Fr Arthur Cook retires: lover of the Psalms and amateur theatricals

By Jordan Grantham, 30 October 2017
Fr Arthur Cook with (from left): Judy Rigg, Judy Newland, Mary Hampshire, Di Wilson and Jeanette Holland.

Longtime priest of St Matthew’s Catholic Parish, Windsor, Fr Arthur Cook retired earlier this year.

Fr Arthur was parish priest of St Matthew’s Catholic Parish, Windsor since 2010 and loved his work as a priest. Wonderful stories from his career include the time a young Arthur Cook played the character of ‘Gianetta’ in a St Columba’s College production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Gondoliers.

“That’s the silly part about it, you had boys playing girls,” he said with a laugh.

Fr Cook was ordained in 1970 at St Mary’s Cathedral by Cardinal Gilroy and has served in approximately 20 parishes over the years, including St Marys, Seven Hills, Castle Hill, Greystanes, Darlinghurst, Gosford, Marayong, Naremburn and North Liechhardt.

Fr Cook started his education at All Hallows, Five Dock and then worked for the NSW Department of Primary Industries. A young Arthur soon realised he needed to follow his vocation. He returned to school to complete the Leaving Certificate in 1962 and then went to St Columba’s College, the Junior Seminary, in 1963.

Fr Cook then attended Christian Brothers Lewisham, when Old Boy ordinations to the priesthood were celebrated with an assembly and a half-day holiday for all students.

As a newly ordained priest in 1970, Fr Cook returned to the school for this celebration.

“I said a few words to the boys assembled,” Fr Cook said.

“The Brothers there were wonderful. They fell over backwards to help me when they found out I was going for priesthood. I’ve seen them since at Winbourne, near Mulgoa,” he said.

“I used to pray every morning, and I was in the Legion of Mary.”

“I got the call. I probably had the call from when I was 10 or 12 and I put it off and put it off,” he said.

“Then I spoke to Fr Peter McGovern who was in charge of vocations.”

Fr Peter McGovern was Parish Priest of South Auburn Parish and Director of Vocations for the Archdiocese of Sydney in the 1960s.

“People used to say ‘I’m going in to test my vocation’.”

“I knew what I wanted to do. I wasn’t testing it.”

Fr Cook developed his love of music when he began studying singing in 2001 under Jeannie Wood and then Bransby Byrne, completing four years of theory and seven years of practice in the Australian Music Examinations Board program.

Fr Cook was part of the Diocese of Parramatta’s ‘singing priests’ trio from 2000. Fr John O’Neill, Fr Terry Hogan and Fr Arthur Cook raised $16,000 for various charities, including $4,000 for the Clergy Support Foundation, which assists elderly and ill clergy.

Fr Cook is deeply grateful to his parents and others for supporting his vocation.

“My dad was very supportive. He said ‘whatever you want to do son, I’m behind you.’”

Fr Arthur Cook’s main advice to people discerning a vocation is pray.

“We can’t get by without it. Pray every day. Vital part of the priestly life.”

 

 

 

 

The early years of Fr Arthur’s formation were not easy for the Cook family.

Arthur’s father, Frank Cook, made the sacrifice of providing for his son’s seminary education.

“In the old days, families paid,” Fr Cook said.

“My father paid £250 each year. He was paying [the equivalent of] $20,000 a year for eight years,” he said.

“Plus the very generous people from the Manly Union. I had the Manly Union bursary. The bursary was £500 a year.”

The family’s heart was broken when Fr Cook’s mother, Hilda, a Methodist convert to Catholicism, died during the early years of Fr Cook’s time in the seminary.

 

The seminary was a new kind of family and brought with it the consolations of camaraderie.

“Springwood was definitely more relaxed,” he said.

One time young Arthur made an Abominable Snowman costume for a skit on the stage.

“They told me years afterwards that was put down in the recreation hut and they would suspend after dark, put a light in it and suspend it onto people’s windows.”

 

Reflecting on those years of formation and discernment, Fr Arthur Cook’s main advice to people discerning a vocation is pray.

“We can’t get by without it. Pray every day. Vital part of the priestly life.”

Fr Cook has been faithful to praying the Liturgy of the Hours, also known as the Divine Office.

“It’s the prayer of the Church, it’s not just for religious,” Fr Cook said.

“The Psalms are really wonderful, they’re terrific, great things to turn your mind around.”

“When you’re supported by the Word of God that forms us and we’re people of the Word. Without that we don’t go anywhere,” he said.

“I’ve been very blessed by God over my entire career.”

His final word?

“I remember reading something that said if you do whatever your Bishop wants, you’ll be okay.”

“God works through your superiors.”

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