Fr James Kane celebrates his 60th Anniversary of Ordination

The priests of the Diocese gathered for Mass in St Joseph’s Church in Orange on 3rd June 2019, to mark the Diamond Jubilee of Father James Kane. A celebratory dinner at the Ambassador Hotel followed, during which there was much reminiscing. A Parish Dinner saw the Catholic community of Orange come together on Thursday 6 June to give thanks for the priestly service Fr Kane has given for the past 60 years.

Congratulations Father Kane and thank you for 60 dedicated years serving God and his people here in our Diocese.

The following is an address Mr Peter Meers, Principal of James Sheahan Catholic High School, Orange, delivered at the Parish celebrations:

It is an honour to speak today about Father Kane, his life and his dedicated service to God and Parish communities throughout our Diocese over 60 years of priesthood. I would like to give a potted history of Father Kane. I know Father Kane is meticulous with his facts, supported by his astonishing memory, so I apologise in advance if my summary of his wonderful life and service to God includes some personal interpretations. 

Father Kane was born on February 1st 1935 in the middle of Ireland in the County Westmeath. He shares this birth year with such notable human beings as Elvis Presley, Julie Andrews, Jerry Lee Lewis, Luciano Pavarotti and the 14th and current Dalai Lama.

Undoubtedly, Father Kane has the wisdom of the Dalai Lama if not the singing voice of Elvis Presley or Pavarotti. In fact, when asked about his interest in music, Father Kane admits to limited expertise, dare I say interest, quoting with great self-depreciation the opening of a famous Shakespearean verse from the Merchant of Venice. Father Kane you’ll be glad to hear that I have found the whole quote!!

The man that hath no music in himself, Nor is not moved with concord of sweet sounds, Is fit for treasons, stratagems, and spoils; The motions of his spirit are dull as night, And his affections dark as Erebus. Let no such man be trusted. Mark the music.

As a mark of respect however on the occasion of Father Kane’s 60th year of ordination, I feel we can put aside Shakespeare’s dire warning and give Father Kane the benefit of the doubt as being free from treasonous motive or untrustworthy intent. Indeed, Father Kane, having known you since the early 1990s I would even vouch for you as a good and humble man, if not a lothario of music!!

Of course, Father Kane is renowned for his amazing memory and knowledge of history. And of course, as I’m sure Father Kane would remind me, today is a famous date in history, being the 75th Anniversary of D Day. Quite possibly his sharp mind has benefitted from his life-long abstinence from the demon drink or, as Aussies would say, the grog.

Father Kane’s preference for a good cup of tea over a Guinness or even a Celtic brew from Mullingar started early in life with his membership of the Total Abstinence Society of the Sacred Heart, of which Fathers Dooley and Shannon were also members. But back to Father Kane’s early life.

He lived near a Franciscan Monastery, established in 1276, and remembers his Grandfather on his Mother‘s side visiting twice a year, at Christmas and in August when through a special indulgence, one could reduce their time in Purgatory, not that I’m sure Father Kane himself has too much time to be paid out. Of course the visit of relatives in those day of horse-drawn travel was a very special event as was visiting distance relatives, who sometimes knew him only as Pat Kane’s boy. In those days, he loved nothing better than to sit down with his brother and sister for a meal of potatoes, cabbage and bacon.  

When asked about his childhood, Father Kane has two lasting memories. One, as a three-year- old walking into a home to the sight of an elderly male neighbour stretched out plumb dead on a bed as friends and family paid their last respects. Secondly, of the importance of the postman, at a time when people still wrote letters and the postman was a very important person and his daily visit was eagerly awaited, almost reverentially!!

His schooling started in the first week of February 1939, another famous date in history that has gone down in infamy with the invasion of Poland by Adolph Hitler. Father Kane remembers the tea, clothing and sugar rationing as well as the loss of a favourite fruit, the orange, to rationing and quite possibly, the German gun boats!!

He also remembers the German Navy playing havoc with the tenacious but little Irish Fleet. Indeed, the Nazis could take a lot of the blame for the dire shortage of oranges in Ireland at the time with their attacks on commercial convoys. Father Kane also remembers the newspapers of the day displaying maps of the changing war fronts as well as carefully folding brown newspaper for reuse. A far cry from today’s throw-away society!!

