“… I believe that all of the life experiences that we’ve had in the past, are part of God’s design preparing us all the ministries that we exercise in the future … (and) it’s vitally important that we bring a spiritual orientation and ministry of evangelisation to the world beyond the Church.
“(And) finally we can model and can lead in the charitable ministry of a missionary church … words must lead to action in fulfilling the mission God has for us in our world.”
Deacon Gary and wife Lynne have been married for 37 years and have four adult children and one granddaughter.
It was 17 years ago, just after his ordination, “an internship of three years” began in the family’s home parish of The Gap and that led to other avenues and a return homeward.
“Lynne and I facilitated the parish Antioch group with over hundred young adults each year,” Deacon Gary said of those early years.
“Plus, I supervised a range of other ministry groups.
“At the same time I started part-time army chaplaincy with the 2nd Combat Engineer Regiment.
“I then moved into full-time chaplaincy at the Royal Military College, Duntroon, for two years before returning to Brisbane where I have remained since.”
Continuing the strong parish and army ties, the exuberant man of faith has also been chaplain for the Australian Federal Police (International Deployment Group) since 2005 and his vocation has regularly taken him abroad.
“Back in 2000 I became aware of the tragic poverty of the Timorese people,” Deacon Gary said.
“One night I helped this mother deliver her child. “Upon leaving she said, ‘Please don’t forget us’.
“The parish priest said the same thing (and) the following year I took two men from our parish over to Atabae to consult with a new parish priest and community leaders.
“That was the beginning of a humanitarian mission in East Timor that has been running for the last 11 years and has made a significant difference to the lives of many people over there.
“Whilst I founded this work I was adamant that this be a lay-led ministry, which I supported as spiritual director and animator.”
The Gap parish’s ministry in East Timor is ongoing.
“We’ve raised $1million for the people of East Timor,” Deacon Gary said.
“We rebuilt chapels and built three schools.
“In 2005 we deployed a husband-and-wife team to commence a community health program.
“We have trained a number of teachers for our parish schools … (and) we built a health centre and a number of clinics throughout the parish area.”
In 2005 the RSL awarded their National Peace Prize to this outreach “for making a significant contribution to world peace”.
Asked how he remains joy-filled and able to meet his many responsibilities, Deacon Gary didn’t hesitate.
“I balance it all with a diary,” he said.
“Monday is my day off and I spend it with Lynne – we go walking, to the movies, have lunch … (and) I block out one weekend a month so we can go away if we’d like to.
“My prayer life helps too … and I always sing … singing in liturgies really lifts my spirits.
“(And) I’ve been journalling for a couple of years now. “I find it really easy to preach on the weekend because I go back to what I have written during the week and find the ‘good’ of what happened.”
There’s another hint to Deacon Gary’s ear-to-ear grin.
“I’m a ‘good’ finder,” he said.
“I was ordained to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ and that’s what I’m on about.”
That pursuit of “good” hasn’t been without its challenges.
“I got sent to the tsunami (in 2005),” Deacon Gary said.
“I was deployed to Thailand for 16 days.
“We had 10,000 dead bodies and 50,000 grieving families looking for their loved ones.
“I exercised ministry of presence, helping and trying to connect people with each other and with God.
“It was an awesome experience there. I was thinking, ‘Man, I have to find good in all this’ … and I did.”
Deacon Gary said a “coping strategy” was to not only highlight the “good” but also “pull the shutter down” on anything not in such a category. Even after being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and depression following time spent serving in the Middle East, Deacon Gary shook the dust off his boots and continued to “fight the good fight”.
Having grown up in Brisbane and from a faith-filled family, he now visits his father daily in Mt Olivet Hospital, Kangaroo Point, as another challenge unfolds.
“Dad’s been dying for the past five weeks now,” Deacon Gary said.
“Its been tough … (but) I sit and chat with him about the good times we’ve had together.
“It’s amazing how you can cheer people up with the good of what’s happened.”
The Catholic Leader is an Australian award-winning Catholic newspaper that has been published by the Archdiocese of Brisbane since 1929. Our journalism seeks to provide a full, accurate and balanced Catholic perspective of local, national and international news while upholding the dignity of the human person.
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