Fr John McSweeney
Archdiocese of Sydney. Bishops, priests and parishioners from across Sydney are mourning the loss of author, historian and dedicated priest, Fr John McSweeney who died at Westmead Hospital on Wednesday, 16 January after suffering a fall. Irish-born Fr John was 93 years old.
"As a young priest I had the privilege of working with Fr John McSweeney for six years in the parish of Our Lady of Fatima, Kingsgrove. I learnt so much from this wise and apostolic priest," says Bishop Julian Porteous who served as assistant parish priest during the time Fr John was Parish Priest of Our Lady of Fatima in Kingsgrove NSW.
"Fr John was first and foremost a pastor. He came to Kingsgrove with a desire to advance the faith of the people and build a strong Christian community in the parish. He regularly invited guest preachers and teachers to the parish. He organized missions and renewal programs. He kept abreast of pastoral ideas from around the world. He sought to find ways to build up the parish and inspire the people to live the Christian life. He encouraged me to work with youth and was instrumental in assisting me conduct a Youth Mission in the parish which produced much fruit," he recalls.
Bishop Terence Brady with the late Fr John McSweeney at Fr John's farewell from Kingsgrove Parish last year.
Picture courtesy of O'Farrell Photography
Bishop Julian also remembers Fr John organising weekly parish staff meetings each Tuesday morning to discuss the work of the week and to look at ways to strengthen parish life.
"He was always open to new ideas and prepared to try new things and openly consulted on his plans. He was a pastor who loved and cared for his people. He would do door-to-door visitation in the early evenings and kept this up as a regular habit. He was hospitable and open to parishioners and priests alike. Presbytery life was open and friendly."
Bishop Julian, Episcopal Vicar of Evangelisation and Renewal for the Archdiocese of Sydney paid tribute to Fr John and the generosity and dedication with which he served the Archdiocese of Sydney for almost seven decades.
"The people of Kingsgrove in particular will mourn his passing," he says.
Fr John McSweeney's biography of Fr John Therry
Fr John was born and grew up in County Cork. He entered All Hallows College Dublin as a seminarian, and in 1944 arrived in Australia as a "missionary priest."
However his missionary work soon after took him off to Japan where he worked as a pastor during the post-war days assisting the allies in the reconstruction of Japan.
It was on his return to Australia that he resumed service with the Archdiocese of Sydney before taking up his long-term role as Kingsgrove parish priest.
During his long life and dedicated service with the Archdiocese of Sydney, Fr John not only served as parish priest at Our Lady of Fatima, Kingsgrove for 27 years but after his retirement in 1993, continued to be involved with the life of the parish as Pastor Emeritus and regularly celebrated Sunday Mass.
At the thanksgiving Mass in July last year to farewell Fr John who finally stepped down as Pastor Emeritus after 37 years with the Kingsgrove Parish, Bishop Terence Brady, Auxiliary Bishop to the Archdiocese of Sydney recalled his time when he also served as assistant parish priest at Our lady of Fatima when Fr John was parish priest, as well as the even earlier time when the pair first met.
Fr John McSweeney with retired Bishop David Cremin at the launch of Bishop Cremin's biography.
"I would have met John McSweeney when he was a young Irish priest and I was still a boy," Bishop Brady said and recalled the late priest's commitment to Kingsgrove and determination to take on any problems of the parish.
"He's such a good pastor and loves people and never ran away from challenges," the Bishop told those who attended the farewell Mass, which included many of those who were parishioners at Our Lady of Fatima when Fr John was first appointed back in 1976.
After his retirement more than 20 years ago, he not only continued his work with the parish but researched and wrote several important books including "Call me David!" a biography of the Archdiocese's now retired Auxiliary Bishop, the Most Rev David Cremin, "Light of Other Days" which explored the Feast of St Francis Xavier and "A Meddling Priest: John Joseph Therry" which charted the early history of Sydney and the Irish priest's influence on the founding of the Catholic Church in Australia.
Our Lady of Fatima Kingsgrove where Fr John McSweeney served for 37 years
Fr John Therry was a fellow countryman and the biography garnered high praise when it was launched in 2000 with Fr Edmund Campion, Emeritus Professor of History at the Catholic Institute of Sydney saying readers of the book would profit from "John McSweeney's wise reflections."
"Fr Therry is at the heart of the Australian story and to understand him is to understand what came afterwards," Fr Campion said at the time.
A portrait of Fr John McSweeney by artist Janet Selby which was entered in the Archibald Prize was later purchased and presented to the nonogenerian priest as a gift at his farewell last year.
Bishop David Cremin paid tribute to his biographer and friend, describing him as a "wonderful priest who reached out to everyone."