While Monsignor Brian O’Loughlin’s priestly vocation has spanned 40 years and five popes as well as being witness to a number of transitions within the Church, he is adamant that the final words added to the reshaped Canon Code in 1983 should always be the guiding principle of Catholic faith.
“When the definitive work of the Second Vatican Council finally arrived on the desk of Pope John Paul II in 1983, he would, in a moment of inspiration, include a sentence that would embrace all that preceded it,” Mgr O’Loughlin shared in a recent interview to acknowledge his 40th anniversary.
“He [John Paul II] wrote that the salvation of souls must always be the supreme law in the Church.
With Mgr O’Loughlin’s multiple roles as Monsignor, parish priest at St Columba’s Parish in South Perth, as well as a sitting member of the State Marriage Tribunal and the national appeals tribunal, and with a Doctorate of Canon Law, it is wisdom well formed.
The gentle-natured and modest Monsignor, who celebrated his anniversary on August 31, appreciates the unique perspective he has been given – having been raised in a pre-Vatican II era, but having received training in a post Vatican II Church.
Born in Fremantle in 1949, the middle child of eight boys and one girl, Mgr O’Loughlin attended primary school at Iona Presentation College followed by five years at Christian Brothers College Fremantle, before leaving to work in a paint and hardware store.
His desire for further education, however, did not diminish and he began his Leaving Certificate at night school. During this time he was also an altar server for [the recently deceased] Mgr Sean O’Shea, who was to become instrumental in shaping his future.
“It was Mgr O’Shea who directed me to the Church’s Vocational Director when I asked him, how do I know if becoming a priest is God’s idea or mine?” Mgr O’Loughlin said.
It was a fork in the road moment which would see him enter St Charles Seminary in 1967 at the age of 18, completing his Leaving Certificate as well as studies in Philosophy, before moving to St Francis Xavier Seminary in Adelaide. It was here that he was ordained to the diaconate in 1973 and to the priesthood in St Mary’s Cathedral in Perth on August 31, 1974.
The influence of Mgr O’Shea continues to reverberate throughout his life, particularly in his role as Chaplain in the Apostleship of the Sea Cruise Ship program, which he began in 1983.
In the early 1960’s a youthful Brian O’Loughlin would accompany Mgr O’Shea in his role as Port Chaplain, as he visited ships in Fremantle harbour, an activity that was to spark a life-long involvement with the sea.
“As we would spend time on these ships I remember thinking to myself how wonderful it would be sailing on the oceans,” Mgr O’Loughlin reflected.
It was a dream that would be fulfilled when he became involved as ship Chaplain, a role he continues today as he spends his annual leave cruising the world while being pastorally involved with passengers and crew.
“It is a role I thoroughly enjoy,” he shared with a reflective grin.
“Not only am I able to bring the familiarity of Mass to what is an unfamiliar environment, but I get to go to interesting places and meet engaging people.”
With his multi-pronged responsibilities within the Archdiocese, Mgr O’Loughlin’s time at sea, he says, offers him a much needed reprieve for body and mind.
His priestly appointments have been constant and fulfilling. They began in 1974 when he became assistant priest at Our Lady of Lourdes parish in Nollamara with Fr Rupert Kelly. After three years he was transferred to St Joseph’s in Subiaco where one of his roles was to respond to calls for emergency Baptisms at King Edward and Princess Margaret Hospitals.
After two years in Subiaco, Archbishop Goody called him to his office and Mgr O’Loughlin began to wonder which country parish he would be sent to. Instead, he was surprised by an invitation to serve on the Archdiocesan Marriage Tribunal and six weeks later found himself studying Canon Law in Ottawa, Canada.
During his overseas stay he was also able to spend time at the Chicago Catholic Marriage Tribunal, which had provided him with a practical understanding of what would be required in his future role.
Upon his return from Canada, Mgr O’Loughlin commenced as Assistant Parish Priest at Holy Rosary parish in Nedlands, followed by a period in Cottesloe before becoming parish priest in Embleton for five years, Mt Lawley for a further five and then Claremont for eight.
It was an eventful and exciting period for Mgr O’Loughlin as he combined parish duties with his role at the Marriage Tribunal of WA and the National Tribunal of Appeal. His responsibilities increased in 2003 when he was appointed Vicar General by Archbishop Barry Hickey and served as his “right hand man” until the Archbishop’s retirement in 2012.
Mgr O’Loughlin says he found the latter role particularly rewarding as he was able to work within the leadership body of the Church in Perth, as well as offering pastoral direction and guidance to the Presbyterate. (Body of priests).
“By sharing in the Archbishop’s executive and governing power I was able to gain a broader perspective of the Archdiocese,” he said.
“It gave me the opportunity to be involved with the Sacrament of Confirmation, as well as experiencing the hospitality of those priests living on the fringes of the Diocese.”
Despite the many changes he has seen throughout his life, Mgr O’Loughlin believes they have improved the Church’s connection to society.
He is adamant that the reshaping of Canon Law in the post Vatican II era not only opened communication channels with her members, but also to the world outside.
“The model changed from a hierarchical structure to a co-centric one and this has led to more emphasis on the Communion of Faithful,” he said.
With 28 of his priestly years spent under the leadership of Pope John Paul II it is natural that the Church’s first Polish Pontiff would have the most significant impact on Mgr O’Loughlin.
Referring to him as the “Pastor of the World”, he compared Pope John Paul’s II’s personalist philosophy with those of St Augustine and St Thomas Aquinas and his contemplative expertise to St John of the Cross.
“His sense of composure and public prayerfulness was both original and stunning,” the Monsignor recalled.
One of the greatest gifts of this long serving Pope according to Mgr O’Loughlin, was the 129 talks he gave between 1979 and 1984 on the human person and sexuality.
It was to become known as “The Theology of the Body” and Mgr O’Loughlin had the privilege of exploring these presentations during his own Doctoral studies.
“These were inspired talks and showed Pope John Paul II as a teacher, the likes of which we hadn’t seen since Pope Leo the Great during the fifth century and Pope Gregory the Great in the sixth century,” he said.
Mgr O’Loughlin believes he was the perfect Pope for that point in history as he was able to maintain the balance of highest sanctity while effectively communicating with the world and counteracting global secularisation.
“His record number of canonisations – more than all his predecessors put together – was inspiring,” he reflected.
Mgr O’Loughlin’s life has indeed encompassed an era of great change, both personally and within the Church, and it is a journey he says he will continue to embrace.
“It has been a liberating and welcoming period.
“One I have been very privileged to have watched unfold”.