Norbertine’s Perth co-founder returns to God

12 Oct 2023

By The Record

Fr Stephen Fintan Cooney OPraem Orbituary
Norbertine priest Father Stephen Fintan Cooney OPraem, has passed away at the age of 94 at Little Sisters of the Poor, Glendalough. Photo: Supplied.

Norbertine priest Father Stephen Fintan Cooney OPraem, has passed away at the age of 94 at Little Sisters of the Poor, Glendalough.

Born 28 February 1929, Stephen Cooney was in the 72nd year of his profession and the 68th year of his ordination as a priest and was actively involved with Catholic charities such as Aid to the Church in Need and pastoral work.

He is pre-deceased by his parents Thomas and Mary Anne Cooney, his brothers Eugene, Vincent, Leo, Ambrose, Kevin, Fr Paul (Columban Fathers) and Stanislaus, sisters Rita, Gertrude and Claire.

Fr Stephen Cooney OPraem on the occasion of his Diamond Jubilee with his sister, Nazareth House Geraldton Sr Gerard Cooney. PHOTO: Supplied

Originally from County Cavan, Ireland, Fr Stephen was ordained at Holy Trinity Abbey, Kilnacrott, on 2 July 1955, before being invited four years later by then Archbishop Redmond Prendiville to work in the growing Archdiocese of Perth.

He arrived in November 1959 and joined fellow Norbertines Fr Peter O’Reilly and Fr John Reynolds, who had arrived earlier in May of the same year. 

In the eulogy for his funeral Mass, a story unfolded of a gentleman of great faith and great strength who loved and served his community.

Fr Stephen Cooney O Praem, third from centre, with fellow Norbertines from Queens Park Parish. Photo: Supplied.

On arriving in York, Fr Stephen’s then Superior, Fr O’Reilly, set out to look for a suitable property with the view to establish a Norbertine community.

In late 1959, ‘Kerry Downs’, a 2,500-acre farming property on the Spencer’s Brook Road, was purchased and the new St Norbert’s Priory was established in the large red brick homestead on the property. 

Apart from his farming work at Kerry Downs, Fr Stephen along with Fr O’Reilly and Fr John carried out supply work in other towns in the wheatbelt including Mukinbudin and Wongan Hills in the north and Katanning and Kondinin in the South, when priests were absent or on leave.

A few years later Fr Stephen witnessed the founding of St Norbert College in Queens Park in 1965, which still provides a Catholic education in the Norbertine tradition.   

Many changes have since occurred which reflect current educational values and curriculum and today St Norbert’s is co-educational, catering for just under 900 students in years 7 to 12 with over 100 staff.

The College is the only Norbertine-owned and operated school in Australia with a religious order on site.

Before his passing in July, Fr Stephen lived in the original Priory on the school campus. It is still used as a foundation home from which the Norbertines actively engage in various pastoral works in the country, city and surrounding areas.

Fr Stephen Cooney OPraem on the occasion of his 60th anniversary of priesthood in 2015, with Archbishop Costelloe. Photo: Archdiocese of Perth.

In 2009, the York Parish of St Patrick commemorated the 60th anniversary of the arrival in Australia of Fr Cooney and his fellow Norbertine Canons in 1959 at a celebratory Mass.

In his homily for the occasion, Auxiliary Bishop Donald Sproxton recognised the work of Father Cooney in both the establishment of the school and as the founder of the York parish of St Patrick.

“Father Stephen has such a special place in the hearts of us who have felt his care and friendship. In York, he has been a wonderful part of the community,” Bishop Sproxton said.

“He was to become the farmer at Kerry Downs, who worked hard to help the dream of a new college at Queens Park to be realised. The income from that farm, a little distance from the town of York, contributed to the beginnings of St Norbert’s College,” Bishop Don recounted.

In 2015, Father Stephen also celebrated the Diamond Jubilee of his ordination in 1955 at St Joseph’s Priory in Queens Park, the home of the Norbertines in Perth. In recognition of his work in York, a special Mass was also held at the parish of St Patrick’s York.