Fr Fitz – a shearer who became a good shepherd


A priest who once worked as a shearer is being remembered as a dedicated good shepherd to many.

Fr Terry Fitzpatrick, SM, died at St Joseph’s Home in Ponsonby on May 28, aged 90. He had been a priest for 57 years and a professed Marist for 61 years.

As a priest, he served in many places including Whanganui, Hastings, Mt Albert, Waitara, Island Bay, Parnell, Auckland Cathedral, Te Puna and Pt Chevalier.

At a requiem Mass at Sacred Heart church in Ponsonby on May 31, Fr Fitzpatrick’s brother Brian recalled family life in Blenheim and the fact that Terry has three stints in the seminary before finally being ordained in 1960.

Terry’s life before ordination included working at a newspaper, on a dairy farm and in shearing sheds. He was a shearer for several years and “he said in those times he learned companionship and what life was really about”, Brian Ftizpatrick said.

While Fr Fitzpatrick was beset by medical problems for many years, “he seemed to get through them” and succumbed, in the end, “to old age”, his brother said.

Another eulogy was given by Fr Rodney Smyth, SM, who said two consistent qualities in his confrere’s life stood out: “His strong personality, with determination, and his real concern for people and his ability to connect with them.”

“This was highlighted last night at the vigil service,” Fr Smyth continued, “when so many people stood and spoke — of various age groups and various cultural identities — and they spoke of how Fr Terry had touched their lives and made such a significant impact on them.”

Fr Smyth noted that Fr Fitzpatrick had not found seminary life at Greenmeadows easy.

“He found the schedule and system more suited to younger people with little life experience.” But he came into his own in priestly ministry.

“I’m not suggesting that he always got things exactly right — after all, who does?” Fr Smyth said.

“He had a deep sense of sharing ministry with lay people. He hated any condescending or paternalistic attitude that might be given by the clergy and would speak of the need to treat people like adults.”

Images used by Pope Francis were cited by Fr Smyth as having “a particular application to the life of Fr Terry”.

“Pope Francis asked the Church to be like a field hospital, in the world, in the midst of the struggle of people’s lives. And in speaking to a group of priests, he called on them not to lock themselves up in the sacristy or presbytery, with a focus on a clerical culture of privilege and fine vestments, but rather to go out and smell like the sheep.

“Perhaps I can say nothing more praiseworthy about Fr Terry than simply to say he was a person grounded in real life, with solid faith and a willingness to go out with deep concern for people.”

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Michael Otto

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