Twenty-five years ago, on 17 November 1995, a 40-year-old Father Philip Perreau stood before family and friends at the Saint Mary’s Cathedral sanctuary as a newly ordained priest of the Archdiocese of Perth.
Sharing his journey with The Record, the now Gosnells Parish Priest admits that although the priesthood would have been the furthest thing from a young Philip’s mind, the invitation from God to serve as His shepherd was always close at hand.
Born in Malaysia, Fr Philip received his early education at a De La Salle brothers’ school. There, the students would often be encouraged to discern their vocation in life.
“My principal always encouraged us to think about becoming a De La Salle brother and I always declined the offer, but he always persisted,” Fr Philip recalled.
“Looking back, I feel that those talks contributed to my faith journey.”
Fr Philip’s involvement in an organisation called the Malaysian Inter- Religious Organisation, which seeks to foster understanding and harmony amongst the different religious and ethnic races, steered him to think more deeply about the faith.
“This was a time that I found that many came to me to talk about their problems and whilst I felt inadequate in this area, they were just happy for someone to just listen to them. Somehow, I think I became a good listener.”
In 1977, Fr Philip’s family migrated to Perth and shortly after, he started working for the state government. He also studied part-time at the University of Western Australia for an accounting degree, which he completed in 1982.
“Again, here I found myself being a good listener and I found myself having more conversations with peers about religion.”
It was his involvement in the RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults) and prayer that would give Fr Philip the encouragement needed, to answer his call to the priesthood.
“Being involved in the RCIA for five years, initially as a sponsor, then as a catechist, I found the faith stories of those seeking to join the Catholic Church very inspiring,” he recounted.
“Sharing my own faith story, allowed me to reflect a lot more on my own faith relationship with God and the Church and how I live out my faith.
“This was the first time that I got involved in a parish as supposed to just being a Sunday-Catholic,” he cited.
Family also played a vital role in Fr Philip’s decision to join the priesthood. His five siblings and parents served in their parish and reciting the rosary daily was a regular routine in the Perreau household.
“Being the youngest in the family, I feel that my family’s example was the planting of the seed of faith in me.”
But Fr Phillip’s biggest influence, is attributed to his mother Catherine Perreau (deceased early this year) who, as he described, “lived out her faith to the fullest”.
“She was the principal of a girls’ primary school in Malaysia where many of the students came from poor families. I will always remember the ways in which she helped the poor families in the school,” he cited.
“Many of her students in her school whom I would meet later would tell me how they appreciated what she had done for them and I wanted to follow in her footsteps.”
Prayer gradually became a very personal and integral part of Fr Philip’s life.
“Whilst working in the city, I would often go to St Mary’s Cathedral before work or at lunch time Mass and then pray for a while,” he explained.
“It was during one of these times, early one morning that I felt the call to the priesthood. There was incredible sense of peace that I felt.
“The events of that week seemed to confirm for me this call. During the week, two people asked me, one from work and the other in the parish whether I ever thought about the priesthood. The last person before that who had ask me that was the Principal in my primary school.
“However, I was still reluctant and wondered it was all just coincidences and fought against the idea. It took me another eight months before I finally decided to take the big step.”
The final decision to enter the seminary was not a bed of roses. Fr Phillip recalls the battle of having to submit the comforts and securities of the life he had known.
“In those times, bringing my struggles to God in prayer, I found not only reassurance but also my own faith growing. There were also many people praying for me for which I am ever-grateful for.”
Now as a priest of 25 years, Fr Philip is filled with gratitude, expressing his sentiments with the words from a hymn A Journey Remembered by Kevin Bates.
“It has been a blessed journey. I feel a closeness to Jesus, our Lord and to His mother, Mary – this has been the greatest gift for me which keeps me faithful as best as I can be.”
As the first verse of the hymn goes: “You have carried me within your arms whenever I’ve known fear. You have waited patiently for me, then you drew me near. You have run beside me even when I didn’t want to know, that you are my home and my joy”.