By Olivia Bunter
Upon first meeting Father Michael Gatt, one would not suspect the Maltese-born priest is retired.
His jovial energy is contagious and at 81 years old – he has nothing but joy, laughter and a lifetime worth of memories to share with those who cross his path.
With more than 50 years of dedication to the Perth Archdiocese, his approachable and kind-hearted nature has created memorable experiences with those throughout the community.
One of those being the remarkable phone counselling hotline dubbed “Gattline”.
For some 28 years, the service has remained free and confidential, which has allowed access to those who seek counselling in times of personal distress.
Initially, the hotline ran 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week in the month of December.
However, since his retirement four years ago, it was extended to an all-year-round service.
But Fr Gatt admits he could not have done it alone.
“I’ve had a lot of support and a lot of publicity and it helps me because once it is advertised, people know what I can offer them,” he remarked.
The contributing factor to its success was the media’s circulating involvement and the distribution of information in regards to the phone counselling service on multiple platforms.
Upon struggling to find something to give that might be of use to those less fortunate, he began offering counselling to those who felt the burden of isolation around the Christmas period.
“This transformed into something beautiful – something beautiful for God.
“I started the helpline to mitigate the bad experiences people were going through. I had nothing to lose and it was the right decision.”
There is no denying this fact, as his time and energy has made a lasting impact on the people who have reached out to him.
Christmas cards from last December were piled high on the coffee table in his living room, within them, unabashed gratitude and well-wishes for the priest that helped them through a difficult time.
“I never expected them, but I did something good for them and they want to tell the world about it.”
Because of this, the number of calls has grown each year, reaching well into the thousands and incredibly, Fr Gatt remembers them all, if not by name, then situation.
“These people know me, they needed my help – they know who I am. It is very difficult for me to give it up.”
Though his positivity seems unwavering, he admits that not all of the calls are easy to deal with.
He expressed his gratitude for the support of local lawyers and doctors who pledged themselves to help him.
Although he officially retired in 2015, Fr Gatt eagerly continues his work at his local parish in Osborne Park.
The retired priest enjoys a good laugh.
“There’s nothing like it. You can laugh at yourself and people will love you for it.”
Father Michael Gatt can be reached on his helpline 24 hours a day on (08) 9440 5379.