A legacy of service in Parramatta

9 June 2016
Mons John Boyle has been appointed as Rector of Domus Australia, Rome. Mons Boyle will leave his position as Parish Priest of St Bernadette’s Parish, Castle Hill, effective 17 April 2017. Photo: Diocese of Parramatta.

While the Diocese of Parramatta celebrates its 30th anniversary this year, Monsignor John Boyle is celebrating 45 years since his ordination to the priesthood.

A life lived in Parramatta, schooled and raised, Fr John attended St Patrick’s Primary and Parramatta Marist Brothers.

“I completed schooling in 1962 and I was challenged through my education, my family and through my religious experiences to serve others,” Fr John said.

“I saw life wasn’t meant just for me but that it was meant to be lived in service to others.”

Fr John’s priestly vocation was strongly influenced by his family’s legacy of community service in Parramatta.

His family would perform musical concerts for pregnant teenagers, mental health patients and murderers.

They would perform at the old Girl’s Industrial School (the former St Patrick’s Orphanage) and at the nearby psychiatric hospital. They would then head next door to the local jail.

Ushered into the assembly hall of Parramatta Correctional Centre, inmates would watch the family ensemble play musical items and recite poetry.

“We were brought up with that musical tradition, which was very Irish,” Fr John said. “My mother and uncle could play the violin and my grandmother was employed as a pianist for a cinema after leaving school.”

In the local cinema, the films were silent and as the cowboys raced across the plains, his grandmother would play to the scene, evoking vital emotional cues for the audience.

“We’d have parties where the whole family would perform and the children and grandchildren would dance and sing,” he said.

Fr John was introduced from a young age to major community developments, witnessing his father negotiate the purchase of the land for the Parramatta Leagues Club.

“My father was on the Ambulance Service Board for the Parramatta/Auburn District and the board for the development of the local swimming pool, as was my grandmother,” he explained.

But the family’s community service wasn’t limited to development negotiations and musical concerts for those on the fringe of society.

Nine doors down from his grandmother’s house was an old man who would sleep on a veranda at the back of a house.

“My grandmother would cook and hand me a tray of food. I would have to take the tray down to the old man. I hated going there. I suppose I was spooked that he would grab me,” Fr John said.

“But my grandmother then became conscious of a greater community need when she realised there were many going without hot meals, so she worked with the mayoress at the time, Eileen Mahoney, to establish Meals on Wheels.

“With her musical background, my grandmother also worked to set up the Parramatta Eisteddfod.

“With the long history of community service in my family, it was only natural for me to ask, ‘How can I best serve others in the community?’”

Fr John was one of a number of altar servers at St Patrick’s Church, Cathedral, when Monsignor McGovern was the Parish Priest. Before Mass, Mons McGovern would talk to the boys about what they had learned at school.

“He would teach us about the history of the early Church and he exemplified service, making sure we had breakfast after we had been to early morning Mass. He had a very big influence on my life and vocation,” Fr John said.

There were 63 other students with Fr John when he joined the seminary, creating a community of companionship and camaraderie.

Ordained in 1971, Fr John went on to serve in many parishes, and in 1991, he returned to Parramatta, appointed as the Dean of the Cathedral.

“I was taught by nuns in primary school and when I returned as Parish Priest, some of my teachers were living in the convent and were my parishioners,” Fr John said.

Currently the parish priest at St Bernadette’s, Castle Hill, Fr John said the young people are taking up the challenge to serve.

“They look after each other and they’re committed. Ask them to do anything and they will do it well and with finesse,” he said.

“It’s terrific to see the next generation being challenged to serve in the same way that I was.”

Read Daily
* indicates required