It is a great pleasure for me and my brother Paul to join you here at St Mary's Maryborough for mass this morning on the feast of Corpus Christi. Last Sunday he and I were celebrating with our parents who were marking their 60th wedding anniversary with their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren — four generations. Yesterday we joined the descendants of those who arrived here in Maryborough on the David McIver 150 years ago. On that boat was my father's great grandmother Annie Brennan who was a 40 year old widow with her five children including 11year old son Martin who was later to be our great grandfather. Martin's brother Patrick then aged 18 was later to go into partnership with Martin Geraghty who had also been on the boat and who married another of the Brennan children, Catherine. In 1871 the Brennan and Geraghty store was built — they were importers of general merchandise. The store is a National Trust building here in Maryborough to this day.
Here in Maryborough the Catholic community has always acknowledged its debt to Mary MacKillop and the sisters of St Joseph. Mary's early mentor was the enigmatic Fr Julian Tenison Woods who later became concerned that Mary under the influence of the Jesuits was too lax in matters of poverty and obedience. Tenison Woods also had a number of conflicts with bishops in South Australia and New South Wales.
When Tenison Woods was no longer welcome in the south, he being one of Australia's great nineteenth century naturalists, came and conducted many scientific expeditions and parish missions here in Queensland. He passed through Maryborough on about 10 occasions between 1872 and 1881. He was here for the opening of your new church in 1872. In February 1881, he conducted a parish mission here over many days. Family folklore has it that he got Martin Brennan off the grog and back to church. My grandfather was then Martin's next son born almost four years later. The effects of the mission must have been long lasting as my grandfather was named Frank Tenison Brennan, as am I. I can only presume that ours is not the only Catholic family in Australia owing an inter-generational debt to the peripatetic priest scientist who always combined scientific inquiry with sacramental service in the most remote parts of the country.
Tomorrow marks the 50th anniversary of the death of the ever loveable Pope John XXIII. It is also the 21st birthday of the High Court's historic Mabo judgment. Who would have thought that one of Annie Brennan's great grandchildren would have played an instrumental role in that judgment extending legal recognition to Aborigines of their land rights? We are all hoping that our new pope Francis will continue to emulate Johnn XXIII with his simplicity and down to earth spirituality. Just last week he told some bishops: 'Being shepherds also means walking among and behind the flock, being able to listen to the silent account of those who suffer and support the steps of those who fear they will not make it.' We all appreciate such servant leadership from time to time. For too long our church has been marked by the clericalism of those who think they lead from in front of the flock with lofty theological statements.
Looking back over the seven generations of my family who have lived in Australia, I recall that they have been a Eucharistic people sharing the Lord's banquet, receiving food for the journey, sometimes intermittently. All of us come from families with similar histories, secular and sacred. We recall the practicality of the twelve who pointed out to Jesus that they did not have the wherewithal to provide for everyone in need. They urged him to send the 5,000 on their way 'so that they can go to the surrounding villages and farms and find lodging and provisions; for we are in a deserted place here.' He said to them, as he says to us today, 'Give them some food yourselves.'
Like the twelve we know that on our own we have nothing near enough to good enough, 'Five loaves and two fish are all we have'. How could we possibly provide for all those in need? All it takes is the little we have. But we have to give it all, in faith. Invited to the table of The Lord, we can eat and be satisfied with twelve basket loads left over. Like Mary MacKillop and Tenison Woods, we can go to the frontiers providing sustenance for others. Praying in gratitude for the last seven generations, we pray for those who are to come that as often as they eat this bread and drink the cup, they might proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes. Thanks so much for welcoming us here to the place where our ancestors first shared the Eucharist in this land.
The above text is from Fr Frank Brennan SJ's Corpus Christi Sunday homily at St Mary's Parish, Maryborough, 2 June 2013. Pictured: Frank Brennan and his brother Paul outside the Brennan and Geraghty store established in 1871.