A reflection in the key of F on Fr Julian Tenison Woods  [1832-1889]: Saint Mary MacKillop’s “Father Founder”

“Fairly faithfully and fallibly following a fairly famous and fallible Founder”.

Loved pastor-confessor of souls in keen pain,
golden-tongued preacher, fanning faith’s flame,
freeing the fearful from scruples that fracture
a trust in God’s mercy, compassion and love.

Favourably-featured and friendly in flavour,
fraternally faithful with family and friends,
far-stretched in his talents, and wide in life’s learning,
active and earnest, yet struggling in health.

First-rate was his fondness for fun and festivity,
a feeler of feelings, a speaker of truth,
be-friending First Peoples and others uncared-for,
often offended, sometimes offending.

Far-flung was the scope of his fascination:
the cosmos far out, and life all around.
Not keen on some ferals, ferocious and fearsome,
yet loving his felines, his horses and dogs.

He field-tripped for furlongs, his saddle-bags filling
with flora and fauna, fresh fruits and long ferns,
with fungi and fossils, shellfish and rare sea-shells,
flint and fine feldspar, metal and gems.

Fastidiously ferreting out false science from fiction,
writing it up for flash journals and talks,
fore-sightfully warning on Tassie’s fine forests
and care for creation, evolving in flux.

Florin-free and farthing-strapped, fund-raising forever,
conscious of families way down on their luck,
like those facing fallouts from drought and failed cropping
and green-horn colonials fresh from their ships.

Oft foot-sore and famished, flaked-out by a fireside,
happ’ly fatigued in a bed on a farm.
he’d set out tomorrow, midst drovers and rovers,
pastoring wide on the ‘wallaby track’.

Fighting off fires and fording full rivers
living it real at the heart of his flock
always with horses, o’er cropped fields or fallow,
forever with farriers tending fetlocks.

In pushing through bush tracks, he’d fly over fences,
sometimes free-falling and taking a dive,
slogging on foot then, through seasonal freezing,
or plagued by the mozzies, the flea-bites or flies.

Then finding in Mary a dreamer-companion,
‘God-with-us-forever’: the calling they shared,
fashioning a stable for Joseph’s first schoolhouse,
God’s Presence and Providence: foundations well-paired.

Calling the Sisters to be kind companions
in ways of that Family of God’s own design,
of Mary and Joseph, Jesus and JB,
giving God glory, Amen! Yes! Amen!

So what do we make of him, famous yet humble?
Was he flawed? Did he fail? Was he fake or ‘true-blue’?
Did he faithfully follow his Friend on the donkey?
Did he rise from his falls and brave life anew?

A fanfare to finish? No, I sense he’d not like that,
this Founder we ponder, when all’s said and done,
his life showed him responsive to Jesus’ own probing:
Do you love me – I mean, really?
Amen, for God’s glory, I do!

Virginia M. Bourke rsj