Peter was born in Adelaide to Francis Bernard Dunn and Margaret O’Loughlin. He was educated at St Dominic’s Priory, North Adelaide, St Teresa’s, Brighton, and then at CBC Wakefield Street.
Peter and his two brothers grew up running wild among the half-built houses of Warradale Park in the 1950s. The shenanigans of the Dunn boys from Sunshine Avenue were retold and embellished over the years.
As a student at Christian Brothers College Peter showed little interest in school work and after failing Intermediate he left to work in the carpet section of Peoplestores, a long defunct emporium.
Here he continued his mischievous ways, causing an avalanche of stacked carpets to go careering down the store on one occasion. To further amuse himself he’d pretend he had no English and gabble away to enquiring customers in a strange language he invented until they would give up in disgust and find someone to help them.
It was a surprise to many when he decided that he wanted to become a priest. When asked why, he said ‘because God has called me’. He had joined the Young Christian Workers movement when he started working and that also played a part.
Despite not having finished school, he managed the studies and was ordained in 1973.
His first appointment in January 1974 was as assistant priest in Thebarton parish. Just a year later he was elected a member of the Senate of Priests and a month later he was elected Senate representative on the Diocesan Liturgical Commission for a two-year term.
In January 1978 he moved to Mount Gambier as assistant priest and remained there for two years. His next move in January 1980 was to Tranmere parish. At the same time he was appointed a member of the Diocesan team for promoting vocations. In December 1980 he was appointed member of the Priestly Life and Ministry Committee.
During a one-month holiday to India he began working with Mother Teresa at the Home for the Dying in Calcutta. He was greatly impressed with her simplicity and gentleness but also the way she could be tough when she needed to be. Returning to Adelaide Peter gained permission from Bishop James Gleeson to go back and work with her and the Missionaries of Charity, which he did for eight years.
When Peter’s mother Peggy visited him in Calcutta Mother Teresa told her that she loved him. Peter took vows with the Missionaries of Charity Fathers but then decided his real call to serve God was back in Adelaide.
In September 1986 he was appointed parish priest of Payneham. However, just a few months later he was appointed team leader for the Salisbury Pastoral Team. He also took on the role of director of Vocations.
His work with Mother Teresa obviously made him restless, wanting to take on a missionary role. He was given approval to work with the Brothers of Charity in the USA where he worked in Mexico and New York. In August 1988 he took vows with the Missionaries of Charity and renewed them the following August.
Returning to parish life in 1990, Peter maintained contact with Mother Teresa until her death in 1997 and conducted retreats for her Sisters stationed in Australia.
In January 1991 he was appointed parish priest of Penola where St Mary MacKillop began her work. He remained there for nearly seven years.
After three years as parish priest of Taperoo he was appointed to Elizabeth South.
Peter enjoyed whichever community he was attached to, even though he never wanted to leave the previous one.
When he was at Elizabeth Peggy diagnosed his diabetes and insisted he seek medical attention but by then it was too late. Already his eyesight was affected and not long after he began to lose toes on his left foot.
It soon became apparent that he couldn’t fulfil his parish duties any longer and Archbishop Wilson invited him to his house at West Terrace. The two became good friends, strengthened by the fact they both had diabetes.
Peter continued to say Mass at the Cathedral and neighbouring Mass centres.
Peggy became his groupie, following him from church to church where she became known as the priest’s mother. Parishioners would often come up to her and comment on his homilies which they loved for their simple and heartfelt messages.
In 2017 Fr Peter resigned from active ministry due to serious medical problems.
His blindness intensified and two minor strokes forced him to go into care. He spent his last years in Calvary Flora McDonald where he experienced love and kind attention. One of his carers and great friends, Lindsay Goulding, said no one really knew how much pain Peter constantly suffered because he never complained.
Much loved by his nieces and nephews, he is remembered by them for his humour and pranks but they are also grateful to him for officiating at weddings and baptisms.
Balanced against all the laughter and mayhem, Peter embodied for them a devotion to living simply and speaking from the heart.
Wherever Peter went he left behind people who genuinely loved him. Whether it was cases of wine left at his door by winery owners in the Coonawarra during his time in Penola or walking through the Adelaide Central Market and being treated like a celebrity, everyone knew him and greeted him warmly.
Peter is now where he has wanted to be for a long time – with his brother, his grandmother, his uncle and Mother Teresa. He is survived by his mother Peggy who attended his funeral in St Francis Xavier’s Cathedral and his brother John, who delivered words of remembrance along with Peter’s nieces and nephews.Jump to next article