FRANCIS Klein turned 84 two Sundays ago and, like most other Sundays of his life, he was celebrating at Sacred Heart Church, Booval.
But for the odd weekend when he’s been away because of work, he’s been there for Mass, come what may.
His parents moved to Booval in 1936, the year he was born, and replaced their original cottage with a relocated farmhouse a few years later.
Francis still lives in that same house.
He was baptised at Sacred Heart Church, confirmed there and made his First Holy Communion there.
He’s probably been to more Masses in that church than any other person alive or dead.
“I’ve had the privilege of knowing all the parish priests that have been at Booval (in the parish’s 108-year history), all save the first …,” he said.
And if there’s anyone in Sacred Heart Parish who doesn’t know Francis, they would more than likely recognise him because he’s been an altar server there for more than 70 years.
He was invited to become an altar boy when he was a school boy and he couldn’t have been happier.
“It was wonderful. Even when I started work, there weren’t many times that I wasn’t here (serving) at weekends …,” he said.
He’s served at weekday Masses when he could as well.
Living only 800m from the church, he would ride his bike to Mass, and still does.
“When I first left school, I could only be there on Sundays …,” Francis said.
“I worked many years in the railway, and then I was on the relieving staff (which meant working away), so I always wanted to get home for weekends and, apart from Mum’s cooking, it was to be at Mass with fellow parishioners each weekend.”
Francis said he remembered serving at the altar “was rather a daunting experience” in the beginning.
“Remember, it was pre-Vatican II and the Mass was in Latin, so you had to be proficient with that and know when and where it was used,” he said.
“There were some good instruction books for apprentice altar servers.
“It was great … and I never ever lost interest, to make it a slap-dash thing. It’s a very serious thing and I still regard it as that.”
It was the solemnity that appealed to him at first, and then his love of the Mass continued to grow.
“It was just a gentle transition …,” he said.
His only worries in the early days would be things like getting the incense right “and perhaps the coals not igniting – that was always a bit of a worry … or the priest not putting enough on”.
Francis had no siblings to serve with him.
“No, I’m the only one in the stable …,” he said.
“But I can truthfully say that it was wonderful growing up with those two people there … and, my parents, I never ever heard a cross word between them.
“From time to time I might’ve been playing up a bit and I might’ve heard something about going to a boys’ home or something like that.
“No, it was a good upbringing …”
His parents Ted and Therese moved to Booval in 1936.
“Dad had a scrub farm at Mt Crosby and there were bad times just like we’ve got these days,” Francis said.
“Dad lost the farm and there was just enough money to buy a very modest cottage here and a bit of ground in Booval.”
Later, the cottage was replaced by the house Francis lives in now.
“The house was originally on a farm up near Harrisville and Dad arranged to have it moved to Booval but at that time, it was demolished and re-erected,” he said.
“They hadn’t developed the theory to cut them in half and road transport them, so it was taken apart and re-erected here in Booval, and Dad gave me two shillings for every post hole that I dug.”
Francis had an unusual introduction to the Church.
“When I was being baptised, my parents didn’t have anyone close by that they knew that would make good godparents and it finished up that priest’s housekeeper Kate Daley had to quickly jumped out of her apron while she was getting the lunch ready and come over and mess about with me …,” he said.
“And Kate Daley turned out to be a good friend over the years, and she died at a ripe old age.”
He said Kate was “actually a de facto grandmother” because his own grandmothers lived in Germany.
“My parents both came from Germany, and they grew up in the same village, so Dad was here in Australia eight years and then I think Grandma Klein might’ve engineered to get Therese to come out to Australia,” he said.
“It was just at that time that things were turning bad in Germany, and (it was difficult) getting out of the country. Mum often talked about that.
“But it was interesting what a wonderful marriage Mum and Dad had …
“They knew each other going to school – they were only born three weeks apart.
“So Mum came out on her own to Australia and Dad was there to meet her, and they got married at South Brisbane church a few days later and lived happily ever after.
For Francis, sticking with altar-serving so long and then becoming a sacristan was “an act of faith, being so closely united with Christ in the Mass”.
“The love of being close to the Lord, it never diminished,” he said.
“I’ve always taken it seriously.
“It’s an internal thing – an internal, eternal business.”
Francis always experiences peace at Mass.
“I do … and then that little bit of time when a person might get that pause after Holy Communion, and to see the people coming to Communion and then I’m acutely aware that they’re my brothers and sisters in the faith … not really having any brothers or sisters (of my own) …”
Parish priest Fr Thomas Varkey, of the Missionary Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament, admires Francis as “a saintly man” who is “very open, very sincere”.
“He’s very pious and very polite and very saintly at the altar,” Fr Varkey said.
“And any time even he offers the Prayers of the Faithful, he will add something special, something relevant to the day, and it will be a very heart-elevating prayer that he makes, a very beautiful prayer.
“The people love him very much, the whole congregation love him very much.
“He always has a big smile on his face and then he’s always welcoming the people, and he has got a very good heart.”