Fr Greg Jordan SJ, an outstanding priest and influence on generations of young Australians, suffered a stroke while celebrating the Mass at St Gregory’s Latin Mass Community in Brisbane on 19 July 2015, and died later in hospital.
“Father Jordan” as he was known to generations of Catholics, was an extraordinarily energetic pastor and mentor right up to the moment of his death. I first met him in the late 1960s, and formed a life-long friendship.
Among those who paid tribute to him were some of his former students, including the Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, who described him as “a very, very fine man and exemplar of the Jesuit order, a man of high learning and a great fighter for good causes.
“Thousands of students have benefited from his teaching, counsel and example,” he said.
And Archbishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney, also a former student, said Fr Jordan was “a great fighter for the Faith, undeflected by ideological fashions of modernity. He was my headmaster at Riverview when I was 12 and always very supportive to me.
“It is wonderful for such a faithful priest to have died while celebrating the sacrifice of the Mass that he loved so much. He is now in the hands of God.”
At the time of his death, Fr Jordan had been ordained a priest for 52 years, and had just celebrated his 85th birthday.
Over the course of an eventful life, Fr Jordan had been a teacher of French and English at St Ignatius College, Riverview, one of Sydney’s leading schools, and was also its rector from 1967 to 1973. He was subsequently headmaster at the other Jesuit college in Sydney, St Aloysius College, Milson’s Point.
He took a leading role in defending independent schools from successive campaigns in the periods of the Whitlam and Hawke Labor governments to erode their independence.
From 1978 until 1986, Fr Jordan was Rector of the University of Tasmania’s St John Fisher College where he was also chaplain to the University and closely involved with the Newman Association, Friends of the Prisoners organisation, and Catholic Adult Education.
In 1988 he became Superior and Parish Priest at St Ignatius Catholic Church, Toowong, Queensland.
Three years later he was appointed Rector of St Leo's College, St Lucia Campus at the University of Queensland where he also served as university chaplain.
He was plain-spoken, but also a master of diplomacy.
People from all over Brisbane attended his masses, and he inspired not a few religious vocations. He was, for many years, national chaplain to the Tertiary Catholic Students Federation of Australia.
Among his activities were catechist to Brisbane State High School, conductor of Catechism of the Catholic Church training courses, leader of Ignatian spiritual exercises, chaplain to the Faith on Tap youth apostolate which is so successful in Brisbane, and Official Exorcist of the Archdiocese of Brisbane.
In November 2010, Fr Jordan was the principal celebrant at the Vigil Mass in St Stephen’s Cathedral, Brisbane, for his friend, Fr William Ross.
Fr Jordan’s homily on that occasion made many references which could equally apply to himself.
He said, “Since he was not charged with parish responsibilities, he was free to engage in a wide range of ministries in the Archdiocese and beyond, for many years zealously teaching and devoutly serving the parishes where he was needed to supply.
“Father Ross was a faithful priest. He was faithful to the Catholic faith, which he championed vigorously, with a grasp of doctrine that was firm and clear – as it should be for all of us.
“This did not endear him to those whose bent is towards dissent, and towards challenging due authority; but Fr Ross courageously adhered to Catholic truth and tradition, in which he was so well grounded, through thick and thin. This style became the hallmark of all his ministries, and they were many. ”
Fr Jordan referred to Fr Ross’ involvement with the Latin Mass community in Brisbane, and his remarks are worth recalling. He said, “When the Traditional Latin Mass began to reappear Fr Ross was quick to assist, even when I was appointed Chaplain to our Latin Mass Community, and we owe him a huge debt of gratitude for that.
“He loved this Mass, and delighted in celebrating it in my place when I was absent, and in assisting in the Easter Ceremonies, which we revived after they had lapsed for some thirty years.
“He was immensely appreciated by that early congregation, rather different from what it has grown to be now, something that would have pleased him no end had he been able to come and see it.”
