carer was due, his niece Patrice stayed the night. When she went to wake him, she found him lying on his back with his hands neatly fold on his chest.

As he had lived, Kevin died with minimum fuss, with dignity and with grace.

Goodbye Kevin, thank you for your wisdom and laughter and may you rest in peace.

Taken from the eulogy by Kevin’s nephew, Larry O’Loughlin.

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