First Bunbury priest markes 50th

26 Mar 2008

By The Record

Fr Bernie Dwyer, the first priest ordained for the diocese of Bunbury, has celebrated the 50th anniversary of his ordination at St Joseph’s Church in Subiaco.

Our shops seem to begin their Christmas sales promotions earlier each year, but anyone passing St Joseph’s Church in Subiaco on a recent Sunday morning might have been forgiven for thinking that they were hearing an exceptionally early Christmas Carol Concert as the strains of “Joy to the World” emanated from the Church. In fact, they were hearing the concluding hymn of a special Mass to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of Priesthood of Fr Bernie Dwyer of the Diocese of Bunbury. So why the Christmas Carol? Long before it came to be associated with Christmas, this hymn was written in 1719 by Isaac Watts(often designated “Father of the English Hymn”) as an English translation of Psalm 98, in fact the second of two parts. He published translations of all 150 Psalms; the tune we’re familiar with was written by Lowell Mason, in 1848,and said by him to be “in the style of” Handel.
As a hymn praising the presence and action of God in the world, it was certainly appropriate to the day! Celebrating the occasion with Fr Bernie were many Dwyer family members and former parishioners and friends from throughout the South West and Great Southern, together with several priests from Bunbury and Perth,and both emeritus Bishops of Bunbury.
Bishop Holohan, the present Bishop, was unable to be present for the Mass, but joined Fr Bernie later in the day for a reception.
Fr Bernie was the first priest to be ordained for the Diocese of Bunbury, which was established in 1954. A native of Wagin and member of a large family, he went to school there and worked for some years in the menswear department of the Wagin Co-op, before joining St Charles Seminary.
It was no easy thing to knuckle down to studies with boys some years his junior, but he persevered, completing his secondary education and philosophy studies under the guiding hand of the Rector, Dr Goody (later to become the first Bishop of the new Diocese of Bunbury).
Fr Bernie progressed to St Patrick’s College in Manly for Theology studies before returning to the west for Ordination in 1958. Posted to Albany, where Mgr Charles Cunningham was parish priest, Bernie struck up what became a lifelong friendship with Fr Noel FitzSimons, the other curate. Together they located and excavated the site of the Sancta Maria Mission near Mount Barker, an early missionary venture of the Spiritan priests and brothers during Bishop John Brady’s episcopate in the 1840s.
Fr FitzSimons paid tribute to Fr Dwyer’s support and faithfulness, particularly in those times when either or both found themselves posted to remote areas. On one such occasion, when Fr Bernie was parish priest of Tambellup with Cranbrook and Broome Hill, and Fr Noel of Gnowangerup and nine other centres, they had agreed to share both the presbytery at Gnowangerup and the ministry to give some respite from excessive driving. Fr Bernie was one of the priests instrumental in bringing the Marriage Encounter Movement to Australia, and worked within the Movement for 16 years. He was tireless in promoting the need for a sound spiritual foundation for marriage, and continued as friend and counsellor to many for marriage preparation.
His hobby was woodwork and many churches throughout the South West and Great Southern areas bear evidence of his skill in furnishings restored or manufactured by him. But his chief work was that of parish priest, a ministry he practised over his 50 years in almost every town and settlement, large and small, in the Bunbury Diocese, from Albany to Mandurah, Gnowangerup to Bunbury. Now retired, Fr Bernie is in the care of the St John of God Sisters at the Subiaco Villa. Bishop Peter Quinn, Fr Bernie’s Bishop for 16 years who visits him regularly at Subiaco, noted Fr Bernie’s holiness: “If you want to know what I mean, go to confession to Fr Bernie. He is obviously a deeply spiritual man, a man of prayer.” He is an avid Eagles fan. After his own celebrations, Fr Bernie was due to join Perth priest and classmate, Fr John O’Reilly, who was ordained with him and Fr Les Baccini (dec.) at a reunion in Sydney for the Class of ’58.