Celebrating 50 years as a priest is an achievement that deserves to be celebrated.
But for Monsignor Ron McFarlane, parish priest of St Andrew the Apostle Parish, Marayong, commemorating his 50th anniversary will be a bit more subdued.
Monsignor Ron celebrated the anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood on Saturday 4 July, having been ordained as a priest by Cardinal James Knox, then-Archbishop of Melbourne, at St Patrick’s Cathedral, Melbourne, on 4 July 1970.
“It is an interesting question to think about how I feel about having celebrated 50 years as a priest,” Monsignor Ron told Catholic Outlook.
“I am amazed and surprised that 50 years has passed since my ordination. Thinking back over those years, I am somewhat fascinated by the broad number of experiences that I had the good fortune in which to be involved.
“I guess there are some regrets that I did not always make the most of opportunities that came my way, but all of these experiences also brought with them some positive growth. For that I am extremely grateful,” he said.
Monsignor Ron grew up in Geelong, Victoria, and is the eldest of three brothers. After finishing high school, he joined the St Columbans Mission Society, as he didn’t feel called to religious orders or initially to the priesthood.
“I am grateful to the Columban family for the formation and understanding of priesthood they offered. Their vision of Church and priesthood was very appropriate for the time and for this time,” he said.
In 1974, at the request of then-Archbishop of Sydney Cardinal James Freeman, Monsignor Ron was incardinated to the Archdiocese of Sydney whilst he was appointed to St Charles Borromeo Parish, Ryde.
After a series of parish appointments in the Archdiocese and being a chaplain for the Young Christian Students movement, Monsignor Ron was called to St Anthony of Padua Parish, Toongabbie, where then-Bishop of Parramatta, Bishop Bede Heather, asked him to take on the Ministry for Solo Parents and the Families for the western region of Sydney.
“Both of these experiences, I believe, had a tremendous effect on my approach to ministry. Working with young people with a vibrant faith and such an optimistic view of life was really uplifting and at the same time challenging. This experience motivated me to be better in my faith. I also believe the methodology of YCS gave me a tremendous tool to approach so many aspects of my life as a priest.
“Then, later working with solo parents and walking with them in many of their difficult situations, their approach to life and their faith in God was a great help to me in my Christian journey,” Monsignor Ron said.
On 19 October 1988, Monsignor Ron would begin his longest-serving ministry, being parish priest at St Andrew’s.
He explained, “I’ve always been a great believer in the importance of being parish-based, if at all possible, as this helps to keep grounded. This has been particularly true of my rather extended stay here in Marayong, where there is a tremendous fervour to Christian living.
“Being able to experience the wonderful gifts of so many cultures has been very enriching to me personally. From these cultures comes a tremendous richness of expressions of faith.
“We cannot overemphasise the importance of the people we meet, work with and those to whom our ministry is carried out. We are all on the same journey, which means I have something to offer, but also every person I encounter has something to offer and the whole parish community has something to offer. So it is a matter of walking together at all times.
“In every circumstance, it is important to try to find the most loving response to every person and every situation. We are walking with people as one of them. We need an openness to the Holy Spirit each and every day and to realise the most important thing we can do for people is to be present to them and with them and not see ourselves simply as a sacramental facilitator or a fixer.
“Of course, in this we fail and fail often, but what is important is to learn from these events. We need to keep coming back to the point of accepting the gift of every person and being open to learn from each and every person,” he said.
When asked about the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on his ministry and vocation, Monsignor Ron said that it was “a good time for grounding myself.”
“The pandemic certainly changed many things in regard to daily life in a parish. In some ways, it was like going back in time to when I was first ordained.
“I feel in recent years, we get so busy with so many things that there is very limited time to just be. This time has provided the opportunity to do this and that part of the pandemic I do appreciate, for it was a good time for grounding myself.
“This period of time with limited or no meetings and other activities grinding to a halt gave me the opportunity to re-look at how I am there for people. I think during this time I became a better listener. I think I had emphasised for me the importance of listening and simply being there for people.
“I also came to appreciate more the wonderful and deep faith of people as well as their desire to continue to support the parish community in that time.
“Strangely enough, the COVID-19 situation has made me more aware of the importance of preaching in the liturgy. I think it was St Pope Paul VI who said preaching is the primary apostolate and our ministry is a ministry of the word. I believe I have become more conscious of the importance of this when our contact with our parishioners has been so limited,” he said.
Monsignor Ron wished to thank his family and friends for their support over his ministry, but also made mention of the faith education provided to him by the Christian Brothers and the Columbans and thanked those whom he has ministered to or been ministered to.
Now having reached his golden anniversary, has the thought of retirement become brighter?
Monsignor Ron replied, “I have thought about it and have come to no firm conclusion at this time.
“I am still enjoying what I do and I still feel I have something to offer.
“Dependent on health, both physical and mental, there is still much to do, much joy to be found, and plenty of opportunities for growth.
“I am extremely grateful for the opportunity and the grace to be a priest.
“One thing is certain, and it is that I have no regrets. While every life has its ups and downs, it has been overall a fabulous journey.
“If I had to do it all over again, I would, because I cannot imagine a different life for me,” he concluded.