Father Rod Bray was already a deacon and beginning his fourth and final year of theology at St Patrick’s College, Manly, when I first met him early in 1961. He was making final preparations for his ordination to the priesthood on 15th July, while I was newly arrived to begin four years of theology.
Few of the deacons bothered themselves with those in “first theology.” However, Deacon Bray was very friendly to me and we recognized each other as kindred spirits in the Lord.
Mid-year, after Fr Bray had completed the usual round of first masses, and after the seminary holidays, I had the pleasure of his company again. In the second half of the year, the newly ordained priests completed their theological studies and from time to time helped in parishes with Saturday confessions and Sunday masses.
New Guinea to Mount Druitt
Then, instead of going into a parish in Sydney, he went on loan to a Franciscan diocese in New Guinea as a missionary. His first stint there left an indelible stamp on him. It enriched his experience as a pastor of souls and of the wider Church.
After six years Father Bray was back in Australia, 1968-1971, in various Sydney parishes. Permission was granted him for three more years in New Guinea. He wanted to spend his life there! But Cardinal Freeman needed him in Sydney and appointed him to “the mission in Merrylands.” This included four years in the huge Mount Druitt parish.
Mount Druitt had two of the biggest government primary schools in the world with absurd numbers (nearly 2,000 children in a single school). With little family spirit it was akin to Huxley’s Brave New World of production-line human beings.
Father lived in that parish’s ‘no. 3 presbytery’ in a low-lying swampy area. The abominable conditions were bad for the health. The other priest with him had to be moved urgently to another parish just to sur vive. At least Father Bray was hardened from New Guinea.
One day when I called in Father Bray was sick in bed, but one could not get across the room to the bed without trampling on his ‘filing system’: papers were spread over every inch of the floor like a light fall of snow on a lawn. What’s more, no one could cross the backyard to the old-fashioned ‘loo’ without running the gauntlet of the man-eating guard dogs. These dogs were hired out to industrial sites by Brother Stan in order to help finance the presbytery.
A Priest of Jesus Christ
What sort of priest was Fr Rod? Our learned professor of Church History had assured us that St Athanatius of Alexandria was a bishop whose whole life was “Word-incarnate.” Exactly the same applies to Fr Rod.
First and last Fr Rod was and remains the priest of our Lord Jesus Christ. No higher tribute can be paid him than that. He lived and exercised that priesthood faithfully for fifty years. It is the only thing he is interested in and he is very good at it.
His devotion to our Lord is particularly in the Blessed Sacrament. He resisted pressure to remove the altar rails at Merrylands to the point of breaking obedience. Father Rod has faithfully ministered the Body of Christ to the sick both in his parish and beyond. He has promoted visits to the Blessed Sacrament in the teeth of trendy resistance and, when possible, perpetual adoration or at least an all-night vigil once a month.
He has worked tirelessly and successfully for vocations to the priesthood and the convent. He has prepared the way of the Lord by means of God’s 3 Cs: Catechetics, Confession and no Contraception.
Cardinal Newman Catechist Centre
Fr Rod’s preaching has always been instructive. In zeal for restoring Catholic orthodoxy he invited into the parish the Cardinal Newman Catechist Centre, which I had started in 1974, with the explicit support of Cardinal Freeman who had declared it “an approved private enterprise in the Archdiocese of Sydney.” But when “there arose a pharaoh who knew not Joseph” it was asked to leave its Parramatta parish premises.
From then till now Fr Rod befriended it in Merrylands, through various ‘dark nights of the soul’ and against forces bitterly opposed to it. More recently he sponsored its redevelopment to operate his Merrylands Parish Faith Resource Centre under its new title of Cardinal Newman Faith Resources.
The latest is that Bishop Fisher has graciously granted the latter the status of “an approved private enterprise in the Diocese of Parramatta.”
A Confessor and Spiritual Guide
Fr Rod is particularly noted as a confessor and as a spiritual guide. Penitents came from far and wide just as they did to St John Vianney. They even knelt at his bed of sickness when he was in a couple of hospitals over more stressful months.
Much further back, and more than once, intimidatory pressure was applied to him to resign the parish. On a more recent occasion his oppressors waited impatiently to interview him while he went on hearing confessions long after the scheduled hour had passed. They did not offer to help, but sat outside his confessional!
His priestly reading and study has concentrated on his ministry as a spiritual advisor. He has been much in demand for retreats and confessions at his beloved Mount Schöenstatt at Mulgoa. His favourite crucifix is from there: it is combined with Our Lady, the spiritual mother of souls provided by our Lord. He shares her with us, just as he does everything else, and of her the Schöenstatts sing: “though mighty the world, yet mightier thou, victorious we shall be.”
Marriage and Mission
Fr Rod is renowned for upholding chaste marriages, so vital to the lay apostolate. He made himself an expert on the spirituality of procreation and education of godly offspring, and a champion of Pope Paul VI’s Humanae vitae. Indeed, without this ‘politically incorrect’ teaching there will be no Catholics for the future, nor priests or religious, and indeed no future for any country whose citizens practice abortion and contraception. One of his spiritual gems has been: “we must not just accept but rather welcome the sovereignty of God over our lives.”
In the Diocese of Parramatta Fr Rod has been Director of Pontifical Missions. In the parish of Merrylands he provided a capacious parish hall for visiting speakers from home and abroad, which had been well attended by hungry souls from all over greater Sydney.
In the latter 1980s he hosted on the parish property a number of the monthly Sunday gathering of the family catechetics group, who came together for mutual support and further instruction under the auspices of the Cardinal Newman Catechist Centre.
He has been the chairman of the Australian Confraternity of Catholic Clergy as a champion of the priesthood and to convert the muddled listeners of confused theologians whom the Devil got at and who have led many astray into doubt and even despair.
In recent years he has been very popular and in demand as a confessor at the Catholic homeschooling camps held at the Christian Convention Centre at Fitzroy Falls.
Like St Paul, Fr Rod has suffered from thorns in the flesh or, more specifically, in the teeth as well as hip and eyes. He has been bashed by thugs several times at the very doorsteps of his presbytery. His blood pressure of 240/180 should have got him into the Guinness Book of Records.
Fr Rod has worked long and faithfully at what St Gregory Nazianzen called the “art of arts, the care of souls.” Please pray for him and please take on board his attitude from the Psalmist: “Not to us, Lord, not to us, but to Thy Name give the glory.”