Fr Paul Purcell much to celebrate

After completing school with the Christian Brothers in Yarraville, he competed an apprenticeship in engineering and boiler making. Unknown to him at the time, his interest and experience with engines, particularly diesel engines, was to lay a foundation for his missionary work. His interest in politics and debating for the rights of the worker also set a foundation for his sense of social justice and not to mention being in the winning Dominican Brothers debating team of 1949.Fr Paul 4  600

Fr Paul says his calling to vocation was a gradual thing that built and built within him. He trained as a Dominican Brother in Camberwell, where his main job was as cook for the thirty to fifty other trainees. Fr Rom Hayes claims Fr Paul is a brilliant cook and an asset to any priestly community in the diocese.

At the end of his training, the provincial of the Dominican Brothers had identified a need for a ship to sail around the Solomon islands delivering cargo and supplies to the people on various islands. Fr Paul was asked to go to Sydney to train in the use of a Gardner Diesel Motor and once he had done this, he became the Ship’s captain (with no experience at sea) and spent 25 years as Captain of the ship. Fr Paul loved this time, the people he met and experiences this time gave him. To top it all off, he was awarded an MBE for his time in service to the people of the Solomon Islands and met the Queen. Even better than that, he visited the factory where the diesel engine for his boat Salve Regina had been made.

Speaking to Fr Paul today, it is clear that he loved that boat the ‘Salve Regina’. We get a snapshot of then Brother Paul’s life in the Solomons from an article by Colin Duck published in The Sun in November 1967:

Who else would set out to rebuild a rotting 75 ft ketch with no shipping experience whatever? Who else would spend 12 months hacking out his timber with an axe, sawing it, and planing it by hand? Who else would have the patience to spend six days just inching a 3-ton marine engine into place with hand-jacks? And who else would then set out to collect enough money to pay for the job?

Brother Paul just smiled it all off in Melbourne today. He couldn’t laugh it off- laughing hurts too much with the three broken ribs he collected after the successful launching of his rebuilt ketch at Gizo Island in the Western Solomons. He bounded triumphantly from the ketch to an old landing barge … and went straight through the rusted bottom.”

At Bishop Crawford’s request, Fr Paul spent five years training as a priest in Randwick in Sydney and was ordained a priest in Yarravillle on 12 July 1980, after which, he returned to the Solomon Islands.

Upon his return to Australia he was Parish Priest in parishes in Sydney, Canberra and Brisbane. Ever the adventurer, it was during this time that he drove solo across the middle of Australia to Broome at a time when roads were not sealed and there were no mobile phones.

Fr Paul began working in the Diocese of Sandhurst in 2001. Fr Rom says he still remembers Fr Paul arriving on his Wodonga doorstep just before Christmas. He had only a small kit bag with him and said five Masses that Christmas. “In the 20 years that I’ve known him, he’s never said no to anything,” says Fr Rom. “He’s tough. Very tough. He always says in response ‘no brain no pain’, it’s one of his favourite sayings,” says Fr Rom.

In 2012, Fr Paul ‘retired’ to St Kilian’s presbytery where he continues to celebrate daily Mass and reconciliation in the parish. “What people don’t realise,” he says, “is that I’ve never actually retired.”

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