By Natashya Fernandez
It was a day of sadness for everyone who knew Fr Jim Petry who passed away on 29 March at his Castledare Village in Wilson where he spent the last few years of his life.
A man of God, a friend, and relation, people from all the parishes he ministered at were present at St Mary’s Church in Leederville on 6 April to pay homage and say goodbye to the man who became known as ‘The Singing Priest’.
The Funeral Mass was celebrated by Emeritus Archbishop Barry Hickey in the presence of Archbishop Timothy Costelloe SDB and concelebrated with Priests from the Archdiocese of Perth, particularly the tennis priests who shared a close bond with him.
While it was a day to mourn, said Emeritus Archbishop Hickey, who was a close friend of Fr Jim, it was also a day for rejoicing.
“Jim has passed through this life with a life of great fidelity to Jesus, his Lord and master. My sympathy to the body of Priests to lose such a faithful member but to farewell him especially today on his journey to his maker,” Emeritus Archbishop Hickey said.
In his homily, he condoled Fr Jim’s nieces, Monica and Frances and their families for their steadfastness in coming over from the eastern states to see Fr Jim in his retirement years and especially when he was ill.
“They were faithful and loving. Their prayers and the comfort they gave him,” he said.
In his 94th year when he passed, Fr Jim was born in England in 1923 and was ordained in 1948. He became Chaplain for Her Majesty’s Forces and went to Korea and Malaya, now Malaysia, where he worked alongside stretcher bearers on the frontline assisting the injured and attending to the dying.
Proud of his medals, especially his MBE (member of the British Empire) and the recognition given to him by the Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice (declaration of Honour), Emeritus Archbishop Hickey said it was Fr Jim’s spirituality and devotion to the people that drew him to Australia when he came to the end of his chaplaincy.
“It was Bishop Goody who was Bishop of Bunbury, later Archbishop of Perth who met Jim in Europe, in Germany when Jim was coming to the end of his chaplaincy years and Bishop Goody invited him to Bunbury.
“He told him, we needed good Priests and he was certainly on a winner with Fr Jim, Emeritus Archbishop Hickey said.
Since coming out and working in many Parishes in Bunbury namely Albany, Nannup, Boyup Brook and Manjimup, when Bishop Goody became Archbishop of Perth, Fr Jim followed him and became a Priest in the Archdiocese of Perth.
“Fr Jim’s pastoral ministry began and covered many years in many parishes. He was in the Parish of Langford and worked tirelessly to build up the Parish to what it is today. There is even a street in Langford called Petry Street after him,” said Emeritus Archbishop Hickey.
Fr Jim’s ministry moved from the Parishes of Bedford and Cottesloe to the country in Beverley and finally at Leederville. It was at Leederville that he decided it was time to retire, and in his last years chose the St Mary’s Church to be the place for his funeral and farewell Mass.
Emeritus Archbishop Hickey also spoke about Fr Jim’s pastoral zeal and the example he set for all Priests.
“I speak now as a fellow Priest not only as his Archbishop for 20 years.
“He threw himself into his Parish work, got to know the people and got the Parish organised well. He introduced singing where it was absent and improved it where it was already present.
“He loved singing and urged people to sing up, there was great joy in everything he did as a Priest,” said Emeritus Archbishop Hickey.
“Even the music of today’s Mass was chosen by Fr Jim,” he said.
A man with a heart, a kind and generous person, Fr Jim’s pastoral zeal went above and beyond just looking after his Parish. He looked after the little people who came to him as well, said Emeritus Archbishop Hickey.
“They sensed in him someone they could approach, someone who wouldn’t turn them away. He saw them as having the face of Jesus Christ and he was there to serve.”
The scripture readings chosen for the requiem Mass reflect a theme that Emeritus Archbishop Hickey said was befitting of Fr Jim’s ministry.
“The book of Tobit, Chapter 4, versus 16 to19 talked about doing to others as you would want them to do to you.
“These readings were chosen because it reflects that part of his ministry where he tried to see in the person who would come to him for help, the face of Jesus Christ.”
“The second reading was chosen to express his joy in the priesthood. And, we find those lines of St Paul in the Epistle to the Romans in Chapter 12, where he says – be a glow with the spirit and serve the lord. If there was any motto about Fr Jim, it would be that one,” he said.
“He certainly was a glow with the spirit – in his enthusiasm, love for the people, love for the church, love for the liturgy, and love for his pastoral ministry to people. We all appreciate the service, the people and priests, and everybody he ministered to.”
Speaking on behalf of the family were Monica Phelan and Frances Petry, Fr Jim’s nieces who shared many memories with him since moving to Australia.
An adventurist, a traveller, a caring Priest but more importantly a loving uncle. Uncle Jim, as he was fondly known, Mrs Phelan said, he celebrated the good times marrying them, baptising the children as well as the sad times, being celebrant for their parents’ funeral.
Our uncle Jim was always very active, she said.
“Throughout his life he enjoyed playing tennis, bicycling, soccer and travelling. He was famous for sending us postcards from all the places he visited.”
“We always enjoyed spending time with Uncle Jim. He had a great sense of humour. He was thoughtful and caring. He loved cats, a Petry tradition, especially his Abby who continues to live at Castledare with her new owner,” she said.
Uncle Jim’s love of people, his empathy and his caring ways will be his legacy, said Frances who spoke at his funeral.
“He cared about people. If you were in trouble or needed a friend he would be there for you. He showed me the rewards in helping others. ‘Do unto others as you would have others do unto you’ was his motto,” she said.
“His empathy and kindness will be his legacy. In a way Jim has not died, because a part of him will live on in the hearts and minds of all the people whose lives he has touched in nearly 70 years as a Priest.”
Fr Jim Petry was laid to rest at Karrakatta Cemetery with Emeritus Archbishop Hickey conducting the ceremony. His life and passing a true testament to his devotion to God, Archbishop Hickey said that even his last days, people filled his room to pray and sing songs to comfort and be there for him.
“And, this is why his passing is a time for sorrow but also a time for joy. Rejoicing in a marvellous life of Fr Jim who has been an inspiration to us all,” he concluded.