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Fr Bernie looks back on a blessed life and to a hopeful future as he marks 50 years of priesthood

Happy, healthy, holy: Fr Bernie Gallagher celebrated 50 years of priesthood on July 1.
Photo: Joe Higgins

NUNDAH-Banyo parish priest Fr Bernie Gallagher says he feels spoiled as he celebrates 50 years of priesthood.

Fr Gallagher said the Prep students of his parish schools made it a special week, presenting him with gifts like a booklet – Fifty Reasons Why Fr Bernie is Special.

Inside the booklet all the Prep students wrote reasons why Fr Gallagher was special, like, “Because you live in the church”. 

“All sorts of reasons why I’m special,” Fr Gallagher said with a laugh, sitting in the pews of Corpus Christi Church after the Mass for the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

He said the day before, at a prayer assembly at St Joseph’s Primary School, Nundah, the Preps were giving thanks to God for the important things in their lives.

“And, you know, little Preps getting up, ‘Thank you, God, for tuckshop’, and finally ‘Thank you, God, for Fr Bernie’,” Fr Gallagher said.

“It’s not hard to feel loved when you go through the school community – staff and students.

“Really, I look back on 50 years and I thank God that I’ve been healthy and I’ve been happy – that’s a blessing.”

Fr Gallagher will join other diamond, golden and silver jubilarians from the archdiocese and religious orders at an anniversary Mass at St Stephen’s Cathedral on July 17.

Raised in Mitchelton, Fr Gallagher said he was grateful for his mother.

Fr Gallagher’s father was injured in the Second World War and returned home, marrying his mother and having three children – a boy and two girls.

“By 1950, (my dad) was in hospital until 1985, so mum had the responsibility of raising us,” Fr Gallagher said. 

“She was a marvellous example of faith, hope and love.

“Really, she was terrific.”

Fr Gallagher went to school at St Joseph’s College, Gregory Terrace and said he felt a sense for priesthood since he was about 10 years old.

Ordained a priest on July 1, 1969, in Mitchelton parish, Fr Gallagher said he remembered receiving advice at the ordination reception from then Mitchelton parish priest Fr George Nugent.

“Two bits of advice were – keep hitting them down the middle – because he knew I liked golf – and the second one was always pay your way,” he said.

“In other words, don’t expect favours because you’re a priest, which I thought was good advice.”

Fr Gallagher said over his 50 years he was thankful for his brother priests who supported him over the years, like Fr Nugent, Fr Jack Rosenskjar and Fr Terry Ganzer to name a few.

He was also thankful for his mate of 30 years Fr John Nee, who he used to golf with every weekend and holiday with.

Fr Gallagher’s ministry also coincided with a time of great change in the Church.

He said the Second Vatican Council reforms were significant shake-ups in his early years.

And while those changes were still ongoing ­­– and would take a while yet – he said it had been a good change.

The other major change was one he said all Catholics were still trying to understand.

“Obviously, certainly in the last 20 years, the clergy abuse scandal has been something that all Catholics have had to grapple with,” he said.

But change wasn’t just limited to the Church either.

“I think one of the big changes for me in the past 50 years has been the importance of the education of women,” he said.

“My sisters, you know they had nursing or teaching … they weren’t the only thing, there were the professional people in other things, but mostly that was their expectation. 

“But nowadays girls are graduating with very different expectations and realistic ones too. 

“So that’s been a big change for the better, I think, in society.”

Plenary Council 2020 was also on Fr Gallagher’s mind, which he said was a great opportunity.

“If I had one thing to say to the Catholics of Australia, or Brisbane, or the readers of The Catholic Leader, it would be to pray about and get involved in the discernment process for the Plenary Council,” he said.

“(I’m) pretty hopeful about, you know, the direction the Church will take as a result of the Plenary Council. 

“I don’t think it’s going to be a talk fest, I think it’s being open to the (Holy) Spirit and finding where the (Holy) Spirit’s leading.”

Eucharistic Adoration was a great strength of Fr Gallagher’s parish too, which runs perpetually by alternating through the week between the Nundah and Banyo churches.

He said adoration and vocations were tightly linked in the Nundah-Banyo parish.

“There’s three seminarians from this parish at the seminary,” he said.

“That’s a good percentage of the priests of Queensland coming out of here at the moment.”

Fr Gallagher said people came to adoration and prayed for vocations, using the seminary’s calendar with prayer intentions for the seminarians written on them, which he said the parishioners loved.

All in all, he said he felt blessed.

Fr Gallagher said he had a little message for the children whenever he went around to the schools – “be happy, be healthy and be holy”. 

“They all know it off by heart now,” he said. 

“So if they learn nothing at the Catholic schools, they’ll learn – these two schools anyway – they’ll learn those three words are important words. 

“Be happy, be healthy, be holy.”

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