The energetic and friendly Fr John McSweeney is the parish priest of St John XXIII Catholic Parish, Glenwood-Stanhope Gardens.
Fr John joined the seminary in 1976, taking a year off in 1979 and was ordained to the Diaconate in 1982, serving with Fr Rod Bray in St Margaret Mary’s Parish, Merrylands, until his ordination to the Priesthood in 1983. Sunday 20 August was the 34th anniversary of Fr John McSweeney’s ordination to the Priesthood.
Fr John’s spirituality is based on engaging with scripture and he shares this through faith formation while serving the faithful within his current parish, St John XXIII, Glenwood-Stanhope Gardens.
“You have to be at the service of the spiritualities of the people,” Fr John said. “The Catholic Church is a broad church.”
“Certainly, scripture is the way that I relate to God… My spirituality is a very scriptural spirituality.”
“My activities with people about scripture are a joy. That’s why I’m doing five nights on St Luke’s Gospel,” he said.
“My whole approach to God and the Lord is very much that Benedictine approach – pray, work, and the rest bit.”
“I try to divide my days into those areas as well, though not as much as guys in a monastery do. My spirituality is very simple and the older I get the more simple I get.”
“Time is the most precious commodity we have. Any relationship cannot grow without time and presence. Scripture can bring us into that moment of God’s presence.”
“The scriptures almost have it as a code – ‘He was away by Himself’. Christ got away from the hustle and bustle of our lives, and just had time with the Father. I don’t believe anyone can be fully engaged with God unless you have that time alone with the Lord.”
Fr John’s incredible scriptural knowledge was nurtured by his studies in Rome at the renowned Pontifical Biblical Institute, where he completed a Licentiate in sacred scripture, writing a thesis on Justification in Romans 4, and took examinations in four modern and five ancient languages.
Fr John’s studies took him into a war zone, when he spent six months at the Jerusalem campus of the Pontifical Biblical Institute.
“That was during first Intifada uprising against Israelis.”
“I got tear gassed a few times, saw abuses that really upset me. But it was an interesting time, and I made friends on both sides.”
Fr John also saw action in the 2003 Iraq War, when he served as a Chaplain in the Royal Australian Navy, aboard HMAS Sydney. He recently completed 20 years as Chaplain in the Navy Reserve.
Fr John used his licentiate to lecture at the Catholic Institute of Sydney in Manly and Strathfield and St Andrew’s Greek Orthodox Theological College, Redfern.
“That’s what I like about being a celibate: being able to make the choices to do these things,” Fr John said.
An only child, Fr John was very close to his parents and enjoys keeping pets, gardening, hospitality, and playing the piano.
“I’ve had various hobbies – I enjoyed Mondays on their property in Bowral that we created into a marvellous garden,” he said.
“Nowadays my hobbies are just reading and I have had a few pets over the years but I have just one now, Spencer, a cavoodle.”
Fr John is currently reading the Aubrey-Maturin series by Patrick O’Brian, the first of which is Master and Commander.
His parish appointments have included St Nicholas of Myra Parish, Penrith, St Patrick’s Church, Blacktown, St Finbar’s Parish, Glenbrook and Dean of St Patrick’s Cathedral from 2012 to 2014.
Fr John also has several Diocesan roles, including Episcopal Vicar for Deacons, Chairman of the Clergy Support Foundation and member of the Council of Priests.
Fr John also has oversight of the vocations team and formation team for deacons. These roles are relevant to his ministry in the parish because the parish has two men in training: one for the Permanent Diaconate and one for the Priesthood, Jack Green.