Fr Jordan also contributed to AD2000. In September 2002, he wrote an article headed, “The 1960s ‘cultural revolution’: from self-sacrifice to self-fulfilment”.
In it, he described the changes which had occurred in religious belief and practice since the 1960s, taking the students of St Leo’s College, Queensland University, as an example. At the time, Fr Jordan was chaplain to St Leo’s.
He wrote, “A recent student survey at St Leo's College, Brisbane, has shown that just on half of Leonians considered religion as ‘very important’, and just on one-fifth claimed they attend Mass ‘regularly’ – the lowest figure ever for Mass attendance.
“This is not because of any decline in the proportion of students in College who are Catholic, since this remains at nearly 90 percent.
“It is certainly true that the same trend can be seen amongst the contemporaries of our students, whether from Queensland generally or from other States or Western countries.
“The causes for this striking change are multiple, from the growth of a youth culture through the all-pervasive media, to changes in Catholic education, which almost all of our students have received. In very broad terms it may be said that there has been a change in the culture itself within which we are born and grow up.”
He added, “Before the Second Vatican Council, Western Catholicism was characterised by the ideal of self- sacrifice, exemplified by the saints and heroes of the Catholic Tradition, and supremely in Christ’s life on earth.
“It was typified by the conversion of the wounded soldier Inigo de Loyola, inspired while reading the life of Christ and the lives of the saints when recovering from his wounds.
“That ideal of self-sacrifice made demands of every Catholic, and was embodied in such practices as Friday abstinence, Lenten fasting, daily prayer, the discipline of certain devotions like Sunday evening devotions or the nine First Fridays, and daily Mass maintained by a substantial minority.
“Attendance at Sunday Mass and the observance of a consistent sexual morality were insisted upon and there was certainly a strong respect for religious authority…
“After Vatican II, that ideal of self-sacrifice gave way to a preoccupation with self-fulfilment.
“Dr Carl Rogers’ Chicago school of counselling, with the introduction of ‘sensitivity’ groups, the drive for desegregation and the rise of feminism all conspired to shift the emphasis from doing one’s duty to an insistence on rights – individual or class/race/gender rights.
“This is not to be attributed to Vatican II at all, though a misreading of the Council documents could tend to support that philosophy; it was widespread in civil society and in other denominations.
“If anything, the Church in her official position resisted the new emphasis longer than others.
“In education, the emphasis moved from what the truth is to what the individual is, believes, and inevitably feels is the truth for him or her, or would like it to be.
“That philosophy is not likely to make a youngster leap out of bed of a morning to start the day, let alone plan the day around ensuring that amongst many competing activities he gets to Mass as a top priority; but that is the prevailing philosophy.
“Nor does it inspire vocations or give that hardy tenacity essential to those with a vocation if they are to persevere.
“Within the Church the culture of rural Queensland probably resisted these trends longer than anywhere else, so that the level of Mass attendance at St Leo’s, which was filled almost entirely by students from the country, was the highest in Australia.
“Anecdotal evidence has it that there has been a dramatic decline in youth [religious] practice throughout Queensland and this is inevitably passed on to the tertiary level.
“The fight-back is all too slow, but it is there, in various movements within the Church to instruct and rekindle the enthusiasm or redirect the idealism of young people to faith and practice and service.
“The NET team (National Evangelisation Team), True Love Waits, the recent World Youth Day in Toronto, Newman Societies and Pro-Life groups are all capable of engaging young people and available to be called upon.”
Fr Jordan’s role was to stimulate the revival of Catholic belief and practice, and his impact was felt throughout Australia.
A very touching tribute to Fr Jordan was published on the web site of the Australian Tertiary Catholic Students’ Federation, of which he was chaplain for 16 years.
It said, “He has touched the hearts of many in Australia. We are especially grateful for his years of service as Chaplain to the Australian Catholic Students' Association. May perpetual light shine upon him and may he rest in peace."”
He will be deeply missed, but he has gone to his eternal reward. RIP.