He was Vicar General of the Adelaide Archdiocese for eight years, a publisher, promoter of vocations and a much-loved parish priest of Morphett Vale, Salisbury and Seacombe Gardens. But Mgr Rob Egar was remembered especially for his love of family and how it shaped his image of the Church at his packed funeral Mass in St Francis Xavier’s Cathedral last month.
Rob was the seventh of nine children born to Dorothea and Eugene. Their previous child, Denise, died soon after birth. Rob’s younger brother Tony joined the Passionists and younger sister Ruth became a Sister of Mercy.
Educated at St Raphael’s Parkside and Christian Brothers College, he studied for the priesthood at St Francis Xavier Seminary at Rostrevor and St Patrick’s at Manly, NSW. He was ordained on July 27 1957 in St Francis Xavier’s Cathedral.
His first appointment was as assistant priest at Croydon where he remained for six years. He then served at Brighton where in March 1966 he was appointed chaplain to Flinders University and also a member of the Catholic Radio and TV Committee. In recognition of his leadership roles in the Archdiocese over many years, he was appointed a Prelate of Honour of Pope John Paul II with the title of Monsignor in 2002.
Below is an edited version of Sr Ruth Egar’s eulogy:
Speaking of Rob as a brother and family member I first must do justice to the parents we had. They were peaceful, faith-filled and committed parents. Ours was a happy family, of course having over the years all the stresses and struggles that all families endure. But laughter abounded in our home.
Rob was a great companion for me, being only 17 months older, and Tony, seven years younger than Rob. For a while Rob and I fought over who would take Tony in the pusher to the shops after school. After some time our enthusiasm for this waned!
Our sister, Kath, came third in the family and has many other stories to tell. Just two days before Rob’s death, when Tony said he’d go to Kath to tell her how Rob was, Rob said, “Thank Kath for taking me to school”.
Many of you would know that Rob’s love of words had him writing many a limerick or poem on birthday cards to family and friends, or to editors of yet another newspaper or magazine. The Southern Cross was his favourite. In July this year he had a letter published in the well-known UK Catholic magazine The Tablet.
Rob’s great gift of memory is legendary in our family. With parishioners, even years after leaving a parish, he could remember not only their names but the numbers of the house and the street where they lived!
Rob did a lot of walking down memory lane during these years of illness. Recently he reminded me that on September 1 1939, I had run up the street to meet him coming home from school to report, ‘Mum said there’s going to be a war’. But not in our family! This was the day that Hitler invaded Poland and on September 3 Chamberlain declared that Britain was at war.
Rob was forever a student of the Second World War. He would say that it led him to know something of the greatness and courage of humanity, as well as the depths to which we could sink.
He had a great love history of Europe, of papal history and the history of the whole of the Catholic Church, especially in Australia. This undergirded his capacity, in spite of all the weaknesses and sins of our Church, for his always to be a voice of moderation, as well as of passion, in the many moral, theological, social and spiritual questions that are part of our world today. It is why he could believe and act from the words of Jesus, ‘Be not afraid’.
Rob was an activist, as well as a thinker. On Rob’s initiative, when he became parish priest of Morphett Vale, Sr Meredith Evans and I were installed as pastoral associates, a pastoral novelty for the Australian Church at that time.
It was a courageous step on Rob’s part. Great leadership emerged from that parish, the young marrieds, many of whom had belonged to the former Young Christian Workers Movement, and also from the youth of the district.
Rob lived in a transportable hut for the first 18 months in Morphett Vale. By the time he left the parish in 1983, there were several memorials to his ‘getting things done’ including a great church, Mary Help of Christians, and Antonio School, helped by the Antonio family as a tribute to their parents.
The redevelopment of the first small church on the property, built in 1846, was another tribute to Rob’s love of history. After St Patrick’s in Grote Street, it was the second Catholic church built in Adelaide, and the church where Mary MacKillop had the interdict lifted from her former excommunication from the Church.
From a small child, trains had been Rob’s hobby. We remember our mother packing a lunch for Rob and sometimes Dad would drive him in to stand on the Morphett Street Bridge overlooking the Adelaide Railway Station. That would keep him enthralled over many an hour.
Later his travels in Europe were mainly by train and when retired, sometimes he would take the Overland to Melbourne and visit some of our seminarians, take them out for a meal and return home by train, just for the joy of it – and the space and peace it gave him.
Catholic education, along with trains, was not just another interest – it was a passion that consumed him. Rob was chaplain to several schools and colleges and friend to many teachers and principals. He was invited to be chaplain to the Catholic Education Office and primary school teachers for several years.
In 2008 he retired as parish priest to Seacombe Gardens when reaching the age of 75. This did not stop him from contributing widely to the priestly work of evangelising – in so many different ways. He made himself available to celebrate Mass in churches and parishes all over the diocese, from Mount Gambier to Yorketown. When his driving skills did not match those of his mind and heart, he had several men from his prayer group who became willing drivers. He also invited a group of ‘Young Marrieds’ who met monthly for Mass and tea in his home for 12 years. I remember being called often for a recipe for the ’slow cooker’ when he was the cook!
Rob told me that when people asked him if he’d retired, he’d answer, ‘No, I’m a priest without borders’.
Together with his friend Ros Rowett he formed a publishing group, Pilgrims Quest, and produced a number of publications including on the priesthood, the Mass and other religious topics.
One of the booklets has become a standard study book for children and adults. Making the Most of the Mass has sold more than 20,000 copies including some in the United States. This was an important work in Rob’s retirement – a flier on all Christian vocations was sent around the diocese just a few weeks before his death.
Rob’s ill health was diagnosed at the end of 2019. He went to live at Villa Murphy on June 1 2020.This became his home. He fed the birds and two happy ducks each day as part of his routine. Rob was delighted when his friend of 70 years, Fr Bob Wilkinson joined him at Villa Murphy.
The day before his death at the Royal Adelaide Hospital, the critical call bell was rung, and doctors and nurses appeared from everywhere. The consultant doctor introduced himself to Rob and asked him how he liked to be addressed. ‘Rob’ was the answer. And what are your wishes Rob, asked the doctor. To this, Rob, through his oxygen mask, said clearly, “In 1963, John 23rd, speaking of his impending death said: ‘My bags are packed, I’m ready to go’.”
Our brother Rob loved life. Wherever he went there was a cheerfulness and sense of life that lifted spirits. His hearty laugh was a call for us to join in and remember the gift of life God gave us.
Community of Church
In his homily, Fr Tony Egar CP said his brother had an ability to draw people together and help them to respect and love one another.
“Rob, like the rest of us, was formed in early life, and in later life, by the family. He in turn did much to create our family as it is,” Fr Tony said.
“In this same way he was formed by the community of the Church, and helped form this community of the Church. Behind this is an ability to draw people together and to assist them in respecting, appreciating and loving one another.
“Perhaps this ability to ‘bring about the Kingdom’ in this way, flowed into his ability to minister as a priest/shepherd. He was accepting of a wide range of people and their different approaches to life.
“I think Rob straddled the time of the pre-Vatican II Church with the post-Vatican II Church in a balanced and gracious way. He was always open to continue to create the Church into that which the gospel calls us to be. He was able to relate easily to those who might not have had the attitudes toward God, faith, life and the Church, that he had.
“There is nothing else to say except words of gratitude for the gift of Rob’s life, and may he assist us in continuing to shape our Church as one that shares in the joys and pains of the world.”Jump to next article