Donna Lynch recently sat down with Wallaby legend Paul McLean (pictured) to discuss life, family, faith and the game played in heaven.
Can you tell us the early years of Paul McLean?
I suppose (it was a) simple upbringing – grew up in Ipswich, went to the local school which was St Mary’s Primary School which then turned into St Eddie’s (St Edmond’s) in Ipswich.
We lived in the city where (it was) family and publicans, which was the centre of the universe.
(There were) a lot of pubs back in those days.
We lived quite close to the school, and the church was in the school grounds basically. We grew up in a traditional Catholic family, both parents were strong practising Catholics.
Living with the extended family, besides sport and the family bond, were all the family Catholic?
Yeah. I mean, we regard ourselves as lucky because of that, because both sides of our family were Catholic.
My father’s side of the family, and I think it was just the product of the economy back in those days, because although we were all baptised as Catholics, his brothers and his sisters all went to different schools.
He went to St Joseph’s Gregory Terrace and another uncle went to St Laurence’s, another brother went to Villanova and the other went to State High – not sure how that happened.
But anyway, we were all lucky and thankful that they instilled in us the fabric of the Catholic Church, and I was lucky enough then to marry a Catholic girl – she’s probably stronger than me. She does more around the church than I do.
You played 31 rugby union Test matches and 100 for Queensland. You’ve held a lot of records along the way. Did you ever say a prayer when you were kicking for goals, like “Please, God, let this get through”?
No, I learnt early that the priests don’t do football matches and they don’t do horse racing.
There’s not much point, but, no … what you’ll learn quickly is it’s up to you.
Sometimes they’re lonely situations when it’s up to you to perform. Whilst a team sport, it’s a pretty individual part of the game, when you’ve got to kick the ball.
It’s like golf, you don’t have anyone else to blame but yourself.
You’ve carried your business life to help the Church, your local parish. Do you advise people to dig in and do the same?
I suppose, what do you want out of your church? It’s a community-based church that we have, it’s an inclusive church.
It’s important … we’ve tried to instil in our kids the meaning of that and what they can get out of it, and I’m not sure if it’s all working – time will tell – but I think they understand and see what we do, and we should never forget that we as parents, leaders of the family, we cast a long shadow and our kids look at what we do and how we do it.
While we might not be conscious of it, they are.
I think that leadership is important and that’s what I see in other people in our parish, whether they’re leading and showing their children the way and how important their faith can be.
If we can help in that regard, that’s a good thing.
I do see a lot more young people there and I think the benefit of having schools attached to parishes is important and I would suggest critical.
And the parishes embracing the schools as well (is important) because that’s the future of our Church.
If we don’t have those people coming through, we won’t grow and we’ll lose ground, so I think that’s critical.
If Kate and I were doing anything, it’s trying to ensure that the kids in the school understand what the parish is doing and vice versa.
We’re quite fortunate because we have a primary school within our church grounds.
What is your message to the Church to get more people to the door, how do we do it?
I think schools are important, I think visibility of parish priests around schools is important, and I’m sure they understand – both principals and parish priests – how important that is.
The closer we can bring those two entities, I think, it will be hugely beneficial for our Church to go forward.
There’s a lot of mysteries around our Church, but that’s why we have faith.
We have faith because, in our faith, there is something there that is important to us.
And at the end of the day, it teaches what’s right and what’s wrong.
It just reinforces what’s right and wrong and how you should lead your life.
Who has Paul McLean admired most in life?
I sit back and see what my wife does and how she does it, and how she gives so much of her time, effort, energy … she’s an early-childhood teacher by degree, so she understands the education process and that’s why she’s been so good in and around the parishes.
We’ve been involved in delivery, showing the kids the pathway in their faith.
She sits on the Archdiocesan Catechumen Council, which helps parishes with their RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults) and helping create new Catholics into our community.
And I sit back and admire her knowledge about Church history and the Bible.
Without having read every chapter or verse, she understands the story and the messages.
It keeps me on the straight and narrow, I think.
It’s an education for me, every time she talks.