The Provincial, Fr Brian McCoy SJ, has advised the parishioners at Holy Rosary Parish, Nedlands, WA, that the Jesuits will be concluding their ministry there at the end of the year.
‘Over the past week I have visited and met with the Jesuits in Perth, with Auxiliary Bishop Don Sproxton, and with members of the parish’s Pastoral, Finance and Liturgy Committees’, Fr McCoy said in announcing the decision to the Province at large.
‘I then spoke at each of the weekend parish Masses and announced our withdrawal. I also thanked the people of Holy Rosary Parish for their gracious and generous support of the Jesuits over the past ten years.
‘And of course I thanked Joseph Sobb as Superior and Parish Priest, for his years of leadership and service, along with the other Jesuits who are currently living and assisting in the parish — John Prendiville and our Jesuit doctoral student, Hari Suparwito, from Indonesia.’
Some years ago, then-Provincial Fr Steve Curtin SJ indicated to the Archbishop of Perth that the Province hoped to sustain a commitment there for at least 10 years, but were unlikely to be able to provide a Parish Priest once Fr Sobb finished there.
‘I am grateful to Fr Sobb and his predecessors, Frs Gregory Jacobs SJ and Theo Overberg SJ, that we have been able to remain there for 10 years’, said Fr McCoy. ‘But now, as part of our planning for the future, and with our need to rationalise our parish commitments, I have decided we will not replace Fr Sobb as Parish Priest.’
The Province has been involved in the life of the Archdiocese of Perth for nearly 80 years: from the opening of St Louis School Claremont in 1938, St Joseph Pignatelli Parish in Attadale in 1954, and St Thomas More University College in 1955, to assuming responsibility for Holy Rosary Parish in 2008.
‘We have been richly blessed in all these ministries’, said Fr McCoy.
The exact date of the withdrawal is yet to be finalised, and could be as late as February 2018. ‘Over the coming months we will look at how Jesuit and Ignatian connections might continue in Perth’, said Fr McCoy. ‘I hope we can continue to do that with John XXIII College, and in other, perhaps new, ways as well.
‘Please pray for the Holy Rosary parishioners and for Joseph, John and Hari as this decision is implemented over the coming months.’
Homily by Fr Brian McCoy SJ at Holy Rosary Parish, Nedlands, 17 and 18 June 2017
Let me begin by acknowledging the ancient land that we gather upon for our sacred worship.
Our Eucharist, as Pope Francis reminds us, is itself an act of cosmic love. Wherever it is celebrated it is always in some way celebrated on the altar of the world. Where better than upon this rich and beautiful land along the Swan River that the Nyungar people cared for over many generations?
Let me also acknowledge you, the Catholic community of Holy Rosary Parish, established some 86 years ago, and your care of the Jesuits who have lived and served here since 2008.
My predecessor as Provincial, Steve Curtin, once expressed to the Archbishop of Perth his hope that Jesuits from our Province, despite aging and dwindling numbers, might sustain a presence in this parish for ten years. I am grateful to the present parish priest, Joseph Sobb, and his predecessors, Gregory Jacobs and Theo Overberg, that this has proved possible.
However, as you may by now appreciate, we Jesuits, sadly, will conclude our ministry in this parish at the end of the year. This is one of a number of difficult decisions we are having to make. Already this year, a few months ago, I have visited St Ignatius’ parish in Brisbane, where they have just celebrated 100 years of Jesuit presence, and made the sad announcement that the Jesuits will conclude their ministry there at the end of this year.
The major reason for these difficult decisions to withdraw from some ministries is the reality of our declining numbers and our aging, which do not allow us to maintain our many current commitments. There are currently 124 men in the Australian Jesuit Province — 70 per cent are over the age of 60, and nearly one quarter over the age of 80. In our nine Jesuit parishes, in five Australian States, we currently have 17 men, 24 per cent over the age of 80, only one under 50. An average age of 71.
We currently have 29 ministries within Australia to which we are committed. But that is not the whole of our commitments because we are an international religious order, working across borders in a universal mission. At the moment we have more than 10 per cent of our men supporting our ministries in areas of great need, including East Asia and Pakistan, and in international ministries of the Society like Jesuit Refugee Service.
