Fr Maurice McNamara, Emeritus Parish Priest of St Anthony’s Toongabbie and St Matthew’s Windsor, died yesterday afternoon at Our Lady of Consolation, Rooty Hill aged 83. Funeral details will be announced in due course.
Born on 5 November 1933 and ordained 8 March 1958, Fr Maurice was a priest for almost 60 years. He spoke to Catholic Outlook in 2013 about his life of service and his love of sport and his parish community.
Fr Maurice McNamara
To all those whose lives he touches, he brings his own special brand of genuine warmth and comfort, with a wise, listening ear and a caring, still strong in spirit, pair of shoulders to lift the burdens of those in his parish community. He is still doing the work he began when first ordained, visiting people in their homes and strengthening their faith; seeking out the lost lambs and returning them to the fold.
“When I was first ordained Cardinal Gilroy gave us the King & I lesson – the ‘Getting to Know You’ approach. He told us to go out to the extremity of the parish and knock on doors and visit families in their homes.” Fr Maurice took the message to heart and it remains the centre of his ministry even in retirement.
“There is a need to get away from our computer screens and visit the population in their homes. Pope Francis has said get out from the sanctuary and go out amongst the sheep. His meaning is clear – to go and personally visit the people.
“The people need to see we are really interested in them. I am always given a great welcome. People tell me their stories and often direct me to others in need.”
Fr Maurice grew up in what he describes a normal Catholic family. “We used to say the rosary as a family before washing up each night,” he says. “Mum had a very deep faith.”
“Looking back there were a number of people in the parish who had a big influence on me. Local priests Fr O’Regan and Fr Bush I looked up to and admired.”
Like many of his generation, Fr Maurice was an altar server rostered to attend at parish Masses on weekdays and weekends. “I even went the extra step to pay a visit to the church even on days when I was not rostered to serve,” he recalls.
But as a younger man almost as strong as his faith was his love of sport. From early childhood days bodysurfing on Bondi Beach where he grew up, to playing footy in the seminary team, Fr Maurice believes the friendships forged and values learnt through team sport are an important part of building community in his life in ministry.
“I was always a mad keen sportsman,” he muses. “I was the 1957 team sports captain and participated in everything in my eleven years in the seminary. It was the most wonderful time. A time of great camaraderie.”
Fr Maurice entered the seminary at age 14 and points out that those young men who went through the seminary with him were not just fellow students or names on a class role; but friends like any at a high school or university discussing ideology and assisting each other with the demands of study.
“If you got into strife there was always someone to share ideas and help you out. It was hard work, but a good place, being part of a community of learning and prayer.’
Ordained in March 1958, he spent much of his first few months in supply across the Archdiocese experiencing quickly how different parishes and communities operate before a more permanent posting to Surry Hills.
“I saw all sides of society there in the 1950s. I did a great amount of work with youth in the area. They would get into trouble and I helped in getting them back on the straight and narrow.”
At this and subsequent postings his approach to working with the youth of his parish was through establishing team sports. “I had 14 basketball teams operating in the CYO (Catholic Youth Organisation) across the Sydney Archdiocese. We won the titles 4 years in a row,” he still recalls with pride.
He also organised regular youth gatherings for breakfast; with around 350 in attendance during his two year tenure.
But it was in 1968 that his talent really came into its own when he applied for a placement in Papua New Guinea working as a missionary with the Franciscan Fathers.
Fr Maurice spent the next five years in the country, and at first every day was a road trip as he travelled between 15 separate villages. Later he was assigned to a larger parish and through fundraising set about bringing sport once again into his ministry building a basketball court.
“Though sport we broke down a lot of the barriers between the villages and worked towards building an extended community. But I also had to learn Pidgin English after awhile.”
When he first began preaching at Masses, he found many of the locals were not connecting with his message. One woman came up after Mass and told him to reach them he would have to learn to speak in a way they could understand; to listen and learn their language. He recalls she said to him.
“Putim yair yau na yair pam long em. Putim yair yau pastaim yai ken toktok.” (Put your ear and your heart in it. Put your ear first you can talk.)
And throughout his ministry, listening and talking the language of his community is something Fr Maurice has always been able to do. He has always seen the focal point of his priestly ministry as the need to get to the people. He has worked extensively in youth ministry and marriage preparation and was parish priest of Windsor for 15 years from 1993 til his retirement in 2008.
Fr Maurice now also spends a lot more time in Centering Prayer, which is a contemplative mode of silent prayer which seeks to add depth of meaning and foster a relationship beyond conversation, to real communion with Christ.
“When you are old and grey you have more ‘oomph’ in your prayer life. You become a bit more in depth in your more senior years,” Fr Maurice explains with a contented smile.
“It has been a fulfilling journey, serving in ministry and developing people and myself over the years. But retirement is wonderful and exciting, it all depends on what you want to do. It is great to still see people and be able to say Goodday.”
Source: Catholic Outlook, 2013, with staff writers.
In your charity, please pray for the Repose of the Soul of Fr Maurice and remember his family in your prayers.
The funeral details of Fr Maurice will be announced in due course.