JUST as locals are accustomed to the tide’s comings and goings in picturesque Brighton and Sandgate, so too is parish priest Fr Pat Stratford a well-known part of the scenery.
Fr Pat’s “coming” was an extraordinary 35 years ago, when he was appointed Sandgate parish priest following ministry in Ipswich and Murgon.
“There was very little unoccupied land when I came,” he said from his home of more than three decades, beside Sacred Heart Church at Sandgate.
“There were many senior citizens.”
While the landscape hasn’t changed and the area certainly still welcomes senior members, more families have taken up residence in the parish and enrolments in the local primary schools of Sacred Heart, Sandgate, and St Kieran’s, Brighton, as well as St Patrick’s College, Shorncliffe, have increased.
“When I arrived there were 12 boys in Year 12 at St Patrick’s,” Fr Pat said.
“Now there are 150.”
Also on his arrival, Sacred Heart school included senior classes.
In 1981, St John Fisher (Girls’ Secondary) College, opened at nearby Bracken Ridge.
Injecting dates easily into the conversation, Fr Pat said the first church was opened in Sandgate in 1881 “but it was too small by 1892”.
He said the striking Sacred Heart Church had an additional transept in 1935.
Within his 35 years, Fr Pat has celebrated the majority of “approximately 1500 baptisms and at least 800 weddings” in that church.
Some of those ceremonies also took place in The Church of the Real Presence at Brighton, beside St Kieran’s primary school.
Fr Pat was administrator of Brighton from 2000 and officially appointed parish priest in December 2003.
Saying he now pastors 4800 local Catholics, Fr Pat was quick to share of an obvious question posed at this “retirement stage” of his ministry.
“I’m asked if there’s a particular thing that stands out … a highlight (of the 35 years),” he said.
“Obviously that is Sunday Mass.
“When we gather together, that’s when Christ becomes sacramentally present to us.
“We reflect on the Word … and we are sent forth to live out our faith.”
From age seven, Fr Pat, who has five sisters and three brothers, knew he would “live out” the vocation of priest.
“I remember the day of my First Holy Communion … (and) a nun was saying something about being a priest,” he said.
“I’ve never changed my mind about that decision.”
While finding “great satisfaction” in his ministry since his ordination in 1958, Fr Pat is also quick to recall how society has changed.
“In the early ’70s there was a change in the emphasis across Christian society,” he said.
“People started saying, ‘I must recognise my own individuality and I must have self-fulfilment’.
“(And) ‘If I don’t get self-fulfilment, I won’t be satisfied’.
“Whereas the emphasis before that was that there are certain things that are right and certain things that are wrong and it’s not just about what you feel.
“Basically there has been a revolt against authority.”
Fr Pat said people can maintain individuality and “use that in accordance with Christ’s teaching”.
He also has a viewpoint on those who stray from “Church”.
“I think the more people live away from Christ’s teaching then they are going to be looking for a change,” Fr Pat said.
“If people find ignoring Christ’s teaching brings unhappiness in their lives and the lives of others they say, ‘That was a mistake and I don’t want that for my children’.”
He said “very obvious injustices from ignoring Christ’s teaching” include “abortion, marital breakdown and children losing their relationship with one of their parents”.
“A greater emphasis on living the faith rather than learning about it”, Fr Pat said should be better developed in the Catholic school setting, leading to greater adherence to Christ’s teaching rather than moves away from it.
“I think there should be more emphasis on how to live the faith (in Catholic schools),” Fr Pat said.
“There is, of course, the Study of Religion, learning about other religions, but I have my doubts about whether that’s the best option.
“While there’s no lack of good will (in the Catholic school setting) you can teach people from reading books how to be a good swimmer but they’ve got to get out and practise it.”
The “outgoing tide” of Fr Pat’s ministry in Sandgate-Brighton parish is set for June 30.
Next Sunday, following the 9am Mass in Sandgate, a morning tea will be enjoyed to allow parishioners and visitors to farewell him.
Fr Pat said he would “continue to serve” during retirement and would often think of “the nice view out over the bay” he’s enjoyed for 35 years.
Asked how he’d like the community to remember him, there was continued lack of hesitation.
“As a Catholic priest who was happy in his ministry as a priest,” Fr Pat said.
“… Who was very happy to work with the people – recognising the Church is the people and not just him.
“The priest has a leadership role but everybody has a role in the life of the parish community.
“(And) I’ve had very good support from parishioners ever since I came here and I’m deeply grateful for that.”