By Natashya Fernandez
A man of God, a loving father and a man of the community, Father Rodney John Langsdale Williams was remembered for all of this and more at his funeral Mass on 24 June 2017. Paying a beautiful tribute to their dad, siblings Deborah Anderson and Mark Williams together with his priestly family and friends bade him farewell.
The Funeral Mass was celebrated by Emeritus Archbishop Barry Hickey DD OAM in the presence of the Archbishop of Perth Timothy Costelloe SDB and concelebrated with Auxiliary Bishop Donald Sproxton together with Frs Geoffrey Beyer and Brian McKenna.
While his life was one of service to God and his community, his children Deborah and Mark spoke highly of their loving father before and during his time in the priesthood.
Fr Williams was born on 19 March 1922 in Heswall on The Wirral in the county of Merseyside, England.
He studied at Kingsmead School in Hoylake, Wirral and then at Denstone College in Staffordshire and developed many skills in sports, music and language, and a lifelong passion for poetry.
He enlisted in the army and joined The Welsh Regiment as an officer and enjoyed his life there, often recounting stories to his children of his time in the army. Although he was in the army for 27 years, he remained unsettled.
In his Eulogy for the Funeral Mass, his son Mark recalled the response by his father when he asked him about why he became a priest.
“The answer was that he heard a voice, calling him clearly to be one.
“The impact it made on him was profound. It was powerful enough that when he got to the station, he made his way to a phone and insisted on resigning his Commission then and there. He then applied to join a seminary in Wales, and within 48 hours, he was out of military uniform and starting on the seven years it takes to become an Anglican Priest.
“He never doubted his vocation,” Mark said.
Ordained an Anglican Priest in 1955, Fr Williams re-joined the Armed Services as an RAF Chaplain Squadron Leader, which led the family to travel all over Germany as parts of the British Army of the Rhine (BAOR) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) forces.
In the early 1960s, Fr Williams packed up his family and headed to Australia to join the Bunbury Diocese and was posted to the Parish of Carey Park and later Cranbrook.
It was here that he met Fr Geoffrey Beyer, another Anglican (now Catholic) Priest whom he befriended.
With a common goal in mind and having worked together for a number of years, Fr Williams and Fr Beyer, together with fellow Anglican priest Fr John Lisle, realised that they were drawn to the Catholic Church and its teachings.
In March 1968, Fr Williams, together with Fr Beyer, was received into the Catholic Church and on 19 October 1969, the two men were ordained as among the first married Catholic Priests by then Archbishop Lancelot Goody. Fr John Lisle followed shortly after.
“Becoming a Catholic Priest was the only the way he could be true to his vocation and thus began his journey with the Catholic Church,” recalled his son Mark.
His first appointment as a Catholic priest was as Assistant Parish Priest at Applecross in 1969, became Acting Parish Priest in 1973 and then Parish Priest in 1974.
In July 1978 he was appointed Chaplain to Mental Health Services and then in 1996 as Assistant Parish Priest of Applecross.
“Dad loved this Parish of Applecross. We lived here for many, many years, during his days as Parish Priest, but also during the many years he was Chaplain to the Mental Health Services,” Mark explained.
“Through his priesthood, he had realised his vocation with those who felt unloved, ignored or just not accepted by society. He saw through their pain and bonded with everyone who came to him,” Mark said.
There was never a dull moment in his family life either, his home was always full of people. “Everyone was welcomed and often Sunday lunches were huge with people dropping by and this led to many friendships and memories,” Mark said.
Never one to shy away from his obligations, Fr Williams was always out in the community, day or night. He would often be called out at night and it became his way of life, and that of his family.
When his wife met with a serious accident, Fr Williams tirelessly cared for her till she passed in 2003. He lived at the house in Ardross street next to the presbytery until it was knocked down to make way for the new church. At that point he moved in with his son, Mark in Melville but still remained close to Applecross and the people and parish he loved.
A man of great faith and love, he taught his children many life lessons which were shared at his funeral. He taught them love, he taught them about death and acceptance and mostly about his love and devotion to God.
A wonderful father to his children, always encouraging, teaching, loving and supporting, he was a beautiful example to them and to many in his parish.
Fr Williams passed away on 14 June. His funeral Mass, which was held on 24 June, saw some 300 people attend together with 30 priests at St Benedict’s Catholic Church in Applecross.