The Funeral of Roger Pryke: priest and social activist

The Funeral took place on July 7, 2009. Celebrant was Peter Phelan

Roger Pryke was a celebrated catholic priest, psychologist and social activist who left an indelible impression on the Australian catholic community. He is best remembered for applying the core values of christianity to the welfare of the individual person and the betterment of society. Many remember him for his peaceful organised mass protests against aparthied in Sth Africa as symbolised by the tours of the All white Springboks Rugby Union teams.

His Funeral was remarkable in that it was in two parts – the first– a concelebrated mass at St Josephs, Hunters Hill. My impression was that there were about twenty concelebrants and several hundred people. Most of these, I imagine, were those who were practising catholics who revered Roger Pryke who, during his priest period, inspired wthem with a brand of catholicism which they still retained. The Mass gave the impression that Roger had never left them – which, in a sense, was true.

The second part at the crematorium was a series of personal tributes by a representative group of his many admirers, who spoke – not only of his time in the church, but of the excellent fearless work he did as a married man and private employed citizen. It was much more of a secular gathering. After an hour and a half the long line of speakers had to be cut off as time had run out.

What was remarkable as far as I was concerned was that someone of his age (a) had so many people. As a funeral clebrant with at least 2000 funerals behind me, old people do not usually have much of an attendance at their funerals. Their friends have died off – usually they just have the widow and children and family.

But Roger’s wife, Meg, had died many years before, she bore him no children, he had had Alzheimers disease for several years and yet he had two remarkable funerals !


At his Funeral there were many excellent eulogies

Here is my Eulogy:

Dally Messenger on Roger Pryke

You remember the days. Catholic priests talked of Heaven, Hell, Purgatory, the authority of the Church, and the evils of mixed marriages.

Enter Roger Pryke — and his then unique Christian perspective – he spoke of how the sources of unhappiness, despair, low self-esteem, low self-confidence, and mental instability so often could be traced to acts of cruelty by one human being to another.

Happiness and mental balance depends, he said, on “the esteem of significant others in our lives”. That is why I surround myself with you lot.

Roger explained how the maintenance of sanity is to always face reality. Yes, people, I am 71, I am an old age pensioner, I have ordered a hearing aid, I have a history of successes and failures. That’s who I am, take it or leave it. I sleep sane. Thank you Roger.

He taught us to be ourselves — there is no peace in false fronts, airs and graces, or pretentiousness. It is not the Jesus way.

He spoke about good reactions to bad stimuli. We talked about the the blacks in America – how , after generations of slavery and of oppression, and being brainwashed to think of themselves as inferior, how they could then think of themselves as equal in dignity to whites. His answer has stayed with me. “They just made up their minds that they were equal, “ he said.

He held up a penny – if you love, the other side of the coin is that you will be vulnerable. If you love, you will likely get hurt. It is the other side of the coin. All things considered it is best to take the love pathway. This led to one of my first sermons on Simon and Garfunkels’s “I am a rock, I am an island.”

He introduced us to the counselling methodology of Carl Rogers. Counselling in those days meant you went to the priest, explained your problem, and you were told what to do. Rogers, Roger explained, meant you listen very carefully, you helped the person consider all the factors, so that they came to their own solution. So revolutionary.

Somehow, in 1965 or 1966 he got into St Patrick’s College, Manly, the seminary, where the tension, between the old guard thinking and the new philosophy of Vatican II, wreaked its own kind of misery. Roger confronted the then Dean, Pat Murphy, and told him that the atmosphere of oppression within the walls of his seminary was so bad, Jesus would never recognise the place. So courageous!

I so admired the guy — he made such sense to me. He is the only person I look back on as a guru in my life.

Permit me some brief personal memories. When still a seminarian I went walking with Roger at Araluen near Canberra. We were given the use of a country house there — I poured my sincere little heart out to him — his quiet reassurances validated me. I wrote a poem about it.

When, back at the Manly seminary, I used to get to frustration point, I would, after lights out, sneak across the oval, crawl under the fence, and go to visit him in his parish of Harbord. I needed to hear a sane voice. So patient.

