CINDY Howie has always found a way to pop in on her “spiritual grandfather” retired priest Fr Leo Burke ever since he welcomed her into the Catholic Church in 2001.
There were the times the former Emmaus College teacher used a street directory and later a GPS to find her way to Fr Burke’s presbytery at Victoria Point, where he was parish priest for 12 years.
Then there was the time she flew to Israel to join Fr Burke in a scripture study at Tantur Ecumenical College, located just outside Bethlehem.
“Because of who I am and how I’m like, if I meet good quality people, if I meet someone, and that person is really special, I try to make a concerted effort to keep in contact with them for the rest of my life,” Miss Howie said.
That someone was Fr Burke.
He was looking after the Indooroopilly parish when a 21 year old walked into his office and asked to become a Catholic.
Miss Howie, who was baptised Methodist, said she was introduced to the Catholic faith while she was student at Brigidine College, Indooroopilly.
She started attending Mass with her Catholic friends, then joined the popular youth group Antioch, and for years longed to receive Communion.
After visiting the local parish priest with questions, he told Miss Howie, then 15, to read a book, How to Survive Being Married to a Catholic, in preparation to receive the sacraments.
The priest then told Miss Howie she could be confirmed in a small liturgy during her lunch break in front of her teachers.
“I didn’t go back,” Miss Howie said.
Miss Howie remained an Antioch member after graduating high school, until there were just four leaders left.
When the youth group died, she continued going to Mass on her own, but didn’t think it was right to “just sit there and chill”.
Instead, she followed a notice in the parish bulletin and signed up for the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, a process that supports people who want to convert to Catholicism.
Fr Burke was the priest in charge at the time and took on the role of teaching Miss Howie in the faith.
The pair have been friends ever since she was received into the Church in 2001.
“I’ve hounded this man for nearly 20 years,” Miss Howie said.
So when the coronavirus pandemic hit Brisbane, leading to mass restrictions on visitations and public gatherings, Miss Howie thought she had lost two things – her spiritual grandfather and the Eucharist.
In a phone conversation, she discovered Fr Burke was still saying Mass for the local Canossian Sisters, and pressed to find out if she could join them.
Fr Burke had a better idea.
The pair could celebrate Mass on the front patio of his Camp Hill unit, keeping to strict social distancing measures, using his trusty chaplaincy Mass kit.
Miss Howie said it was a blessing to receive Communion with the priest whom she regarded as a grandfather-figure.
“I got Communion, and then Fr Leo played a song on his cassette tape, a portable one,” Miss Howie said.
“When that song played then I absolutely did have a couple of tears in my eyes – what a blessing to have this opportunity.”
Fr Burke said he also invited another woman who is living in Cairns who had also undertaken the Scripture study at Tantur Ecumenical College.
She was able to live-stream the Mass from her home in Cairns.
Fr Burke said he would continue saying Sunday Mass on his front patio for his friends during the pandemic.