Fr Gerard O’Dempsey: called to the Capuchins

The humourous and warm priest has gone wherever God wills him.
Fr Gerard O'Dempsey in front of Good Shepherd Parish, Plumpton. Photo: Jordan Grantham, Diocese of Parramatta

By Jordan Grantham, Catholic Outlook, February 2017

Vintage model buses and many books fill Fr Gerard O’Dempsey’s busy office at Good Shepherd Parish, Plumpton.

“A tidy desk is the sign of an unoccupied mind!” he says with a laugh.

This is Fr Gerard’s second appointment as Parish Priest of Plumpton Parish, first serving here in the late 1990s, after being ordained in 1995.

As Parish Priest, he is interested in Fr James Mallon’s program for parish renewal, Divine Renovation, which focuses on parishes reaching out and making disciples.

Fr Gerard also serves on the Pastoral Planning Reference Team, which is a sounding board for the ongoing implementation of the Diocesan Pastoral Plan, Faith in Our Future.

The humourous and warm priest has gone wherever God wills him, from his childhood home of Ipswich in Queensland to Papua New Guinea, where he discovered his vocation to the Capuchin Order.

Fr Gerard also served in the North American Capuchin Novitiate from 2006-12, where he helped others discover whether they had a Capuchin vocation.

Fr Gerard offers his interviewer a coffee, which is appropriate for a member of the order that the cappuccino was named after.

Fr Gerard first went to PNG as a layman after seeing an advertisement in Brisbane’s Catholic Leader newspaper requesting lay missionaries to teach music.

The advertisement also mentioned that the ability to drive a bus would be beneficial. He saw the combination of skills required and thought he might be the man for the job.

PNG was a life-changing experience. There he encountered the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin, which had pastoral responsibility for the Southern Highlands of PNG.

Fr Gerard was Director of Music for the Papal Liturgies when Pope John Paul II visited Port Moresby in 1984. The New York Times reported the visit was joyful and informal, distinguished by colourful native dress and indigenous musical instruments.

As a lay missionary, he trained singers, conducted the schola, played the organ and made musical selections.

One of his favourite liturgical composers is Bernadette Farrell, known for Christ, Be Our Light and Bread of Life. Another favourite is Owen Alstott, composer of the popular Heritage Mass setting.

Fr Gerard was ordained in 1995 and served at Plumpton until 1999, when he became the first Queensland-born parish priest of Guardian Angels Wynnum, in Brisbane.

He then went on sabbatical at Weston University, Boston, and later served in the North American Novitiate of the Capuchins as formator and part of the Novitiate Formation Team.

Fr Gerard says the signs of a true vocation are being “happy to live the Gospel, in love with the Church and its mission, and openness to where the Holy Spirit leads us.”

In 2014, he was elected Vicar Provincial of the Australian Province of the Capuchin Friars.

In this role he shares in the administrative duties for the Capuchin Order in Australia and substitutes for the Provincial when he is absent.

To stay grounded, Fr Gerard keeps in touch with his 10 junior siblings. Several of them have also lived in South East Asia.

For recreation, he enjoys reading Thomas Keneally, Robert Overy, Clive Cussler, Agatha Christie and listening to David Brubeck and Perpetuum Jazzile.

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