Twenty years ago he rang me in Melbourne and said he was coming down south and intended staying with me and my then wife for a week, which he did. I recall feeling so privileged — it is as if Barack Obama rang me and asked me could he stay in my guest room. I recall that at the time he talked about the Progoff Intensive Journal method of gaining self awareness.

I visited him more recently at his apartment in Harbord. We spent the best part of a day together. We walked to Manly and back. It was one of those conversation reminiscent of the Walrus and the Carpenter.
“The time has come,” the Walrus said,
“To talk of many things:
Of shoes–and ships–and sealing-wax–
Of cabbages–and kings–
And why the sea is boiling hot–
And whether pigs have wings.”
And much secret men’s business – a occasion to live in the memory.

I thank Tony Newman, Paul Hartigan, especially Peter and Marian Phelan for looking after our mate in his last sad years and days. I thank Ed Campion for writing such an interesting and validating article in the Sydney Morning Herald.

The American Indians believe that no one is truly dead. while those who are still alive, hold them in memory. So Roger, you have a few years to live yet. I am not a believer in a sense most people would understand, but I cannot resist the words of our shared cultural tradition:

Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine,
et lux perpetua luceat eis.
Requiscat in pace.


Bill McMahon Letter

Bill McMahon showed me a letter he had received about Roger from Ken Buttrum which I found particularly interesting. An extract:

(I have) fond memories of Roger’s many great leadership skills, and it’s just a shame that his contribution to the development of new services for disadvantaged youth supported by the Department of Community Services in the mid 70s are not (acknowledged). He led a ministerial committee, of which | was a member, recommending major changes to young offender services throughout this state. It was my privilege to then implement these services. What an extraordinary individual of great vision and compassion! | will never forget his humility, great personal strength and personal encouragement as one of my supervisors. The private sector greatly benefitted from his vision, skill and invaluable leadership. 

—————

56 The Sanctuary Drive LEONAY NSW 2750 Wednesday 26 October 2011

Dear Bill,

Just writing a brief note to thank you for loaning me the book outlining the life of Roger Pryke during his years as a priest within the Catholic Church !What a prophet he was understanding the need for change in this authoritarian and male dominated organisation — a man well and truly before his time !

|have just finished reading the book and believe me itbrought back to me many fond memories of Roger’s many great leadership skills, and it’s just a shame that his contribution to the development of new services for disadvantaged youth supported by the Department of Community Services in the mid 70s are not outlined in this book !He led a ministerial committee, of which |was a member, recommending major changes to young offender services throughout this state. Itwas my privilege to then implement these services. What an extraordinary individual of great vision and compassion !| will never forget his humility, great personal strength and personal encouragement as one of my supervisors. The private sector greatly benefitted from his vision, skill and invaluable leadership and |feel this part of his story should have been told to show how his work in the community reflected his many Christ-like capabilities. In remembering his work for young offenders, |am reminded of the words of Isaiah who wrote,

Here is my servant whom |uphold, my chosen one in whom my soul delights. |have endowed him with my spirit, that he may bring true justice to the people He does not cry out or make a show of himself in the streets !
He does not break the crushed reed, nor quench the dimly burning flame.

He will encourage the fainthearted and those tempted to despair. He will see true justice is given to all who have been wronged. Isaiah 42:1-3

How amazing was itthat we bumped into each other on the streets of beautiful Lennox Head and how wonderful that we had both shared the blessings of working with Roger. Praise God ! Many thanks for lending Helen and me this wonderful story which has brought back some truly amazing memories.


John Murray to Frank Harvey (Author)

Dear Frank and Ed,

Thank you for last night’s splendid event.   You both spoke beautifully and it was a worthy tribute to Roger Pryke, the priest.My partner Maureen and I found it intriguing that no opportunity was given for questions or comment from the audience, a usual feature of book launches in our experience.

You acknowledged, Frank, that some people had expressed disappointment that the book did not cover the rest of his life after the priesthood.  He was a priest for 28 years.  He was “in private life” after his departure from the priesthood for 37 years.  Maureen did the maths.

As a “Traveller to Freedom” what he found was a freedom, not just from the priesthood, but from religion itself.

As believing Catholics, albeit progressive ones, it is hard for you to conceive, let alone acknowledge, that a leading figure of the renewal of the Catholic Church could come to realise that one is only truly free when not subjecting oneself to the external authority of a religion.

