IT’S a safe bet that Bart Cummings will be on many people’s minds in a special way today, Melbourne Cup day.
This will be the first Cup since the death of the man known as the Cups King, on August 30 aged 87.
Cummings trained more Cup winners than anyone else – 12.
Because of his record, many punters stuck when making a selection for the Cup would simply look for one with the name “J.B. Cummings” beside it.
Others would never leave his horses out of their picks.
They are sure to be thinking of him today.
One man who will have Bart in mind, and most likely in prayer, is Missionaries of the Sacred Heart Father Adrian Meaney.
Fr Meaney came to know the legendary racehorse trainer well through celebrating annual racing Masses in Sydney.
Through that association, he was asked to give the homily at Cummings’ funeral in St Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney.
Fr Meaney, who recently finished several weeks of ministry at St Joseph’s Parish, Tweed Heads, assists Redemptorist Brother Dan Stafford in his chaplaincy work for the Sydney racing fraternity.
His thoughts will be with them today.
Fr Meaney came into the racing role by chance.
“I am a person who makes myself available, and Br Dan asked me to do what he can’t do as a chaplain,” he said.
“He asked if I would do the sacramental part so, for instance, I have been able to receive people into the Church, offer Mass, do some weddings, do some funerals, assist people when they are sick, things like that.
“Br Dan is very capable, very generous, so I’ve only been called on in the last five years and that’s about how long I knew Bart.”
The friendship between the priest and the trainer went deeper than the annual racing Mass though.
Fr Meaney also offered a regular home Mass at the Cummings’ family residence.
“Br Dan and I would visit once a month and offer Mass for Bart, (wife) Valmae and anyone else who would be there,” he said.
“They had been sick, and it was a ministry we could offer and we would do that for anybody that wanted Mass at home.
“If they were part of the fraternity and they had a good reason we would see what we could do.”
Fr Meaney knew Bart Cummings as a man of great faith who cared about the world around him.
“He was a most human, humane and agreeable person and he took great delight when he heard Pope Francis’ teaching on the care of nature and creation,” he said.
In the funeral homily, Fr Meaney said one of the great achievements of Cummings’ life was his 61-year marriage to Valmae, whom he had met while attending a Catholic youth group in Adelaide.
He said many people were surprised when they heard about the real Bart Cummings at his state funeral – “particularly what a devoted husband he was, … (and) about the rather quiet way he lived, quite contented with his own company”.
“He could walk around the fields and talk to the animals, the horses especially, (and) you could see there, that people only saw him as a man seeking another Melbourne Cup or another trophy or another win,” he said.
Fr Meaney said it was important for all people to be more Christ-like in their approach to others.
“We often just see the exterior and we judge them, but it is so important for all of us to do our best to see beyond appearances to what is under the skin, to what is the real motivation and that there, is where we become like Christ – what’s in our hearts,” he said.
As a Missionary of the Sacred Heart priest, Fr Meaney has intimate knowledge of such spirituality.
“The spirituality that we preach is a spirituality of the heart, that your love comes from your heart,” Fr Meaney said.
He said Bart Cummings’ deep faith was apparent in his daily life for those who chose to look for it.
“Saintly was one of Bart’s Melbourne Cup winners and, like so many of Bart’s horses, their names were associated with his faith and he didn’t hide it,” Fr Meaney said.
“In the Vatican II Document Gaudium et Spes, paragraph 43, we are encouraged to understand that the split sometimes manifested by lay people with the faith which they profess and then comparing their faith with their daily lives, this duality must be counted amongst the many serious errors of our age.
“‘Therefore, let there be no false opposition between professional and social activities on the one part, and religious life on the other.
“‘The Christian who neglects his temporal duties, neglects his duties toward his neighbour and even God, and jeopardises his eternal salvation.’ (Gaudium et Spes, 43.)”
Fr Meaney said whether someone was a doctor, lawyer, teacher, garbage collector or, in Bart Cummings’ case, a trainer of horses, they must do their work to their greatest ability “so that they are doing it thoroughly, honestly, transparently and in such a way that they are not overcome by pride, lust of power, greed for money, avarice, but they do it because it’s a beautiful thing to do”.
“The horse then, if you are a trainer, you love (them); you don’t use, you don’t abuse, you are not cruel, you’re thoughtful, and these are things that Bart Cummings certainly did in his life,” he said.
This is one case where “the preacher” is practising what he is preaching as well.
Fr Meaney has worked and still works to his “greatest ability”.
While many people his age – almost 82 – are beginning to slow down, this proud Queenslander appears to have no such plans.
“In Sydney, I look after an office with a staff of four wonderful people and they run the administration of the MSC Mission Office,” Fr Meaney, who is office director, said.
“We get lay missionaries, and since I’ve been here at Tweed I’ve interviewed two people.”
He also travels … a lot.
“Every year I travel; this year recently I’ve been to Fiji twice, Papua New Guinea twice, Nauru once, and the Philippines.
“I also travel in Australia; I’ve been to Tasmania recently and will be in Adelaide and Melbourne soon.”
Listening to Fr Meaney speak about his life it appears moving from place to place has always been a part of it.
“I’m very much a Queenslander; my father was in the railways, and so we lived at Mount Isa, Ingham, Nambour, Harrisville,” he said.
“When I left to be a priest we lived in Mackay.
“My brother Basil was also a priest and lived and worked in places like Noosa, and Sandgate, and my sister Carmel and brother Damien live in Brisbane.”
After eight years study in Sydney and then Melbourne, Fr Meaney left for Papua New Guinea in 1962.
“After Papua New Guinea I went to the Northern Territory (as) parish priest of Alice Springs for seven years, then I went back to Papua New Guinea,” he said.
“I had the good fortune to organise the two visits of the Pope to New Guinea and I was vicar general of the Archdiocese of Port Moresby and the Diocese of Bereina and just a few weeks ago I was up in Papua New Guinea to give a retreat to the priests of Port Moresby, so I keep in touch.”
Fr Meaney said over the past 15 years the MSC’s had collected more than $10 million for such mission projects.
“We collect about two million dollars each year; we call it clean money as its money we get from the pews in the parishes,” he said.
“We don’t look to multinationals and we don’t ask governments for money; we just want what people give us and that’s enough.”
By Robin Williams