By Maureen Tavani
More than 300 people last month attended the 40th anniversary of the ordination of Norbertine priest Father Peter Joseph Stiglich OPraem, Parish Priest of St Joseph’s Priory, Queens Park Parish and Prior of St Norbert College.
The celebrations began with a Mass on Friday, 9 December, attended by teachers and staff, parishioners and special guests including Fr Peter’s family from Melbourne, as well St Norbert College founder, Fr Stephen Cooney O Praem, who established the school in 1965.
Fr Peter Stiglich, better known in the community as Fr Peter Joseph, is well regarded for having played a significant role in the foundation of a strong Norbertine community in Western Australia.
Fr Peter Joseph commenced his theological studies at Corpus Christi College, Clayton, Victoria.
In his position as Master of Ceremonies at both his parish and the seminary, he met the now Fr William Fitzgerald O Praem, who was also studying for the priesthood but at a different seminary.
Knowing Fr William was an excellent organist, Fr Peter invited him to play the organ at some solemn liturgical celebrations.
This acquaintance led to a shared interest in the Norbertine Order and, after visiting St Joseph’s Priory in Queens Park in 1976 and 1977, Fr Peter joined the Order in 1979.
His 1982 ordination to the priesthood by Bishop Eric Perkins took place in St Dominic’s Church, East Camberwell, and was attended by Abbot Smith O Praem, Fr Peter O’Reilly O Praem together with some 400 priests, religious and laity.
His parents, Arch and Moyra Stiglich, his brother Michael and sisters, Mary and Margaret were also present for the occasion.
In September 2022, while visiting Germany after attending the Prelates’ Meeting in Rome, which included an audience with Pope Francis, long-time friends Raphael Beuthner and his wife Martina chatted to Fr Peter Stiglich about his 43-year commitment to the Norbertine Canonry.
When Raphael enquired where Fr Peter drew his spiritual strength from and what challenges he faced as a 24-year-old, such as the very early mornings, Fr Peter replied that he grew up in a faithful Catholic family.
He was educated by the Brigidine Sisters and the Salesians; both religious communities and his home parish were very influential.
After attending Corpus Christi College, Clayton for six years from 1973 to 1978, with the possibility of ordination approaching, there was some serious thinking to do.
He had always been attracted to the liturgical life of the Church and felt the personal need and call to live in a community of “fellow travellers”. The Norbertines, with common life, common prayer, common chapter and common recreation looked like fulfilling those needs.
Fr Peter said that because he had already completed his studies, Fr Peter O’Reilly was very generous in getting him a dispensation to have only two years of vows, so he had only one year of Novitiate and two years of Simple Vows.
After only one year at Queens Park, then Prior Fr Peter O’Reilly, informed Fr Peter Stiglich that he would be teaching three-quarters of a teaching load at St Norbert College from the following Monday! It was a busy weekend – but Fr Peter said he didn’t mind it.
He says he learned to be creative. That year he taught all Year 8 religious education and social studies – history and geography.
He continued to teach from 1983 until 1991, when he went to Europe to study.
From 1989 to 1991, Fr Peter was also involved in the process of the design, building and liturgical appearance of the new St Joseph’s Priory Church, which was dedicated on 19 March 1991.
By then Fr Peter had been ordained for 10 years and the Prior, Fr Tom McNulty O Praem, decided he was going to undertake parish duties, but not before Fr Peter took a sabbaticalwhen he studied pastoral liturgy at the Irish Institute of Pastoral Liturgy in Carlow, Ireland.
During the summer months, he visited monasteries of the Norbertine Order from Britain to Rome, Germany, Austria, Belgium, France, Holland and Eastern Europe, and attended a colloquium for younger Norbertines in the German Abbey of Windberg, Bavaria.
In September that year, he travelled to the USA and the Benedictine University of St John at Collegeville, Minnesota where he continued studies in liturgy and spirituality.
He returned to Western Australia in 1993 and became Parish Priest of Queens Park.
Fr Peter paid tribute to the founding fathers of Queens Park.
“It is said that Fr Peter O’Reilly got off the boat in 1959 with five pounds in his pocket, so what we have is because of his, Fr John and Fr Stephen’s very hard work to put it all together,” Fr Peter said.
“When you look back and think what they did with the little they had and the resources they had, they were outstanding.
“When people compliment me on what I have done over the years I say that I stand on the backs of those men because, it was them who put it all together.
“Fr Peter O’Reilly used to put sand in the back of a truck and carry it so that the buildings could be cheaper. They were all different kinds of people, but they were great men and Fr Stephen is still a great man,” Fr Peter said.