Perhaps your carefully constructed control of the evening was aimed at avoiding having this truth voiced?

Roger himself said, as you mention in the book, that he “took it off like an old suit”.  I have always understood that this reference was not just to the priesthood, but to religion as a whole. I have often adopted that phrase from him in describing my own transition from religion to freedom.  Like Roger, I left the whole thing, a few months before he did, as it happens.

The most important point, though, is that the human values Roger taught so many people, myself included, stand on their own without the support of religion.  In terms of values, Roger was the most significant single influence on my life, and I still live by those values today.  He lived out those values in the secular sphere for the rest of his life.  His life did not lose its colour, but those within the church could no longer see it.

Roger, and many others, suffered at the hands of Norman Gilroy, such a limited man.  But his greatest tragedy was not any of that.  It was the untimely and sudden death of his beloved Meg with whom he had found true happiness.

I attach a little piece I penned recently which I think is relevant to the point I am making here. I intend to convey the substance of this letter to other friends who have an interest in these matters. With thanks again for a wonderful book and, as Roger would say,

Warm regards

John Murray.

John M. Murray  BA, BSc (Arch), BArch, Grad Cert Housing Studies, Graduate Architect, 0409 039 495 , john.murray@tpg.com.au


To Bill McMahon from John Murray (second letter)

Sent: Monday, November 21, 2011 10:31 AM

Subject: Re: Roger Pryke

Dear Bill,

Great to hear from you and much thanks for the beautiful letter about Roger.  Perhaps Ken should write the book about Roger’s life free of the Church.

Frank Harvey admitted, at the book launch, that some had criticised the book for not dealing with the greater part of Roger’s life which was after he left the Church.  His rather lame defence was that he was writing about Roger the priest and someone else could write about Roger’s later life.  The reality is that there will probably be only one bite at the cherry.  You ought to send him Ken’s letter.

Roger’s funeral service was in two parts. There was the full Catholic Mass led by Ed Campion at St Joseph’s College all, of course, about Roger the priest with no acknowledgement that Roger himself had rejected the Church’s teachings.  Then there was a ceremony at the cremetorium, simply a series of speeches about Roger.  Some were prearranged and then anyone was invited to speak.  Pretty much all of the speeches were still about Roger the priest.  This was getting on my goat so I got up, happened to be the last speaker, and pointed out that Roger had rejected religion and that the values he had taught me stood on their own two feet without any need for a reference to God or Jesus.  Quite a few people came and thanked me for saying that at the wake.  Needless to say, Ed Campion did not attend this function.

Ed, who had a lot to do with the book, and Frank, cannot cope with those of us, especially Roger, who have given it all away and see it for the sham that it is.  Attached my letter to them.  Ed sent me a curt thank you and Frank didn’t respond.

Yesterday, Maureen and I went to a talk at the Opera House by Daniel Dennett, one of the leaders of the atheist movement.  They have been doing research in America on practising clergy who no longer believe in God. There are a great many of them and they feel terribly trapped.  Being a biologist, he drew an analogy between social cells and biological cells.  A very important part of the cell is the membrane which lets good stuff in and keeps bad stuff out.  He spoke of the membrane between the clergy and their congregations, how the clergy do not share their real insights with the laity.  I remember Jimmy making it pretty plain to us that the theology we were learning in the seminary, which was very different from what we were taught by the nuns at school, was beyond the comprehension of the laity and was not to be shared with them.

Dennett was not stridently against religion like Dawkins is.  He had a gentler approach.  He could acknowlege that religion can have a function for some people, but that it could still have that function while acknowledging that the religious stories are mythology not history, that they express the mystery of the human condition through mythic legend (like the Greek Myths) and don’t need to be reified into facts (this last bit is more me that Dennett, but he did imply it).  He did point out the now well established fact that the need for religion subsidies as security, health and education advance in a society.

That’s enough of a rave for now.  Back to reading DCP’s, another mythic form.

Love to Sue and to all the gang.

John

John M. Murray  BA, BSc (Arch), BArch, Grad Cert Housing Studies, Graduate Architect, 0409 039 495


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.