Fr Peter Lamont is no stranger to being a leader.
He may not wear bright blue face-paint and lead his people into battle, but Fr Peter does give stirring homilies as the leader of ‘Clan Rydalmere’.
As well as being parish priest of Holy Name of Mary Parish, Rydalmere, Fr Peter is also a Scottish Highland Chief.
Fr Peter, the 29th hereditary Chief of Clan Lamont, received the title upon the death of his father in 1972. On his mother’s side, Fr Peter has ties to Second Fleet.
He also has the honour of being the very first priest ordained for the Diocese of Parramatta.
Fr Peter was born in St Margaret’s Hospital, Darlinghurst and grew up in Blacktown. He is the eldest of three siblings.
“I had a normal Catholic childhood, a very happy childhood and good parents. I went to Mass every Sunday [at St Patrick’s Church, Blacktown] with my family, we all went to Mass.
“I lived in the same street as the church and the school [St Patrick’s Primary School, Blacktown] – it wasn’t far to walk.
“We prayed the family rosary every night. The rosary was probably our main prayer together as a family.
“We always wore scapulars and miraculous medals and we always prayed to Our Lady and to the saints.
“I became an altar server in fifth class and I used to serve on Tuesdays. When I was in the Brothers [at Patrician Brothers’ College, Blacktown], I got a Crusaders badge for [altar serving]. If you went to Mass on Sunday, you got a blue one and if you went one day during the week, you got a red one, so I got a red one.
“The church was always part of my life.”
Fr Peter believed that his relationship with his maternal grandmother and the way he lived out his faith through serving at Mass greatly influenced his decision to consider the priesthood.
“My maternal grandmother was a very devout Catholic, and I used to go to Mass with her in the morning when I was younger, and on the first Saturday of the month, we used to go to Holy Hour and Confession. She always prayed for a priest in the family, and she had that devotion to vocation.
“What influenced me greatly too, in my own observation, was serving in Mass. Before the changes came [before Vatican II], the priest had his back to us and we had so much to do. I really loved watching the priest and his movements and the prayers he was saying – it really influenced me. I liked watching each priest’s style in how they celebrated Mass and Benediction.
“It was the prayerfulness of the ritual, the prayerfulness of the Mass itself and the way it was celebrated was good. It wasn’t so much the individual priests, but the liturgy itself.”
After graduating high school, Fr Peter worked in the public service before deciding to enrol in the seminary.
“I always wanted to be a priest. There was always that inkling, there was always that calling.
“I left school to try work life and social life, but it was always there. It was a strong calling.
“As I got closer to the late 1970s, it [the call to the priesthood] was really strong. In 1980, I did a sort of pre-seminary year. Father Monsignor [Kerry] Bayada, the parish priest of Silverwater, ran monthly Recollections. He would speak for an hour about the priesthood and the call for vocations, then we would have discussions and after that we would have Mass. I went every month for twelve months, and then I entered the seminary.”
Fr Peter joined the St Patrick’s Seminary at Manly in 1981, was ordained a deacon at St Patrick’s Church, Blacktown in December 1985 and was ordained a priest by then-Bishop Bede Heather for the newly established Diocese of Parramatta on 22 November 1986 at St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta.
“When I was ordained a deacon, I was an ordained deacon for the Archdiocese of Sydney, but when we had the choice the next year, I chose to go to my home town, my home diocese.”
Once ordained, his first appointment in the diocese was as assistant priest at St Matthew’s Parish, Windsor for three years. In August 1989, he became the assistant priest and hospital chaplain at Sacred Heart Parish, Westmead. After a five month stay at Holy Family Parish, Emerton, Fr Peter became assistant priest in 1992 and later administrator for Our Lady of the Rosary Parish, St Marys.
Thus began what Fr Peter called his “administrator circuit.”
From September 1994 to April 1995, Fr Peter was administrator at St Margaret Mary’s Parish, Merrylands, and then had a brief role as administrator of St Aidan’s Parish, Rooty Hill. Fr Peter was assistant priest at Mary Immaculate Parish, Quakers Hill-Schofields from August to December 1995, and in January 1996, was given his first posting as parish priest at Westmead, where he would stay for two-and-a-half years.
