Following the death of Fr Robert (Bob) Markey, a former Chaplain to the National Catholic Rural Movement, a Requiem Mass at St Patrick’s Cathedral, Ballarat, was concelebrated by Bishop Paul Bird CSSR and priests of the diocese.
Fr Markey was a close friend and associate of B.A. Santamaria, and one of the founding members of the Catholic Social Movement, which battled the Communist Party in the trade unions from the early 1940s, before he entered Corpus Christi Seminary.
This homily was given by a close friend and colleague of Fr Markey’s, Fr John McKinnon. Fr Markey, left, and Fr McKinnon are pictured here at the celebration in 2013 of Fr Markey's 60th anniversary of Ordination.
We’re here because of one man: all of us touched somehow by him, yet each of us, I suspect, reacting with a different mix of feelings, with varying depths of intensity.
Over the last 30 years, Bob and I had become close friends. What brought us together was a shared love of the bush and of the water. The broader reaches of the sea were Bob’s preference, while the quieter inland waterways were mine.
For neither of us was our preference exclusive; so over those 30 years, we spent many a holiday fronting the wide waters and winds of the Whitsundays or the Gippsland Lakes, or strenuously paddling the Wimmera River or the Murray and its tributaries. I came to know him as we chatted around our makeshift campfires or in the darkness of the warm evenings.
Over the past few days I have been asking myself just who was Bob – Bob the man, Bob the priest.
My sense is that he owed much to his mother. On the small isolated farm of his Riverina childhood, she took on the role of teacher in a pre-eminent way. She loved nature; she loved reading too, and handed on both treasures to the impressionable Bob. She nurtured his encyclopaedic mind, a talent to improvise, and a readiness to live simply – and to enjoy it immensely.
The family had to move off the farm while Bob was still a boy. It was then that they came to Ballarat. I suspect that it was from that experience that he drew the emotional intensity that fuelled his loathing of bureaucrats, whether civil or ecclesiastical, along with his rebellious response to whatever he saw as injustice – the point of entry of the Spirit that had anointed Third Isaiah (as we heard in today’s First Reading).
I also wonder if it gave him a quiet sense of solidarity with people who have migrated here for sheer family survival. Together with his sister Jeanie, Bob had an especially soft spot for India. Both travelled there on numerous occasions and devoted time and effort to assist small-time development projects in Kerala and elsewhere.
As his mother and his early experience made a big impact on his temperament and attitudes, so too did B.A. Santamaria. After leaving St Pat’s, Ballarat, Bob had gone to work as an apprentice at the Railway Workshops in Newport [a suburb of Melbourne].
He became an ardent and trusted supporter, agent and friend of Mr Santamaria. Later, after he had been through the seminary and ordained a priest, he became a loyal chaplain to the anti-Communist movements and to the National Catholic Rural Movement.
Bob was interested in developing technology, and saw its potential as a means of evangelism. When the Church was allocated a free monthly half-hour on the local television station, BTV 6, in the 1960s and ’70s, Bob persuaded Bishop O’Collins to provide him with a state-of-the-art movie camera and associated equipment.
With these he proceeded to make a succession of locally produced programs on the life and history of the diocese.
Bob had been ordained a priest in 1953, about 10 years or so before the Vatican Council. As was the case with many of the priests of his era, the council came to him as a surprise. They had not been formed for change; and many struggled to make sense of the liturgical, catechetical and pastoral reforms that were introduced.
Bob’s natural inclination was certainly not liturgical propriety; nor were the new approaches to catechetics quite his thing. He did, however, rejoice in the increased responsibility given to the laity in the newly created pastoral councils.
The first of Bob’s appointments as Parish Priest was at Simpson. Large tracts of the Heytesbury had just been opened up for closer settlement; and the parish of Simpson had been created for the young and growing families who came to farm there, many of them Dutch migrants.
The struggles of Bob’s family during his Riverina childhood gave him an immediate and precious rapport. For Bob, they were truly happy years; and he was later reluctant to have to move northwards to Cressy when eventually transferred there.
Bob had an uncomplicated piety. God mattered to him. The Breviary was important, if rubrics were not. People were important. He had an openness to all in need, and a disarming simplicity.
As I listened to the Reading from St Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians, I thought just how closely Paul’s description fitted comfortably with Bob: “Love is patient and kind; it is never jealous; love is never boastful or conceited; it is never rude or selfish; it does not take offence; and is not resentful.” A life lived like that has set him up to live contentedly in eternity.
As I look back, I do wonder what was behind our friendship. Bob and I differed on many issues … and at times Bob could express himself irascibly. Early on, we had agreed by mutual consensus that whenever we went on holidays, we would talk neither politics nor theology. And it worked!
Our friendship was respectful; it was warm; it was fun; it was deep and supportive. The only answer to my wondering that I can come up with is that it was a simple and beautiful gift of God. For that I am deeply grateful.
The risen Jesus enjoyed a campfire breakfast with his chosen disciples. We can be sure our heavenly home, spoken about in today’s Gospel, will be no less warm and personal. May Bob enjoy the company eternally.
Message from the Bishop of Galle, Sri Lanka
At the Requiem Mass, the text of a letter from the Bishop of Galle, Sri Lanka, was read out, at the Bishop’s request. He wrote:
I was sad to learn of the death of Rev Fr Robert Markey (Father Bob), the beloved brother of Margaret Abourizk and the late Jean Riley. I join all of you in the prayer of thanksgiving for the life and the pastoral commitment of this most worthy Minister of the Gospel.
Jesus our Lord and Master sent Father Bob with the gift of the Priesthood to sanctify the People with the Word and with the grace of the sacraments. He carried out this mission zealously as pastor and went in search of the neediest and the vulnerable people in Australia, Asia and even in Africa.
He visited Sri Lanka twice and once made a memorable visit to comfort the people affected by the Tsunami in December 2004. Father Bob always wanted to sit with me in sharing a world of spiritual insight and guided me with some hints to be always faithful to my sublime vocation as a priest.
I was inspired by the humility and the simplicity of Father Bob. I remember how he was proud about his two sisters and also spoke of his extended family as a blessing.
I am grateful to my God that I was able to visit him during my last journey to Melbourne. In the last phase of his life, he was greatly tried by suffering, which he accepted with peace of mind. Even in this trial he remained a faithful witness to trust in the goodness and the Mercy of God.
He will thus remain in our memory and prayers. May the Lord welcome him into his glory. Good-bye, Father Bob. I love you very much.
(Signed) Bishop Raymond Wickramasinghe
Bishop of Galle, Sri Lanka