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Fr Virgil at the forefront during a time of change

Fr Virgil PenderFATHER Virgil Pender died on November 9, 2013, at the age of 85 years, 62 of which were spent in the priesthood.

Fr Virg was born into a close-knit Catholic community in Ipswich on November 27, 1927, to solicitor Michael Pender and his wife Bridget.

He was named after St Virgil on whose feast day he was born and was the youngest of seven children.

He was educated by the Christian Brothers in Ipswich and was a talented athlete, swimmer and footballer, holding the broad-jump record for several years until it was broken in recent years.

Proudly supported by his family Fr Virg followed his older brother and dear friend Gervase into the priesthood.

In those days parents were allowed very few visits to Banyo to see the seminarians and the boys were allowed home visits for a short few weeks a year.

Those times were times of celebration with sing-songs around the pianola and old 16mm movies being shown.

Fr Virg was ordained by Archbishop James Duhig on June 29, 1951, in St Mary’s Church, Ipswich.

His first posting was St Patrick’s Parish, Gympie, where he spent 10 years.

It was during this time that his brother Fr Gervase died suddenly, leaving behind a devastated family.

Fr Virg continued his life’s work, quietly bearing this loss.

In 1961 he was appointed parish priest of St Mel’s, Esk.

After seven years in the Esk parish he was transferred to his hometown of Ipswich as parish priest at St Joseph’s Parish, North Ipswich.

He remained there for 30 years until his retirement in 1998.

Fr Virg once commented, “Parishioners of St Joseph’s Parish are extremely loyal and generous, not only to their faith but in every parish activity, and it is this fine spirit of giving that has woven our people into a most harmonious and helpful parish”.  fr virgil pender

At the time of great change in the Church, Fr Virg was always in the forefront, implementing the latest innovation – lay Eucharistic ministers, leaders, readers, parish council, Archdiocesan Pastoral

Council, youth group, RCIA programs, ladies visiting committee and ecumenism.

The St Joseph’s Catholic and St Thomas’s Anglican Ladies Visiting Committee continues successfully to this day.

As parish priest he was, among other qualities, a superb administrator, quick to delegate responsibility to those he chose for different positions.

One relieving priest once remarked “this parish almost runs itself”.

Fr Virg built three classroom blocks for the school and helped improve sporting facilities.

His most satisfying legacy was starting a group to visit the sick and elderly.

His love for the Church and school was immeasurable.

The love he had for the children of St Joseph’s Primary School, and the response and love he got back, made him proud and humble.

It will never be known how many families he helped out financially at the school.

At six feet, six inches (198.1cm) he was tall and imposing but behind this was a witty, friendly, perceptive and aware person.

He loved sport, particularly rugby league. For him, the Broncos National Rugby League club were a great addition to the sporting scene.

In 1994 he toured England with the Australian Rugby League team for six weeks.

By coaching rugby league he passed on his love of the sport to the children at St Joseph’s School.

Fr Virg was quietly generous to many a worthy cause and place. Much of the good that he did is only known to those he helped.

He travelled widely. A frequent destination was the orphanage at Betong in Thailand.

In 1985 St Joseph’s Parish adopted the orphanage. Fr Virg continued to sponsor and support the orphanage for the remainder of his life.

After a working life of service he retired to Southport, a place he had enjoyed since childhood.

He remained active in his priestly duties in a support role.

In more recent years, he lived at Villa La Salle at Southport to be among other religious, and was grateful for the support and collegiality, particularly that of the Brothers.

He continued to minister in that community until he was too frail to do so.

Life took its toll and his body aged with increasing afflictions but his mind remained bright and enquiring. His spirit dulled but his faith remained strong.

Fr Virg suffered a bleed to the brain on Friday, November 1, 2013.  During the last week of his life he was surrounded by the loving care of family and friends.

The life of Fr Virg was celebrated at a Vigil Mass at St Joseph’s Church on November 14, 2013, attended by his family, parishioners and friends.

Fr Virg’s funeral Mass was celebrated by Archbishop Mark Coleridge at St Mary’s Church, Ipswich, on November 15.

His cousin Fr Dan Carroll delivered the eulogy.

The number of priests in attendance was a testament to the esteem in which this holy and virtuous man of God was held.

With Fr Virg’s passing is the end of an era. He touched the lives of so many people – Catholics and non-Catholics alike.

There is a Gospel reading that contains a favourable image. “Happy those servants, whom the Master finds awake when he comes. I tell you solemnly he will put on an apron, and wait on them”.

When the Master came for Fr Virg, he was truly ready, his lamp was well and truly alight, with many years of dedicated service as a gifted pastor to his people.

The Master put on his apron, sat Fr Virg down at this table and waited on him.

He is now in God’s gentle hands.

Fr Virg, the world is a much better place for your having lived.

– Maryanne Pender

Written by: Staff writers
Catholic Church Insurance

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