Remembering Fr Peter Wood

Thursday 13 September 2018

Fr Peter Wood was a significant presence in the world of HIV/AIDS particularly in the early 90's, taking on the role of Director AIDS Ministry in the Archdiocese of Melbourne. Fr Peter was also part of CatholicCare’s Prison Chaplaincy Team, where he celebrated Mass with those who are imprisoned.

It saddens us to announce that Fr Peter passed away late last month. His is an incredible story about pastoral commitment to people on the margins taking on many and varied ministries both here in Australia and overseas.

But for many Peter will be especially remembered for his involvement in supporting people living with AIDS, at a time when this meant a death sentence for so many.

Some may be familiar with the memoir of Tim Conigrave, ‘Holding the Man’ published in the mid 1990's, and much later formed the basis for the screen play of the film, with the same title, in 2015. It is a powerful story of life, love, sexuality, loss and Catholic identity.

Peter was mentioned in this memoir by Tim Conigrave, ‘Holding the Man’, officiating at the funeral of Tim’s partner, John Caleo.

‘Among all vocations, late or early, there are some who have an easy road to ordination and there are some for whom the road is bumpy, I was one of the latter,’ Fr Peter Wood MSC wrote in an article for the Tasmanian Catholic, a year after beginning his ministry in the Moonah-Lutana Parish.

Born in Melbourne in 1941, Fr Peter was the eldest of four boys and attended various Catholic schools before graduating from the University of Melbourne in 1965 with a degree in architecture. He would later use his skills to design the community house of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart (MSC) at the Pacific Regional Seminary in Suva, Fiji.

After working as an architect in London for six years, he decided to spend a year volunteering at a Catholic school in Papua New Guinea which was administered by the MSC priests and brothers, along with the Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Sisters.

The experience had a profound effect on him, and Fr Peter decided to stay for a second year and then applied to enter the seminary.

‘I was influenced by the external factor of meeting priests who combined the qualities of being both strong and gentle with leading challenging and adventurous lives. I found them admirable men. The internal factor was a desire to integrate my life so that what I believed was in harmony with what I said, did and felt, hoping that priesthood might provide that for me. I joined the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart because that was the path laid out for me,’ Fr Peter wrote.

Halfway through his novitiate, the Novice Master decided he was not yet ready, but said that the door was open to return at a later time if he wished.

After returning to London and then working in Zambia, Fr Peter returned to the seminary.

He made his first vows in 1978 and was ordained in his home parish church of St Bede's, Balwyn North in 1981.

Fr Peter served in a variety of ministries including the minor seminary in Ulapia, Papua New Guinea, the major seminary in Fiji, as mentioned AIDS ministry in both Melbourne and the Northern Territory, at Monivae College in Hamilton, Victoria and in a parish in Canberra before being appointed to Moonah-Lutana Parish.

In recent years he served as a parish supply priest in the Diocese of Ballarat.

‘It is obvious that I have had an unusual career and followed a path with many ups and downs, and twists and turns. From one angle it looks unsettled and a bit of a mess, from another angle it has been interesting and challenging. But I am truly glad that it has been the way it has been and I am grateful for the way God has worked in me,’ Fr Peter wrote.

‘Fr Peter was also a valued presence in our CatholicCare Prison Chaplaincy Team. Peter attended the HM Prison in Ararat, Victoria driving across from Hamilton. For many years he visited the residents there and celebrated the Mass for them. His gentle presence was much appreciate by the men, especially when the local Parish Priest was on leave. Fr Peter was the reliable presence with the men there in HM Prison which later, after a large expansion, became known as it is today - the Hopkins Correctional Centre,’ says Sr Mary O’Shannassy OAM, JP, Director of Catholic Prison Ministry Victoria.

Fr Peter died peacefully at St John of God Hospital, Geelong, Victoria on August 29 with his family present.

A Mass of Thanksgiving was held for Fr Peter at St Bede’s Church in Balwyn North on 6 September.

May he rest in peace.

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