At 13, Father Kane went to boarding school at Saint Finnian’s in Mullingar although it appears there was somewhat of a mix-up, with his intended school being the Franciscan Monastery. His favourite subject was Mathematics and his least favourite, Greek, although he admits his early training in this language helped him to read the road signs in Greece in his later travels as a much sought after tourist guide. In these halcyon days of priest numbers, his school had 10 priests and 3 lay staff for the 220 students who attended. In the devoutly Catholic Ireland of the 1940s, 50 per cent of his class went to the seminary, or 17 students, of which 12 would be ordained.

Father Kane, as did his mum, always thought he would be a priest and never thought of any other pathway in life. On the 14th June 1959, he was ordained at All Hallows in Dublin. Before the year was out he would find himself sailing to a new life on the other side of the world and the beginning of his ministry, arriving in Sydney in November 1959 and two days later, finding himself crossing the Blue Mountains to Orange.

Five other priests shared the six-week journey through the Suez Canal with him. He remembers the trip being very peaceful, dare I say boring, with nothing really to do, with elderly New Zealanders and Australians returning from one of the earliest trips to post war Europe and migrants seeking a new life, many of whom would head west to mines and government projects.

In Orange, Father Kane would meet up with some familiar Irish compatriots in Fathers Creed, Shannon, Quigley and Doran. All came from the same area in Ireland and booming Irish accents would have been the norm in the presbytery, as in many Catholic Churches throughout Australia at the time.

In the 60s there were at least four young priests in Orange all under 30, who got involved in everything in the community. Father Kane would often drive two nuns to school at Glenroy and pick them up of an afternoon to return them to the convent. He fondly remembers Monsignor James Sheahan, after which the school I am principal of was named, who even though at the time he was only in his fifties, was always referred to as “Old Father Sheahan”.

Over the next nearly 50 years, Father Kane would serve in the parishes of St Joseph’s Orange, St Mary’s East Orange, Lithgow, and Coonamble as an Assistant Priest, then in Cowra, Mendooran, Rockley, Orange St Joseph’s, Coonabarabran, Oberon, Wellington, Gilgandra, and Molong as Parish Priest.

In Oberon, Father Kane was part of the Commonwealth Government Church Grants Commission with the challenging task of divvying out funding of around 30 million dollars annually. His early mathematical skills came to the fore and he remembers with happiness this committee and the verbal bouts with Wagga Wagga Bishop, Bill Brennan, over where the funds should go. I believe Father Kane might have got the upper hand over his tenacious adversary!!

During his time in Orange between 1975 and 1980, Father Kane would play a key role in negotiating loans for the building of James Sheahan Catholic High School, would oversee the move of boys from De La Salle College in Summer Street and the girls at Santa Maria to the new site of James Sheahan and the selling of the old De LaSalle School in Summer Street.

Father Kane retired in 2008, following on the discovery of cancer, requiring many trips to the Base hospital and spells of chemotherapy. As we know though, Father Kane has a dogged and quietly fierce spirit, and over ten years later is still going strong and making his regular trips back to Ireland and still being a regular sight at Masses. The name “Kane” in fact means “warrior like” and Father Kane has certainly shown a warrior like fighting spirit.

At Father Kane’s celebratory Mass on Monday with his fellow priests and parishioners, Bishop Michael, recounted Father Kane telling him some ten years ago that he was unlikely to see the year out. Over ten years later he is still going strong, although the legs are getting a bit tired!!

Rugby League has also played a major role in Father Kane’s life although he would probably not describe himself as a sports tragic. As Parish Priest, he remembers the power of the Parish Priest to overrule any Orange CYMS decision although I’m sure, given Father Kane’s strong integrity and honesty, he would have scoffed at any cash-filled envelope appearing under his presbytery door to gain his favour in team selections and any volatile club decisions.

Some of you may not be aware that Father Kane was instrumental in the creation of Lithgow Shamrocks, being their first president, with the team receiving a good Irish name recognizing his pivotal involvement. Sadly, Father Kane had moved on before their first premiership. In the NRL, Father Kane has loosely followed the Canterbury Bulldogs and the Magpies, having known such legends as Andrew Farrer, and Tommy Raudonikis from his Cowra days.

