By Anthony Barich
Fr John Fowles loves being carried up to the heavens, only for him it’s more of a literal experience.
Priest and pilot Fr John Fowles is on a mission to raise $1 million for the poverty-stricken people of East Timor and generate interest in World Youth Day through a national “Fly-A-Thon”.
Having grown up on a dairy farm where he did an apprenticeship in Gippsland on the coastal strip southeast of the Great Divide in Victoria, it was during Fr Fowles’ time marketing wholesale goods for a trading cooperative in central Victoria that he felt the urge to do missionary work.
He only spent a month in Papua New Guinea with Melbourne Overseas Missions but it was enough to convince him that he was being called to work for the missions.
He obtained a pilot’s licence so he could work flying supplies into PNG’s villages and patients to hospitals, but they’d sold the plane as the landing strip was too dangerous with cloud cover and nearby mountains making things tough. Missionaries had died.
He soon found himself in the seminary and, after being ordained by now-retired Bishop William Brennan in 1996, was given the job of building a church at the Immaculate Heart of Mary parish in Thurgoona, Albury, NSW, relying on the generosity of the community.
In 2003 he had the idea of building a small plane as a hobby, and barely five days later a parishioner approached him offering to donate the $70,000 needed for an aeroplane kit.
Again, with a few locals helping out, he built it over three years, and displayed his project at the Wide Bay Show in Bundaberg, Queensland, where he flew from Wangaratta, Victoria.
To help the project the parish raffled off trucks and raised half a million dollars.
After this the missionary calling was renewed when a local parishioner regaled him with stories of East Timor’s poverty having just returned from a visit there.
So the plan to raise money for East Timor and help kids from the country get to WYD was born, and since then they have raised $25,000 from CD sales of a music disc inspired by the project produced by Korey Livy, a professional country singer who supports his work, which funded 10 East Timor youth to attend World Youth Day in Sydney in July.
Now up to 16 local pilots have volunteered their planes and services to join him on the national fly-a-thon to talk about his mission and generate awareness of our close neighbour’s plight and raise money for missions in the country.
On May 11 he will address the North of the River Sunday Sesh at Whitford’s Our Lady of the Missions parish where Perth’s Archbishop Barry Hickey will be present. There will be a welcome for him at the Jandakot airport on May 9, when he travels from Busselton to Perth – by plane, of course.
“Catholic people need to have an openness to helping the missionary work of the Church,” Fr Fowles said.
“As an affluent society, we need to think beyond ourselves to help someone else.
“Our wealth and materialistic way of life is, to me, affecting the spiritual wealth as we’re so concerned with storing up treasures in this world.
“To help the poor is to help Christ, and our country will then be blessed in a spiritual way.”
He says the work may help prepare Australians for World Youth Day, as “even if many can’t go they can be linked through prayer and generosity”.
“We certainly are flying on a wing and a prayer,” he said.
CDs can be purchased at Whitford parish on May 11, or to support Fr Fowles’ mission log onto www.flyawaytoheaven.org.au, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 02 6043 2222.