A Catholic Monthly Magazine

Saintly Journalists

By John Colemen

By John Colemen

You don’t meet a lot of journalists who are close to God, but it may surprise you to learn that, after a lifetime in the profession on three continents, some of the finest Christians I’ve met have been... journalists.

In Townsville, where I began, there was Ron. He was the kind of bloke who made you feel good every time you met him; a face wreathed in smiles, goodness radiating from him. Ron was a gifted journalist, a fine shorthand writer and meticulously accurate, often agonising over stories to meet his own exacting standards. His conscientious approach and sunny disposition made him a remarkable figure in Townsville - a journalist loved by all.

He adored his wife Joy and their seven children. Ron was deeply religious, a member of the little Church of the Nazarene. He lived his faith every day of his life and took seriously duty to his neighbour. When a con man appeared in court, Ron reported the case - and after work, believing the criminal’s heartfelt plea to the magistrate, took him to pray at the Church penitents’ rail.

The police alert went out and the man, now armed, was arrested for another offence. Ron had been taken in by another confidence trick, but though distressed was not disillusioned. He became one of the first Walkley Award winners - Australia’s highest journalism prize - for a human interest story about a family who lost their home in a freak windstorm.

He went on to become the paper’s editor-in-chief, but resigned following a clash with management over publication of escort ads, going as far as dissociating himself from the policy with a paid advertisement.

After a distinguished career in journalism and with children still at school, Ron went on dole. He was hospitalised for minor surgery, but all the years of journalism’s pressures took their toll, he had a stroke and died at 56 - to be mourned by the entire community.

In Canberra, in the Australian Information Service, then Australia’s official overseas information agency, tasked with making Australia better and more favourably known around the world, John, chubby-faced and always cheerful, would greet his colleagues with, “my house is full of refugees.”

We knew it was true in those the days of the exodus of Vietnamese boat people; John and his wife Meg fed, clothed and housed them.

Cyclone Tracy

Cyclone Tracy

When based in Darwin, John reported the devastation of Cyclone Tracey in 1970 for the worldwide media - and then with Meg fed the homeless at the relief centre. He often wrote other stories, unpaid, to help people, telling me, “This is a love job...”

I never heard John speak ill of anyone. He founded and built his own Gospel-based Church in Canberra which overflowed at his funeral with its members and his colleagues after, too young, his brave heart gave out.

Frank Moynihan combined the priesthood and journalism, was passionate about both, serving them with boundless energy and distinction, although the humblest of men, he would cringe at the accolades. I worked closely with him for 13 years as editor of  The Catholic Leader, Brisbane. He wrote a column for that paper for 25 years, never missing an issue.

St Stephen’s Cathedral Brisbane

St Stephen’s Cathedral Brisbane

That in itself was a remarkable achievement, for the column came from hospital beds, travelling in the Middle East, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, wherever he was on holiday, late at night after a gruelling day as administrator of St Stephen’s Cathedral or on the streets rescuing an alcoholic.

As press time neared, the cry went up around the office, “Where’s Moynihan?” He often ran up to the wire, but always delivered, at least 1000 words of down-to-earth spirituality, relating religion to life, yet for all its simplicity with a depth of wisdom and richness.

Frank Moynihan was a no-nonsense priest who confronted life’s realities throughout his 46-year ministry. That encompassed the gamut, from prison chaplain to priest in city and country, running the missions office to assisting on the matrimonial tribunal and as cathedral administrator.

He shouldered the burden as St Stephen’s Cathedral administrator for more than 15 years, overseeing the cathedral’s completion and major restoration as well as supervising liturgies and running a complex inner city parish with all its pastoral and social works.Confessional

Somehow he found time to devote hours to the confessional. Often, when I rang him, his staff would respond simply that he was “in the Box” - the confessional - an old-fashioned ministry that he carried out with characteristic zeal.

In those days, he had a room at Wynberg, residence of Catholic archbishops, and was a close confidant of the late Archbishop Francis Rush, who valued his commonsense advice. Like his newspaper columns, Moynihan’s homilies were a testimony to research and thought, yet again simple and memorably rich. He liked, he told me, “to fire some buckshot.” But it was the gentlest kind.

With the cathedral’s restoration completed, any comfortable parish would have been his for the asking. Characteristically, he asked for the battlers’ parish of Inala where he served the predominantly Vietnamese community with his usual energy and dedication. They loved him, responding to his sincerity and faith-filled messages.

In an age of cynicism and shortage of priests, Frank Moynihan never lost his enthusiasm for the priesthood - nor for the Church. He confided to me his dream of writing a Q and A book on why young men should follow a vocation to the priesthood. He planned a catechism, a simple booklet explaining the faith long before the Vatican came out with its version, and, finally, his memoirs, motivated only by his lifelong desire to evangelise.

None of the dreams were realised, but he pursued them to the end. In his last letter to me, after he was diagnosed with a brain tumour, he wrote: “The Church of here and now badly needs someone to record its story and I hope somebody does it.” He confronted those last months, ironically just beginning retirement, stoically and courageously.

I mourn a great, saintly priest and recall that cry that went around The Leader offices: “Where’s Moynihan?”

At least I know where he is now.   

Tagged as:

Comments are closed.