By Olivia Bunter
Looking back over some 60 years, Emeritus Archbishop Barry James Hickey has nothing but fond memories and formative experiences to reflect on as a priest, including as Bishop of Geraldton and later Archbishop of Perth. The Emeritus Archbishop shared some of the most formative experiences of his vocation, highlighting memorable moments in an exclusive interview with The Record.
Fresh from four years of study at Propaganda Fide College in Rome, he arrived at St Brigid’s’ Church, West Perth Parish (now Northbridge), eight months after his ordination on 20 December 1958.
Emeritus Archbishop Hickey explained that at the time, he very much lacked parish experience, although the transition was made easier thanks to the guidance and pastoral care of then Parish Priest Monsignor Edmund Sullivan, as well as the enormous friendliness of the people.
“St Brigid’s was a migrant parish, hundreds of young families recently arrived mainly from Italy, with Polish, Greek and Yugoslav newcomers as well,” he said.
“The Catholic faith showed its universality as hundreds of people from small villages across Italy found a home in this Australian parish.
“It was that warmth, that joy and that energy that formed my early life as a priest. I made friends there that I have remained close to all over the past 60 years.”
The growing population and need for social welfare within the community guided the young Barry Hickey to take up studies at the University of Western Australia in 1968, just three years after he took up his position in Highgate.
Over a period of five years, he obtained his Bachelor in Psychology and Masters in Social Work, while simultaneously holding positions across the Archdiocese.
“I had always felt compassion for the poor and people in trouble, and now I wanted to draw on the teachings of Christ about the dignity of every person to everything I was involved in.”
During this time, he was witness to an emerging social change, exposing him to a secular society within the university, an experience that did not weaken his faith, but rather strengthened it.
“I thank God for this exposure as it helped me understand how my Catholic faith needed to take on-board the range of views in the secular society to work out what contribution faith itself could offer.”
On completion of his academic career, he relished the chance of having a role in shaping the future of the Catholic community as Director for Centrecare, the then Catholic Marriage Guidance agency, and Catholic Immigration agency.
“I had always felt compassion for the poor and people in trouble, and now I wanted to draw on the teachings of Christ about the dignity of every person to everything I was involved in.
“In 1974, when I took over Centrecare, the Church had a huge investment in the care of children. It was then and had been of for many centuries, the desire of the Church, to care for orphans.
“The Mercy Sisters, the Good Shepherd Sisters, the Christian Brothers, and the Pallottines ran a wide range of residential care centres from orphanages to farm schools, including two for Aboriginal children, in Wandering and New Norcia.”
Explaining the difficult circumstances in which he found some of the orphaned children, Emeritus Archbishop Hickey explained this also brought much enthusiasm, along with treasured memories, at making radical changes for the welfare of those children and their families.
A treasured memory, he expressed, was his time at Royal St in East Perth – now a government building – once a home for the Emeritus Archbishop and where he made many formative relations with people of the Perth community; those homeless and vulnerable who formed a significant friendship with him.
“There is no question that the experience of Royal St remains one of my most cherished memories,” he added.
“The experience was awesome, all consuming, each day with its own special problems and challenges.”
Emeritus Archbishop Hickey also spoke about the re-opening of St Mary’s Cathedral, which took place on 8 December 2009, and included a completely new section, replacing the old, withering subdivisions of the now 150-year-old church.
“It was one of the most satisfying and gratifying memories I have,” he said.
“The building is still amazing.”
Emeritus Archbishop Hickey says that during his time as the Archbishop of Perth, he discovered the need to rely on the Holy Spirit.
“I went into the position without a compass,” he recalled.
“There was no doubt in my mind that this was to be my vocation because I had not chosen it.
“I had been asked by the Church to take it on.”
From pages 18 to 19 of Issue 19: ‘Why Believe In God’ of The Record Magazine