When I asked Father Kane what he felt are the important qualities of a Catholic Priest, after some soul-searching he identified three attributes. First, to be tolerant, recognising Jesus’s core message of love, forgiveness and compassion, secondly, being among the people in parish and community, and thirdly, giving people time – time to talk, time to feel they are important and respected. Father Kane has joked that having three hour stints of chemotherapy at a time hooked up to a drip, teaches patience and allows you to have a good chat, often with the nurses!!

These days, Father Kane still loves to walk, even after back surgery in 1980. The day I spoke with him, he had been for a lazy two kilometre walk and would often walk six kilometres without blinking. Throughout his life Father Kane has been an early riser, up between 4.00 and 5.00am, a fact I’m sure Father Greg would appreciate, and several hours before I would see the light of day. Undoubtedly, Father Greg, perhaps Father Pius and even now Father Matthew would be jumping at the chance to brave the freezing cold of Orange Winters to share an early morning cup of tea and chat with Father Kane at 4.00am.

Father Kane’s tastes in food have now moved to a good serving of fish, preferably Barramundi. His photographic memory is still as sharp, even today he can still name all 36 students who were at his first communion and would be a whiz to have around for class reunions. He’s not really one for the movies, however he still remembers some of the timeless classics, The Ten Commandments, Lawrence of Arabia and Cromwell.

Some of you may also know, that Father Kane when not ministering to his flock has turned his eyes to another pursuit, international tour director, leading ten trips to different sites in Europe, including Gallipoli, Rome, Madragori, Paris, Spain and southern Europe. He was quick to tell me however that he didn’t get a wage, just free passage and board, oh, and of course, a trip to any European capital at the end for $150.00.

This of course was a small price to pay given his amazing knowledge and love of reading, particularly history and poetry. Perhaps aptly, his favourite poet, Shamus Heaney has said, “If you have the words, there’s always a chance that you’ll find the way”.

That way doesn’t necessarily involve tipping as Father Kane has noted on his guide trips overseas, with Americans being incredibly generous tippers, Irish half way and Australians, well, through his experience on his trips needing the tipping being built into the up-front cost such that the little brown envelopes of tips could be discretely passed by Father Kane to bus drivers and site guides to avoid unnecessary angst.

As I have mentioned, Father Kane, still loves to return regularly to Ireland. Family is very important to him, with close contact with cousins, nieces, and grandnieces. A little over a week ago, he had the pleasure of a visit to Orange of three grandnieces, coming from three sets of twins. On June 18 he will return once again to Westmeath and to family.

One of Father Kane’s favourite memories is of concelebrating Mass with Pope Francis in 2018 at Phoenix Park in Dublin. He has great respect for the Pontiff, not only during his time at the Vatican but also for the stand he took against violence in Argentina as a Jesuit, a stance that involved considerable danger and risks in a volatile South America.

In finishing, I would like to retell a personal memory, from my own experience of Father Kane. My wife, Melanie, and I lived in Wellington throughout the 1990s. Father Kane was Parish Priest at the time of the birth of our son, Ben, who he baptized in 1994. Soon after Ben’s birth, Father Kane visited Melanie at Bindawalla, Wellington’s Hospital.

Melanie remembers very fondly Father Kane staying for around an hour, engaging in a wonderful chat, whilst, straightening all the pictures in the room, then straightening and organising the bed table and anything else that needed organising. Whilst moving around continuously, eyes focused on straightening the hospital room, he maintained an animated conversation with Melanie who appreciated his thoughtful visit. I also remember fondly, Father Kane giving excellent Sermons whilst moving continuously moving back and forth the ribbons in the Book of the Gospels or the Lectionary and studiously avoiding direct eye contact with the congregation.

We both have fond memories of him as a Parish Priest and a person who indeed liked to be active and involved in his community and the lives of his parishioners.

May I on behalf of all the parishes in which Father Kane has ministered and the countless parishioners who have known and loved Father Kane congratulate him on his 60th Anniversary of Ordination and sincerely thank him for his devoted service in the name of God, inspired by the life and teachings of Jesus and a life-long commitment to vocation.

I finish with the words of Nobel Prize winning Irish poet, Shamus Heaney, “Hope is not optimism, which expects things to turn out right, but something rooted in conviction that there is good worth working for.”

Peter Meers
Parish Dinner for Father James Kane
Celebrating the 60th Year of his Ordination (1959 – 2019)
June 6 2019

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