Even 19 years after his supposed retirement, Pakenham’s Father John Readman has shown no sign of slowing down, continuing to present mass twice a week at his retirement village.
The sprightly 90-year-old has been described by fellow Shanagolden resident Kevin Burns as a “true gift”.
“He doesn’t discriminate on background or faith, and is loved by everyone in the village,” Mr Burns said.
Fr Readman has found much faith in community spirit over the years.
He is often called upon to anoint and give pastoral care to residents in the aged home next door, and is a friend and confidant to many.
Fr Readman, who still refers to himself as a ‘Mallee boy’, grew up on a soldier settlement farm at the height of the Great Depression.
Those had been tough times but the sense of community was strong.
“There’s a great community spirit in the Mallee,” Fr Readman said.
“Once you live there, it never leaves you. It was like living in Egypt – arid and alien – but I loved it.
“I had a great childhood – I learnt how to ride horses and trap rabbits.
“I had 10 sisters and one brother. We had very little, but we had each other.
“I attained my Merit Certificate when I was 14 and, like most country kids back then, I started working at 15. Many of the boys took up trades.”
Fr Readman recalled that in the little town he could remember just one of his peers moving to the city to attend university.
Life took Fr Readman from north-west Victoria to Berwick as a teenager at a property that backed on to the Old Cheese Factory when he attended Hallam Valley State School, now home to Heritage College that has preserved a couple of the original wooden buildings.
He later undertook a stint as the Postmaster’s messenger boy in Maryborough.
The calling to become a priest had stirred him as a young boy but while it had always appealed to him, it was a decision he came to gradually over many years before it set his life on a fulfilling path.
This began with an eight-year course at the Corpus Christi Seminary in the then-bushland Werribee for clerical studies, philosophy and theology.
In 1956 the 29-year-old was ordained and moved to Gippsland to work for many years as the Director of Catholic Education for the Diocese of Sale.
He relocated to Narre Warren, which was little more than a paddock in the 1970s, where he started a new parish that he said was now possibly the largest in Victoria.
While Fr Readman holds a huge sense of pride for the Narre Warren parish, he said he felt that the most rewarding aspect of his role as a priest was working with schools.
“I had no money and no resources. It was more so a public relations job,” he said.
“I used to visit all the schools. Most teachers were nuns in those days.
“I really enjoyed visiting schools and being with kids.”
Fr Readman will celebrate his 90th birthday this week, coinciding with his recent milestone of having reached 60 years of priesthood last month.
Having found himself very blessed with his health, Fr Readman has developed an immense respect for the attitudes of those in their final years at Shanagolden.
“The way some people accept their illness is unbelievable,” Fr Readman said.
“I’d say that part of that is the Holy Spirit but it’s also, of course, the lovely people around them getting them through.
“It’s the most beautiful community here. People are relaxed; their life’s work is done.
“People really care about each other and everyone has the attitude that it doesn’t matter what religion you are, it’s all about lovely human relationships with your neighbours.”
Originally published at Pakenham Gazette.