As a young man he studied for the priesthood. He was at the seminary for ten years and was 18 months from ordination when he became unwell. He went home to recover. His mother died when he was 32 and he promised, as the eldest, he’d help his father raise the family. He stayed until his father died and then built a home. He was challenged by a parishioner to go back to the seminary, as there was such a need for priests, so in 1984 he returned. He was ordained in November 1987 so has been a priest for 30 years. He was the last priest to be ordained in St John’s Pro-Cathedral, Maitland.
Prior to priesthood he worked at BHP, doing clerical work in offices. He taught himself organ and piano and still plays. He played at the churches at Boolaroo and Warners Bay.
Fr John’s parents reared 10 children and 8 are still living. His mother gave birth to 13 children but three died as babies. One brother died at 24 and one sister died last year.
For the past 60 years, since his first nephew entered the world, Fr John has bought a teddy bear for each baby born into his family. This includes nieces and nephews, great nieces and nephews and great, great nieces and nephews.
The current teddy bear tally is 96 and two more babies are expected, so this will bring the tally to 98. Only two more and there will be a party to celebrate 100 teddy bears!
To inform Fr John that a new baby’s on the way, a family member rings and says, “Can you manage another teddy bear?” Fr John said all the family, most of whom live around Newcastle, “think the teddy bear gifts are marvellous”. Some who are grandparents still have their bears.
For his 80th birthday, his nieces and nephews gave him a teddy bear, presented by his eldest nephew. His sisters dressed it in clerical clothes and it’s fondly referred to as Father Ted.
One of his nieces by marriage composed a poem for his 80th birthday which included the line, “To others you are Fr John but to us you are Uncle Jack.”
Fr John continues to see family regularly and is included in their gatherings. He has presided at many family weddings and christenings. His sister Margaret said, "all the family love Uncle Jack as he has been the head of the family for a long time because our parents died over 50 years ago. Everyone loves him because he is such a kind, gentle man. He supports everyone, is generous and doesn't judge anybody. He's just Uncle Jack to everybody.”
Once a baby is born, Fr John looks for a teddy bear that appeals. It has to be one he likes. Whilst Fr John now sometimes sends someone else to purchase the teddies, the family members love the tradition of the gift of “one of Uncle Jack’s teddy bears” when each new descendant is born.