By Glynnis Grainger
Pallottine priest for 45 years, Fr Michael McMahon, 69, died on July 5 after a short battle with cancer.
His funeral at Trinity College chapel on July 10 was attended by 1400 people at the school where he had been a much-loved chaplain for six years.
As a measure of the impact he had on the students at Trinity College, Trinity’s website’s Book of Condolences had more than 200 entries.
Many people touched by his life also put death notices in The West Australian in the days following his passing.
In his eulogy, Laurie McMahon said Fr McMahon was born in Footscray, Victoria, on 27 January, 1939, the youngest of eight children.
Six months later, the family moved to the bayside suburb of Hampton.
Aged two and barely mobile, he undertook his first crusade, when he crossed onto the nearby railway line and waved a stick at the oncoming train, like Don Quixote and the windmill. That he lived is testimony to the fact that the train stopped.
His primary education was provided by the Presentation Sisters of St Mary’s, Hampton, and his secondary education by the Christian Brothers at CBC, St Kilda.
He owed his educational opportunities to the selfless work of the Nuns and Brothers.
Michael’s secondary education was identified by his cap, his homework and the School Cadet Corps.
Each morning Michael’s cap would go missing and there would be frantic efforts to locate it. Michael was unperturbed but his mother, frantic.
Homework for Michael was an optional extra but he still ended up a missionary priest.
Membership of the School Cadet Corps at CBC was compulsory but Michael refused to pick up a rifle when rifle-shooting practice began.
The young ethical non-conformist had emerged. He said he had no intention of killing anybody, rifle practice was pointless to him, so he was excused.
His youthful enthusiasm was further evidenced in his neighbourhood where an elderly lady was dying of cancer.
The compassionate schoolboy Michael visited each day to see what errands she required.
His youthful idealism and the charismatic appeal of the late Fr Wally Silvester, led Michael to devote his life to the Church.
After training with the Pallottines in Sydney, he was ordained on 20 March, 1963.
A time as curate to Fr Tim O’Sullivan at Bentleigh parish, near his Hampton home, was followed by highs and lows in his life with his appointment as a missionary to Broome.
It began his love affair with the indigenous people and place of the Kimberley.
After 25 years of ministry, Fr Michael left Broome in January, 1992, where he influenced so many lives, including the establishment of the Mungarri Co-Operative, to provide reasonably-priced food to low income families.
More than half his adult life had been spent in the Kimberley and he felt a sense of rejection when he left the region, where he had been a wonderfully compassionate and supporting priest.
He worked with juvenile offenders for Juvenile Custodial Services at Banksia Hill, Rangeview and Perth Children’s Court for 16 years..
He was chaplain at Clontarf Aboriginal College, was a mentor to Catholic Agricultural College, Bindoon, was a friend of the Good Shepherd Sisters and became chaplain at Trinity. He was also a friend of the Sisters and staff of St John of God Hospital, Subiaco, who nursed him before his passing.
His life resumed its sense of worthwhile purpose and he delighted in the achievements of his charges at all venues.
When based in Broome, he took leave one July, ignoring the wonderful winter climate of Broome, to head to the bitter winter weather of Melbourne.
He went to see the Western Bulldogs (formerly Footscray) play. He always had his priorities right.
It is a pity that 54 years after the Bulldogs were premiers in 1954, the year his great-grandfather Michael McMahon died, and with his Doggies doing so well this year, he had to leave at half-time.