I recognised early in my time as Provincial that this reality of our diminishing numbers and our aging meant that I would need to make some difficult decisions about our Jesuit commitments across our ministries. In relation to our parishes in particular, I saw that we simply do not have enough men to take up the role of parish priests for all nine of our parishes. So two years ago, I established a Province Parish Task Force, consisting mostly of lay people. Their task was to grapple with these realities. They have had a very challenging task to arrive at recommendations to put to me for decision as Provincial, and I am very grateful for their courage and advice.
As you may know, our Australian Province has been involved in the life of the Archdiocese of Perth for nearly 80 years: from the opening of St Louis School Claremont in 1938, St Joseph Pignatelli Parish in Attadale in 1954, St Thomas More University College in 1955 and then to coming here to Holy Rosary Parish in 2008. We have been richly blessed in all those ministries.
However, for a variety of different reasons, we have had to move on from each of those ministries. St Louis School ceased to be a Jesuit School when it amalgamated with Loreto College in early 1977 to form John XXIII College. We left the Parish of St Joseph Pignatelli in 1973, and handed over the leadership of the St Thomas More College in 1999. Thankfully, we were able to maintain a chaplain at John XXIII College for many years, and it continues to be part of our Companion School network, as well as continuing its Loreto connections. We hold many grace-filled memories of the ministries we have shared here in Perth and of the people who have touched our lives and been part of our story.
This weekend we celebrate the feast of Corpus Christi, the Body of Christ. Apart from many churches and church schools, the name Corpus Christi has been given to many other entities — a city in Texas, several navy ships, and even a greyhound track.
One community, named Corpus Christi, is in Greenvale, Melbourne, a residence for homeless men established some 43 years ago by Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity, later involving Jesuits and the Sisters of Mercy. In many ways, this community, at the heart of which are the homeless men themselves, points to the heart and meaning of the feast day we celebrate today.
We have just heard in the second reading, St Paul saying to the Corinthians: ‘The blessing-cup that we bless is a communion with the blood of Christ, and the bread that we break is a communion with the body of Christ. The fact that there is only one loaf means that, though there are many of us, we form a single body because we all have a share in this one loaf.’
We know, and can experience in many ways and in different times, our unity in Christ. When we come to receive communion we share in the one loaf and cup of Christ. We are many, we are different, we are young and old, but we believe and know we are called to celebrate and live as one in Christ.
Sometimes as members of Christ’s body, we can feel that unity tested in our own personal and Church brokenness. We can feel our human and Christian body as broken, life and blood being poured out, such as in the recent housing fire in London, the many places of violence in our world, the findings of the Royal Commission. We know what it is to be human, to live but also be broken.
Pope Francis encourages us when he says: ‘The Eucharist, although it is the fullness of sacramental life, is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.’ Our weakness draws us into that mystery of Jesus, our suffering, brokenness and being crucified into seeking to be held, healed and nourished with and by him.
The Eucharist does not promise a quick meal and an easy ride. It promises us life in and with Christ, where his blood is poured out and body broken. It also promises new life and hope in our companionship with Him.
There is, in our leaving this parish, and our long Jesuit associations in Perth, a dying, a sadness and brokenness. It is also an act of hope in this body of Christ, for this parish here in Nedlands and for ourselves, and in what Christ calls you and us to be.
Does this mean we Jesuits simply leave at the end of this year, with no ongoing Jesuit connections here in Perth? I hope not. One thing we are committed to doing over the coming months is to see how Jesuit and Ignatian connections may continue in some way in this Archdiocese and be further strengthened. I hope we can continue to do that with John XXIII College but also in other and new ways as well.
Let me finish by personally thanking Joseph as parish priest for his years of leadership and service, along with John Prendiville and our academic Jesuit from Indonesia, Hari Suparwito.
I thank you, the people of the parish for your gracious and generous support of Jesuits over the past ten years — particularly the members of the Pastoral, Finance and Liturgy committees.
May this feast of Corpus Christi encourage us all to know and live in hope as the Body of Christ.