Monsignor Peter Jeffrey’s 60th anniversary

Monsignor Peter Jeffrey

Monsignor Peter Jeffrey recently celebrated the 60th anniversary of his priesthood with a mass at St Brendan’s Catholic Church in Shepparton.

The occasion was followed by a dinner at the GV Hotel, which saw a gathering of friends, family and colleagues, in addition to members of the clergy, including bishops and an archbishop.

A host of local community leaders were also present.


A hereditary disorder and cancer did not stop Monsignor Peter Jeffrey from becoming a distinguished Catholic priest recognised by the Pope.

In 2002, the Greater Shepparton community came to know Monsignor Jeffrey after he was appointed Parish Priest of St Brendan’s Catholic Church.

“I loved it in Shepparton,” he said.

 

Welcome to Country
Welcome: Michael Bourke conducting the Smoking Ceremony at St Brendan’s before the Anniversary Mass. Photo by Rechelle Zammit

Speaking about his works in Shepparton, Mgr Peter told, “And I was really strong on interfaith work.”

Monsignor Jeffrey said one thing that was unique to Shepparton was that whenever there was “international drama” and an interfaith service was organised, “people flocked to it”.

After a few years ministering in Shepparton, in 2012 Monsignor Jeffrey moved to New Zealand.

 

Monsignor Peter is ceremonially "smoked"
Monsignor Peter is ceremonially “smoked” before the Mass. Parish Priest Father Joe Taylor is in the background.

After a few years ministering in Shepparton, in 2012 Monsignor Jeffrey moved to New Zealand.

However, his stay there was cut short as he was diagnosed with cancer that spread from his head to his liver, and in 2014 was forced to return to Australia for medical treatment.

“I’m lucky to be alive,” he said.

“Every day is a gift.”

After his health was restored, Monsignor Jeffrey returned to the region as Parish Priest of St Mary’s Mooroopna, where he’s been ever since.

 

Monsignor Peter enters St Brendan's
Processional: Monsignor Peter enters St Brendan’s Church. Retired Bishop Les Tomlinson is in the background. Photo by Rechelle Zammit

The son of a homemaker and a transport operator, Monsignor Jeffrey was born in Bendigo in 1938.

For the first few years of his life, he was educated at the convent in Bendigo before attending the Marist Brothers school.

While living in Bendigo, he was also an altar server at the cathedral.

“At times I was put on for the early morning mass and I used to get chilblains,” he said.

“I had a distance to ride for the seven o’clock mass and I’d put the flaps over my ears and ride my bike off to the cathedral and serve.”

In 1953 his parents sent him to boarding school.

“Because my sister had gone off to uni, I think my parents didn’t want me to be a spoiled brat, so I went off to St Pat’s Ballarat,” he said.

 

Monsignor Jeffrey delivering the gospel
A testament of time: Monsignor Jeffrey delivering the gospel at his celebration. Photo by Rechelle Zammit

In 1955 after graduating from St Patrick’s College, through prayer, he was led to become a priest, but to his dismay, he was “knocked back”.

“Because my father had a brother who suffered from epilepsy, which was thought to be something that others in the family could contract, there was a risk that I could have a fit during mass and ruin it,” he said.

His second alternative was to do law.

“I wasn’t looking forward to it, but I started to enrol,” he said.

However, he was eventually told by Monsignor Anthony Bones that the bishop had permitted him to go to the seminary.

The reason was that the bishop at the time, Bernard Stewart, had a very good friend, Harry Jordan, who was staying with him.

Fortunately, Fr Jordan was a canon lawyer and found a footnote in the book that said the treatment of epilepsy was changing and the symptoms weren’t necessarily permanent.

Monsignor Jeffrey then completed an eight-year seminary course and was ordained in 1963.

 

Monsignor Peter with the Book of the Gospels.
Monsignor Peter with the Book of the Gospels. Photo by Rechelle Zammit

Throughout his ordained ministry, Monsignor Jeffrey held several prominent positions within the worldwide Catholic Church, including Rector of Corpus Christi College in Melbourne, Rector of the Pacific Regional Seminary in Suva, Fiji, and Rector of Holy Cross Seminary in Auckland, New Zealand.

In addition to seminary and parish-based roles, he was chairman of both the Sandhurst School Education Board and Diocesan Education Commission, as well as director of the Catholic Education Commission of Victoria.

Monsignor Jeffrey said one of his most memorable achievements was being named Prelate of Honour by Pope John Paul II in January 2000, receiving the title ‘Monsignor’.

 

Assembled clergy at St Brendans
Archbishop, Bishops, Celebrants, Deacon and Altar servers with Monsignor Peter outside the Church at St Brendan’s

Having lived such a long life, he said if there were anything he’d change, it would be embracing other denominations earlier in his life.

“When I was in Cohuna, I was asked to give a talk at the nearby Uniting Church,” he said.

Monsignor Jeffrey said he would always try to justify why the Catholic teachings were correct and why others were wrong, whereas now he’d say, “let’s acknowledge all that we have in common”.

“When you appreciate what you have in common there are some differences, probably minor differences, but you can talk about them in good friendship,” he said.

Monsignor Jeffrey said that despite the obstacles, he had been fortunate.

“I have been blessed in my life, and I think my great aim would be to appreciate and respect the dignity of every person,” he said.

 

A relaxed Monsignor Peter Jeffrey,
A relaxed Monsignor Peter Jeffrey, Parish Priest at St Mary’s, Mooroopna

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