By Theresia Titus
At 91 years of age, foundress of God’s Farm at Wilyabrup, near Margaret River, Betty Peaker hopes to meet her God-chosen successor.
Mrs Peaker’s close friend Sheila Shannon recently spoke to The eRecord with the aim of helping Mrs Peaker’s find that special “someone”, who will continue her ministry and dedication in her Catholic faith.
“Betty is now 91 years of age and although her age is catching up on her, she is still confident that God will bring forth a suitable person or people, or possibly a Catholic order, who would continue her work which she has undertaken over the past 31 years at God’s Farm,” Ms Shannon said.
“I have been trying to assist her in finding a suitable Catholic lady or married couple who would willingly and devotedly take over the running of God’s Farm for personal retreat groups, but without success to date, and Betty is less fit now, she really needs and would appreciate urgent attention to be given to this matter,” she added.
Mrs Shanon re-called to The eRecord Mrs Peaker’s journey on how she became the foundress of God’s Farm.
Some 30 years ago, while managing her shop in Busselton, Monsignor Downie, who Mrs Peaker referred to as “Mons” in conversations, came into her shop and asked if she would assist him in choosing a new organ for St Joseph Church in Busselton.
At the time, Mrs Peaker was an organist at a Congregational Church in Busselton.
She agreed to help Mgr Downie and at Mrs Peaker,’s request, they invited the organist at St Joseph’s Church to accompany them to Perth to choose an organ.
Mgr Downie then asked Mrs Peaker if she would consider playing for the Vigil Mass at St Joseph’s Church, as he knew that Mrs Peaker played at the Congregational Church on Sunday morning, and she willingly agreed.
Later Mrs Peaker also played at St Joseph’s on Sunday mornings and also selected candidates for two children’s choir.
While she played the organ at St Joseph’s, Mrs Peaker developed a strong desire to receive the Holy Eucharist.
Mgr Downie then explained to her that to receive the Holy Eucharist she needed to be accepted into the Catholic Church.
Converting to Catholicism was not a straight-forward journey for Mrs Peaker.
It took four years and Mrs Peaker felt that she should seek her Methodist father’s permission before being received into the Catholic Church.
When she asked her father, he took her hands in his, and said: “It will make no difference to me, my dear, we will meet at the feet of Jesus.”
Mrs Peaker was so happy to receive this blessing from her father.
Mrs Peaker was married and gave birth to twin sons before she converted to Catholicism and later adopted three Aboriginal baby girls as her daughters.
A Catholic convert, Mrs Peaker felt another calling from God to look and search for a piece of property where she could bring people of faith closer to Him.
After much searching, she then found 200 acres of land she felt chosen by God and established a retreat surrounded by Australian bush which she called God’s Farm in 1987.
She also felt that God named the property “God’s Farm”.
“It was definitely a call from God,” Mrs Peaker said to The eRecord during a phone conversation.
Mrs Peaker was also called to be a lay Franciscan, and to live simply.
Mrs Peaker has been the sole owner of the property since, and she has welcomed many people of faith from all over Australia and New Zealand, and other parts of the world.
Those people were attracted to the peace and serenity of the natural bush and distant ocean views.
At God’s Farm, they have the chance to be immersed with nature, finding their peace with God.
“They love the peace and quiet at the property; the serenity and the silence,” Mrs Shannon said.
“Betty has had people of all denominations, some returning regularly.
“Betty trademarked words were ‘as long as they believe in God, they could come’,” she added.
There are many retreats have been conducted at the property, including one the recent ones by Vicar General of Bunbury Diocese, Fr Tony Chiera in April 2018, attracting more than 40 regular retreaters over the Easter weekend.
“I often conduct retreats there because of the invitations Betty gave me for once or twice a year,” Fr Chiera said.
“Betty was there faithfully, welcoming, playing the organ during the Mass.
“She has shown incredible dedication over many years to God’s Farm and to the people,” he added.
Having known Mrs Peaker for approximately ten years, Fr Chiera said Mrs Peaker has truly laboured herself to “create a space and environment for people to hear God and find the healing and the guidance of God in their life”.
“She has an incredible devotion to the Eucharist, to her Catholic faith (and) the spiritual well-being of the people.
“Her generosity is what really touches people,” he said.
For Fr Chiera, there are two things that made people in personal tragedies and people looking for gentle space feel the sacredness of the “farm”.
“The first one is a natural beauty, which is a blessing and secondly is the stone Chapel, with the pipe organ, which looks into the bush and a Crucifix outside,” he explained.
“To get someone to work there after her would be important,” he added.
In October 2017, God’s Farm 30th anniversary was celebrated at the Stone Chapel and Mrs Peaker warmly welcomed her friends of God’s Farm.
“It was an auspicious and wonderful occasion, celebrated with much devotion and joy,” Mrs Shannon said.
Brother Andrew, who was invited by St Teresa of Calcutta to form an order of Brothers for her, made many visits to God’s Farm.
He gave a series of retreats in July 2000, which were his final retreats before his death.
Mrs Peaker’s dedication to her work at God’s Farm is a result of her devotion to her Catholic faith.
“I couldn’t be anything but Catholic,” Mrs Peaker said.
“To hear people’s stories, my problems are nothing. God has to be the most important because it’s His farm,” she concluded.
Fr Anthony Mary Prendergast who authored a book called ‘The Eucharist: Fire of Divine Love’ will be conducting a retreat at God’s Farm in March 2019.
For more information about God’s Farm, contact Sheila Shannon on 0408 866 593.