Fr Arthur Cook was barely 10 when he first felt called to the priesthood. And while it became stronger with each year, he dismissed it for 12 years.
“When I left school, I was working in horticulture and used to go into the garden shed, kneel down on the concrete floor and say the Rosary,” the now 80-year-old said.
“I was working one day in 1962 and I thought, ‘Well, I’ve got to do it’. So, I rang Father McGovern who was in charge of vocations in the Archdiocese in Sydney, and he told me to go back and finish school.”
Fr Cook matriculated, as it was known then, from Lewisham Christian Brothers in 1962, began his theological studies in 1963 and was ordained in 1970 at St Mary’s Cathedral by Cardinal Gilroy.
Still to this day, more than 50 years on, Fr Cook knew it was what God wanted him to do.
“I never doubted it for a minute. I prayed, of course. I prayed and prayed and prayed. But that just reaffirmed that the Lord wanted me to do this.”
Fr Cook was introduced to faith and the Catholic Church as a child by his father Frank.
“I grew up with my family, including my twin brother and two older brothers in Five Dock. My father would take us to Mass every Sunday, that’s the foundation of it all. We used to walk a mile up to the Church at the top of the hill in Five Dock, and then back down again. That’s what we did every Sunday over 16 or so years.”
At age 16, Fr Cook was involved in the Legion of Mary, “visiting people and talking, looking out for the poor, which is really important to have the hands-on stuff.”
Having lost his mother as a young man—a loss his faith helped him to deal with—Fr Cook has vivid memories of sharing with his father his decision to become a priest.
“Our father was there for us all the time, supporting us and just being a good father. All the little things and celebrations like Christmas we had with my dad, of course. I pray for my father every day.
“I remember talking about my decision to become a priest with my dad and he was very supportive. He said, ‘Whatever you’re going to do, I’ll support you’.”
In 2020, Fr Cook celebrated 50 years as a priest.
“We’re pastors, we’re shepherds … we’re always involved with people, and of course since the fourth century, we’re still obeying that every day. That’s what priests do… we’re always interested in people,” Fr Cook said of his five decades as a priest.
Throughout his five decades of service, Fr Cook served in 20 parishes, including Blacktown—his first, Baulkham Hills, Castle Hill, Greystanes, Marayong, Riverstone, St Marys, Seven Hills, Upper Blue Mountains and Windsor, where he spent 10 years before his retirement in 2017.
In his retirement, Fr Cook takes great joy in remaining very connected to the Church as a member of the Sacred Heart Cathedral Choir in the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle, celebrating Mass and providing pastoral care when he’s called upon.
And of course, he spends as much time in the garden as he can. “Horticulture is my thing. I like plants and things that grow.”
As he begins this next chapter of his life, Fr Cook takes great solace knowing the Clergy Support Foundation is there when he needs support.
“At 80 years of age, knowing the Clergy Support Foundation is there puts my mind at ease. One day, I know I’ll need much more care and support.”
Fr Cook feels deep gratitude for the care already shown to him from the Diocese’s Head of Clergy Health and Wellbeing, Dr Mark Buhagiar.
“He’s been helpful in so many ways,” said Fr Arthur. “He delivers my ministry card to me personally. And one time, he visited just to see how I was going.
“It’s at least a two-and half-hour drive from the Chancery at Parramatta. He could have checked on me over the phone, but he came in person. I’m very grateful for his care.
“I’ll be in touch with him when the need arises. And just to know that he’s there, is a really big help. I’m really grateful for the support my Diocese gives me every month.”
Fr Cook encouraged people to support his colleagues in their retirement and ill-health, just as they have supported their communities as parish priests.
“I quote Bishop Fulton Sheen who said, ‘Be generous until it hurts, and then a little more’.”
The Clergy Support Foundation’s Father’s Day Appeal is an opportunity to show gratitude and care for the priests who have been, and continue to be, such an integral part of our Diocese of Parramatta family.
To donate to the Clergy Support Foundation’s Father’s Day Appeal, please call (02) 8838 3482 or visit parracatholic.org/bishops-fathersday-co-appeal-23/