xmlns:og='http://ogp.me/ns#' The Font of Noelage: The Christmas spirit.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

The Christmas spirit.

In 1975 I was appointed by the Education Department to Donnybrook District High School. I was pleased to discover that the parish priest at St Mary’s Church in that delightful town was Father Fitzgerald.
 I first met Father Fitzgerald when I was ten years old and he was the newly appointed curate at St Brigid’s Church in West Perth. He had just stepped off the boat from Ireland and, keen to quickly become involved in Parish affairs, became an enthusiastic member of the very strong West Perth Young Catholic Workers (YCW) football team.
I was too young to play, but my older cousins, Maurie and Raymond Carr and John Magee, were prominent players in the side and I accompanied them to the games as their unofficial "bag' man. 
These games, it must be said were often played in a very aggressive and rugged style, quite contrary to the Young Catholic Worker ethic of “turning the other cheek”. 
It was more a case of “Do unto others before they do unto you”. 
Of some games a spectator could truly say, “I was at the fights and all of a sudden a football match broke out!”
This rough style of play was welcomed by the young Father Fitzgerald, who had hardly any idea of Australian Rules but, in the traditions of his beloved Gaelic Football, delighted in crashing vigorously into as many of the opposing players as he could. There is no tackling in Gaelic football and Father Fitzgerald felt his dodgem car approach was the best way to get the ball off his opponents. He was built like a jockey and could run like the wind and had very little knowledge of AFL position play, so by the end of each game he had roamed wherever the ball was and roughed up just about everybody on the other side.
One day, against the feared and very muscular YCW team from Fremantle, Father Fitzgerald’s style of play became too much for one of the opposition. A burly young wharfie roughly threw the young curate to the ground, sat astride him and began laying on a series of hefty blows.
“Hey, mate,” called out one of the West Perth boys, “That’s our parish priest you’re whacking into.”
In mid punch the Freo player turned ghostly white, leapt to his feet, apologized profusely and asked for forgiveness. He even stuck out his chin and asked Father Fitzgerald to give him “one back”, but Father was already off happily chasing the football further down the field.
Father’s playing days were long gone when I caught up with him again in Donnybrook, but he still retained his keen interest in football. At the time he was Parish Priest at St Mary's in Donnybrook.
In September 1975, the Donnybrook Football Team won their way into the South West League’s Grand Final for only the second time in its history. 
Interest in the town was at fever pitch. The mother of the coach of The Dons was a devout catholic and obviously had asked Father Fitzgerald to seek divine assistance.
Just before the final blessing at Mass on the Sunday morning of the Grand Final, Father Fitzgerald faced the congregation, and with his right hand raised on high, said, “I have been asked to seek God’s intercession in today’s game against Harvey Brunswick. All I can say is that in my experience God always seems to favour the side that goes in hard, gets the ball first and delivers it to advantage. Let us hope that the Dons play like that today.”
Unfortunately The Dons lost that day. It was Harvey Brunswick who went in hard, obtained the ball and delivered it to great efect.
The Dons tasted their initial Premiership success in 1977 against South Bunbury, when they did  play according to God’s plan as it had been outlined by Father Fitzgerald.
In 1976 I was the President of St Mary’s Parish Council. After our October meeting a group of Councillors discussed giving our hard working parish priest a small Christmas gift. One of the ladies on the council, a doyen of the local Country Women’s Association, said there was no need to buy a gift as she could provide a jar of her prized pickled strawberries. She added that in recognition of Father’s Celtic background the strawberries would be pickled in Irish whiskey.
We all thought this was a splendid idea and shortly before Christmas we presented our little gift with thanks and best wishes to Father Fitzgerald.
After spending the school vacation in Perth with my family, I returned to Donnybrook towards the end of January and soon bumped into Father Fitzgerald outside the newsagents.
After exchanging pleasantries, I enquired, “And tell me Father, did you enjoy those pickled strawberries?”
“Oh, indeed I did, Noel. Indeed, I did.”
Then, with a twinkle in his eyes he added, “But, you know, Noel, it was not so much the strawberries that I enjoyed, as the spirit in which they were given.”

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