Engaging in conversation with those on the edge

30 August 2016
Fr Paul Hanna: “In retirement, you have the freedom to look at particular issues that have made up the narratives of those around you.” Image: Diocese of Parramatta.

Retirement is a chance to look through the rear-view mirror and reflect on what has formed the narrative of your life and the narrative of the lives around you.

The annual Father’s Day Appeal for Retired and Sick Priests will be held on the weekend of 3-4 September. Contributions to the appeal are a way of acknowledging the priests who have ministered throughout our Diocese over the years.

Ordained to the priesthood on 17 July 1965, Fr Paul Hanna spent a significant amount of his ministry as Parish Priest at Holy Family Parish in Mount Druitt from 1980 to 2004.

“Mount Druitt has a large Aboriginal population and for the past 35 years, I have been working with Indigenous Australians. I believe that ministry has been qualified by relationship,” Fr Paul said.

Retiring from parish work in 2004 due to illness, Fr Paul decided to embark on on a seven-year postgraduate degree on social exclusion and jail systems, based on his ministry in Mount Druitt.

“In retirement, you have the freedom to look at particular issues that have made up the narratives of those around you,” Fr Paul explained.

These narratives also formed the basis for initiatives he started during his time as Parish Priest.

Fr Paul is the patron of the Men’s Shed in Mount Druitt, having also helped start the Mt Druitt Food Co-Op Ltd.

The Men’s Shed began as a partnership with the University of Western Sydney, now known as Western Sydney University.

“It is a hub and a centring point. The Men’s Shed is a meeting place that deconstructs the pressure and tension that can lead to high suicide rates,” he explained.

“Being a listening post, it provides a legal triage centre for domestic violence and, in fact, all types of violence. It’s been 14 years since it started and it’s now about having that conversation about its future direction.

“It’s a primary healthcare facility and radar that picks up the needs of the community. Listening to the needs of the community is essential. The food cooperative began because of a recognised need of the community for dignity over welfare payments.”

Fr Paul Hanna believes this new chapter of his life gives him the time to reflect on these initiatives but also to seek out stories and relationships, immersed in the bigger picture.

“The edges come to you in retirement. It’s no longer about starting a parish program. Those programs are important and were part of my parish ministry, but in retirement, it is now about relationship and deciphering social determinants,” he explained.

“It’s about listening to and being part of the uncomfortable conversations with those on the edge. I think we sometimes forget that Jesus was born outside of the town. Christmas doesn’t always portray the exclusion that Jesus suffered. And where did he die? He died outside of the town.

“It’s important to reflect on that because we can’t be comfortable with the status quo, as the Gospel relates to all people.”

Fr Paul’s time is now spent engaging in the conversation on the edge.

“We need to have the spirituality of a misfit. Jesus was a bit of a misfit. He didn’t turn away from the uncomfortable conversations. I fly with broken wings just like everybody else but I have to try and follow His example,” he said.

“In my postgraduate studies, I was asked what methodology I was going to use. I chose to do narratology, which is the transformative power of narrative.

“You have a story. I have a story. Parramatta has a story. We all have a story. Retirement gives you the time to listen to those stories.”

Please give generously to the Father’s Day Appeal through donation envelopes available from your parish or online at: www.csfparra.org.au

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