Covering the Goulburn and Murray valleys

Father Bob wows them

Perhaps Australia's most popular priest paid one of his early parishes, Seymour, a visit last week.

CHALPAT SONTI March 13, 2014 9:15am

Father Bob Maguire addresses the Seymour U3A Melting Pot session at the Salvation Army hall.


There’s little doubt Father Bob Maguire is Australia’s most popular priest, and last week in Seymour he showed why.

Father Bob was guest speaker at Seymour and District U3A’s Melting Pot session and he had the 100-plus members of the audience in the Salvation Army hall — including long-time friend and parish priest Monsignor Tony Toms — both spellbound and in stitches.

Despite being forced out from his South Melbourne parish in 2012, Father Bob has become more popular than ever before, as he manages his Father Bob Foundation and other ventures — to help those most in need — with numerous media commitments.

But what is little known is the 79-year-old’s early history as a priest, which included a stint in Seymour.

Father Bob then joined the Army as a chaplain in the mid-1960s, rising to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel and being posted to Puckapunyal before going to the Vietnam War.

After that he took up the South Melbourne parish, where he remained for 38 years before being controversially forced to retire. Or as he so eloquently put it ‘‘I never got the red card (but) I caught a glimpse of the yellow’’.

The Seymour audience were told of his time here with Masses both at St Mary’s and Tallarook.

At the latter it was ‘‘blokes on one side, women on the other’’ and pristine white cloths being pulled away to avoid the waste from incontinent ‘‘but not incompetent’’ bats.

Those early experiences taught him ‘‘if you want to change the way things are you’ve got to change it yourself’’. And just as importantly, that while society might be made up of people who were simply ‘‘numbers in the game of consumerism’’, that didn’t have to be the case.

‘‘We’re more than that, we’re a community,’’ he said.

‘‘That’s what I discovered out there (Puckapunyal).’’

And how to spread the word.

‘‘You can talk about God, Jesus, Mary and religion but you have to do it under the guise of spirituality for the Aussies to accept that.’’

And there was more, including the reason behind the way he does things.

‘‘You can’t talk about homelessness without talking about helplessness or hopelessness.’’

A perceptive take on current events around the world led him to postulate that while treatments for all sorts of diseases were being searched for, it was ‘‘social cancers’’ that most needed curing.

‘‘One of the reasons we’re in the predicament we’re in ... we can handle failure but can’t handle success. I think Australia is so free it’s dangerous because we’re in danger of making fools of ourselves.

Father Bob engaged in plenty of light-hearted banter with Monsignor Toms, and even had some advice for him about a younger generation ‘‘that knows everything’’ thanks to modern technology.

‘‘You have a look ... next time you have a baptism — the baby now is born with a longer thumb ... for texting ...’’

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