By Matthew Biddle
ALMOST 200 well-wishers from across Perth gathered to celebrate Father Jim Petry’s 60th anniversary of ordination to the priesthood on Sunday at Our Lady of Perpetual Help church in Wilson.
The church was filled with many of Fr Jim’s friends and several members of his family, who travelled from interstate to be at the Diamond Jubilee Mass.
Fellow priests Fr Jim Corcoran and Fr Richard Doyle, as well as Archbishop Barry Hickey were also in attendance.
Archbishop Hickey thanked Fr Jim for his many years of service to the Archdiocese on behalf of all priests and Catholics in Perth. “He has a distinct way of getting people to sing, a way of getting people to participate in the Mass, and he also has a great love of little children,” the Archbishop said.
“He’s had heavy burdens to bear over these 60 years of priesthood, but he bore them always with a great joy, and with great forbearance.
“His cheerfulness, his enthusiasm, his optimism and obviously his joy in being a priest of God has been a tremendous asset, not only to him and the diocese, but to all Catholics.”
At the end of Mass, Fr Jim was presented with his Papal blessing sent by Pope Benedict XVI and a ticket for a trip to the eastern states, paid for by the parish council.
Chairman of the parish council and long-time Wilson parishioner, Tim McManus, described the day as one of “celebration and recognition of the dedication Fr Jim has shown to his faith and church”.
Mr McManus said he was delighted to see his parish priest reach such a remarkable milestone.
“He’s a very spiritual man and quite a humble man too,” he said.
Fr Jim was born in England, and grew up in a strong Catholic family which produced three priests.
“There were seven children in the family – I was the third one – four boys and three girls,” he explained. “But I’m the only Petry left; I’m the only one representing the family, all my siblings have passed away.”
Fr Jim entered the seminary at the age of 17, immediately after finishing his schooling, and was ordained at Wonersh, Surrey, on May 22, 1948.
In 1950 he was appointed by the local Bishop as chaplain of the British Army, a decision which made little sense at the time but changed Fr Jim’s life.
“He said to me ‘We think you’re ideal material for the army’, but I couldn’t see any sign of it, I really don’t know why he chose me,” Fr Jim said.
“It really changed my life because I had been brought up in a Catholic atmosphere … and here I was mixing with men and women of all faiths and none, and realising there is good in all people.”
During his time in the army, Fr Jim was posted to Austria, Germany, Korea and Malaysia. He was awarded the MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire) for his outstanding work in Korea.
In 1957 Fr Jim arrived in Western Australia, where he served in the Bunbury diocese for several years, before moving to Perth in 1966.
He served as parish priest at several locations, including Lynwood-Langford, Bedford, Cottesloe, and more recently, Leederville. Despite enduring a hip replacement recently, Fr Jim continues to exercise and stay active as much as possible. “Physically, I’m in reasonable shape, I walk every day for 40 minutes, I cycle as often as I can, I do physical exercise on the balcony, and I’ve joined a little health program,” he said.
The 84-year-old said he still enjoys watching soccer, particularly his beloved Tottenham Hotspur, but his real passion is music.
Mr McManus said parishioners throughout Perth recognise Fr Jim’s love of singing. “Fr Jim’s respected for his ability with music and singing, and he’s commonly known as ‘The singing priest’,” he said.
It’s a nickname Fr Jim certainly doesn’t mind. “As a boy I was in the church choir for many, many years … I love music, and I love teaching people new songs,” he said.
Fr Jim, parish priest at Wilson since early 2004, said his years of priesthood had not been without their challenges, but, overall, had been enjoyable.
“It’s a great life really but you’ve got to be used to being on your own, that’s the difficulty, not everybody can withstand that,” he said.
“But it’s ok, it’s part of the life, you accept that. The biggest challenge is to set an example yourself, that’s the big problem, you can’t talk about things you can’t do yourself, that’s always a challenge.”