By Emilie Ng
“When I die, don’t write me an epitaph, say a prayer for me,” Fr Gregory Jordan.
JESUIT Father Gregory Jordan dedicated his life to teaching young and old the beauty of life in the Church, but his greatest lesson came when he died suddenly on Sunday July 19.
After collapsing during Mass in St Ignatius Church, Toowong, Fr Jordan lay unconscious, surrounded by his spiritual children, who prayed God would spare their beloved priest and friend.
This scene, of friends in pairs clutching Rosaries, medals, prayer cards, and murmuring prayers to God, set the stage for Fr Jordan’s final lesson in his 85-year life.
He was teaching others to place their trust in God, who was Fr Jordan’s first and last love, and to make their lives a sacrifice to others, to go the whole mile in service to the Church, even until death.
Fr Jordan’s sacrificial life began in Hamilton, New Zealand, where he was born on July 13, 1930, to his 47-year-old mother.
He found his calling to the Jesuits after reading a book on the life of St Edmund Campion, who no doubt also inspired the late Jesuit’s lifelong work as a teacher, both inside the classroom and out.
His vocation as teaching priest took him to Sydney, Adelaide, Tasmania and finally Brisbane, where he lived the last 27 years of his life.
Friends, former students, parishioners and family nicknamed him the “great networker” for his ability to connect with people from all over the world.
Sydney Catholic Bernadette Jee remembers Fr Jordan as “the man who turned up the moment you needed someone”.
Her first need of the Jesuit came when her mother died in 1996.
“We needed a priest in Brisbane, and it was Fr Greg Jordan,” she said.
Mrs Jee thought of Fr Jordan “like a father”.
“He loved to have a meal with you and a glass of sparkling wine,” she said.
Fr Jordan baptised five of six Jee children, adding to the hundreds of babies and adults the Jesuit received into the Church, baptisms in the last 12 years as chaplain to Brisbane’s Latin Mass community strongly outweighing the funerals.
Mrs Jee said Fr Jordan also led many young men into the priesthood, including former Brisbane residents Priestly Fraternity of St Peter Father Damonn Sypher, Lismore diocesan priest Fr Nicolas Maurice, Sydney diocesan priest Fr Nicholas Rynne, and Wagga Wagga-based Fr Mark Whybrow, and inspired former Anglican clergyman, university chaplain Fr Bavin Clarke, to unite with the Catholic Church.
“Cardinal George Pell once said that Fr Jordan did more for vocations in Australia than any other priest,” Mrs Jee said
Fr Jordan’s secretary and assistant Elizabeth Purton, 26, said she would always remember his secret to evangelising young people.
“As a youth ministry chaplain to Faith on Tap, he always told us ‘You take them in through their door and out through yours’ and ‘You get more flies with honey’,” she said.
“The whole time I’ve known him he met every person where they were at and told you a story that was either funny or meaningful to your situation.
“Any young person that met him couldn’t help but be intrigued or instantly connected with this man who became like our grandfather. I will always remember him that way.”
Jesuit Father Robin Koning, who is assistant to the provincial of the Jesuits in Australia, said members of the province had been shocked and saddened by Fr Jordan’s sudden death.
“He is remembered as a good community man, always ready to be involved in community activities at a local and province level, and to engage in conversation and to share a laugh and a story,” Fr Koning said.
“Fr Jordan seemed indefatigable in his zeal and only in recent months, as he approached his 85th birthday, did he show signs of slowing down just a little.
“His fellow Jesuits will miss Fr Jordan’s warm companionship and his great example of pastoral concern and energy.”
Not only did he influence young people, but he took the time to speak and give suggestions to politicians, including former Queensland Liberal National Party senator Ron Boswell.
“He was an inspiration to a lot of young people and an inspiration to a lot of Parliamentarians,” he said.
“His influence reached over a lot of people, and it would all be for the good.”
Mr Boswell, a Catholic who retired from the Senate last year, had often turned to Fr Jordan for advice during his time in Parliament.
“I used to speak to him regularly if I had any problems,” he said.
“I know he talked to a lot of Parliamentarians.”
Close friend, John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family’s Professor Tracey Rowland said in a dedicated post on the institute’s website that Fr Jordan “knew how to father the fatherless”.
“He was interested in developing human potential and did not confine himself to giving advice on spiritual matters,” Professor Rowland said.
“He didn’t stand around idle while his sheep were being menaced by wolves, especially the kind of intellectual species of wolf who peddles atheistic ideologies.
“For him the important thing was to be playing on the right team in that battle and he thought that young Catholic families were on the frontlines and he wanted to give them encouragement and logistical support.”
Fr Jordan shared this story’s prefacing quote about wanting prayers, not an epitaph upon death, with Sydney-based theologian and father of eight Peter Holmes on their first meeting.
“The joyful twinkle in his eye, which would I would later realise was a constant feature, was the only clue that he was enjoying my surprise at his ruthless honesty even while teaching me that honesty was more noble than platitudes,” Mr Holmes said.
“It was the first of very many lessons of manhood, fatherhood and Christ-like life that he taught with his typical gentle wit and wisdom, mostly by his lived example of self-sacrificing love for God and His children.
“There are no platitudes that can sooth the loss of so great a gentleman, scholar and priest.
“I hope he will forgive me this short epitaph as I join many thousands in praying for the repose of his gentle soul.”