Father Peter Dillon is the new St Mary's Parish Priest.
Father Peter Dillon is the new St Mary's Parish Priest. Sarah Harvey

Jovial Dean juggles few changes at St Mary’s

MAN OF THE PEOPLE: A happy and relaxed Father Peter Dillon in front of St Mary’s Catholic Church in Ipswich.
MAN OF THE PEOPLE: A happy and relaxed Father Peter Dillon in front of St Mary’s Catholic Church in Ipswich. Sarah Harvey

BORN in Stanthorpe, the son of a grazier/SP bookie, Peter Dillon had a holiday job in a pub and reckons he's a true Irish Catholic.

Now he's the Dean of the South Coast Deanery and that comes with the title of Very Reverend.

But Father Peter Dillon, who used to have a talk-back program on radio 4BC on Sunday nights, isn't the type to stand on ceremony.

The Nudgee College Old Boy who was ordained a priest in 1979 is a relaxed and jovial man who loves to talk and laughs easily.

He has worked in several parish appointments before taking over from Father Peter Casey at St Mary's Catholic Church in Ipswich.

"I'm doing more than replacing Peter," said Fr Dillon, whose previous appointment was parish priest of Southport.

"The places that make up the deanery that I oversee are Boonah, Goodna, Springfield, the ones here and Gatton."

The parishes involved in his appointment here are Rosewood, Leichhardt, North Ipswich and Ipswich.

The challenge he has is to juggle a change in the make-up of clergy and the wants and needs of parishioners.

The other priests working with him are fathers Neville Yun, Joseph Nguyen and John Hong.

"What would have happened in days gone by is they would have put a parish priest in each of those parishes and they would have doubled up with parish administrators and secretaries and all those things, whereas the thought now is to centralise a bit more and allow the priests to do something more of a sacramental nature like they were ordained to do. That's the simple theory of it all," Fr Dillon said.

"The practice is, a reducing number of Australian-born priests and an increasing number of priests from overseas so we're trying to find ways of orientating them to Australian parish life.

"This isn't the only parish like this; there are four or five like this in the archdiocese."

He's keen to make sure people know that he hasn't been brought here to slash and burn.

"I'm not here to close things down; there may be some tweaking but we're not shutting anything down," he said.

He agreed that, compared to 30 or 40 years ago, numbers at masses had dwindled but pointed out most of the Catholic schools had waiting lists.

"So people are wanting to link with Catholicism but they're probably not doing it in what we would call the traditional ways," he said.

"Also huge numbers are prepared to come at Christmas and Easter and other significant times because they want to re-connect but they are making other choices about their spiritual life as well.

"So I suppose what I would see as an important goal is to make sure the quality of people's spirituality is something that is informed and really quite able to articulate their innermost feelings rather than going through the motions of, 'We'll do that because that's what everyone else does'.

"We have a huge number of baptisms and maybe two funerals a week; those people aren't here on a Sunday, the majority of them, but they're still connecting up with the church in their way or their families are."

Fr Dillon also backs the idea of lay people being involved in their church when there's no clergy to conduct ceremonies.

"Absolutely it's fine," he said.

"If a lay person is able to lead a liturgy service or a prayer service or a communion service, we have to work out how we can do that without losing contact with the clergy."