Fr Peter became assistant priest under Monsignor Ron McFarlane at St Andrew’s Parish, Marayong between 1998 and 2005. For 13 months, he was assistant priest at St Patrick’s Cathedral Parish, Parramatta and then in February 2006, he was appointed parish priest of Holy Name of Mary Parish, Rydalmere.
“I’ve been here nearly 14 years next year. It’s my longest [appointment] by far. I must like it,” he chuckles.
“Our parish here is a good cross-section of Australia, we’ve got a good cross-section of all people. I think it’s healthy having a cross-section because the Church is universal, and it reflects the universality of the Church. We all get on well together.
“When I came to Rydalmere, the administration side was looked after and I had a secretary and that’s been good.
“The secretary we’ve got now is wonderful because she does all the accounts, she does everything, which is fantastic. My secretary, Linda, is a very good secretary, and I’m very lucky.”
Fr Peter said that the biggest joy he received from his priesthood was the celebrations of both his 25th and 30th anniversaries of his ordination.
“The 25th anniversary was open to many people, but the 30th was a quiet parish celebration. I think I just had my immediate family here, that’s all, but the other one, I had cousins and everybody around.
“Then-Bishop Anthony Fisher was the main celebrant and other priests, and we had a big luncheon over at the school afterwards, there was around 300 people. That was a good occasion for the parish to come [together].”
When asked about the biggest challenge of his priesthood, Fr Peter said it was the growing indifference to religion in society.
“Many people are indifferent to faith, and [it’s a challenge] trying to get that message across to people. They’re good people, but they’ve got no interest in practising their faith or having a relationship with Christ. It’s really difficult, it’s like pushing against a rock, like trying to move a boulder.
“There’s been an inertia, a lethargy in faith, and it’s really hard to get past that. Even for people practising too, it’s a very difficult thing.
“But we have to rely on God. We can’t do it on our own. We have to rely on God’s providence. God’s in control, we can pray to Him, but we do our best, we work and cooperate with Him, and that leads to His mercy and providence.”
Fr Peter said that he receives joy in celebrating the Mass and the little joys he receives through his priestly ministry.
“Firstly, I think it’s the celebration of the Mass. I love the Mass, it’s a highlight of our lives and the joy, particularly Reconciliation, when people have been away for a long time come back and feel a great sense of liberation from sin when they make a good confession.
“And just the joy of when you do a sick call at a hospital or a home, the joy that people have and the gratitude they have for a priest being present, the priestly presence of being with people. People really appreciate it, even if they may not be practising Catholics, but they appreciate you being there. You feel that ‘I’ve done something worthwhile,’ and ‘my priesthood means a lot,’ because people feel it, you can represent Christ for them.
“God knows that life is difficult, but he gives all of us these moments of consolation. With family or with faith, He’ll give you these moments where you feel uplifted, and that’s [God] saying ‘keep at it’. He never abandons us, He always wants us to keep going.
“Another thing, I must admit, that really gives me great joy is when I attend a priestly ordination because it renews for me my own priesthood and what I’m supposed to do. Sometimes, we get caught up in things, but it actually brings you back to what you’re on about.”
Looking towards the future, Fr Peter hopes that the whole world will embrace Christ.
“My ultimate love would be that the whole world embrace Christ in the Catholic Church because I believe it’s the Way, the Truth and the Life, as Christ said.
“If all mankind could one day be in unity, a unity of the world in Christ, that would be fantastic.
“It would be great if we could go back to that unity, not wars and nationalism, but if we all had that unity of faith.
“My main hope for the Plenary Council 2020 is that it can make the Catholic Church appeal to people but without jettisoning its uniqueness. It has to be counter-cultural, we’ve got to actually not try to be relevant, but try to proclaim what Christ’s Truth is and then challenge people to that.
“This is my third term, and when that expires, I’ll stay on here, but one day, if I do retire, I’ll stay as pastor emeritus, then I can help the parish priest,” he laughed.