The pen portrait of a priest
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The pen portrait of a priest

One of my brother priests demonstrated this with unmistakable clarity last year when he once again took up his journalist’s pen and produced a book about his years in the priesthood. He is Fr Len Thomas, who at the age of 21 abandoned his career as a writer for the Horsham Times and Warrnambool Standard, as well has his prospects with the Ballarat Courier, and announced to his parents, “I’ve decided to be a priest.”

Almost five decades later he decided to celebrate 70 years of life and 40 years of priesthood by telling his story, and giving it to those who have supported him over what has clearly been a fascinating journey. I was one who was a beneficiary of this project, and so, I’d like to share with you some of the riches gleaned from the 54 pages that constitute his completed text.

Entitled, Free to be Priest, it was published by Spectrum Publications, and if you were not a recipient of one of the many free copies that Fr Thomas made available, you might have the good fortune of purchasing one for yourself for the $14.95 RRP at one of the select bookshops sensible enough to have it on their shelves.

That well-worn comment, ‘its title says it all,’ holds true in the case of this book. This description is appropriate for two basic reasons:

Len’s first aim was to strongly emphasise how crucial it has been for him to have the freeing influence of an endless stream of individuals in the diverse fields in which he has been called to minister both in regular parish life and in a wide variety of special ministries, from ecumenism and Rotary to work in overseas missions, right down to the care of the mentally ill here today in Victoria.

His second desire was to express his heartfelt gratitude to all those freeing agents. The obvious inference to be drawn from this comprehensive record is that, without the presence of these people in his life, his achievements would not have been possible.

Well, each year since 1977 I have taken the opportunity of selecting from my avid reading throughout the previous twelve months a book that I designate ‘My Book of Christian Significance for the preceding year.’ As I run my eyes back over the 29 titles that I’ve chosen during that time (there were two in 1981 that I could not separate), I marvel at the richness of knowledge, inspiration and spirituality that is contained within the pages of those volumes.

I now wish to add to their ranks, Free to be Priest, my ‘Book of Christian Significance’ for 2005. In today’s jargon, the book is user-friendly, with an easy-to-read text, convenient summaries of Fr Thomas’ appointments, chaplaincies and other facets of his relentless efforts to minister Jesus’ love to virtually anyone he encountered in his priestly life.

As a brother priest, I take great delight in the fact that he did take up his pen to share with us the series of encounters over his forty years of service, encounters that have freed him to be just that – free.

He is certainly a priest of whom we can be genuinely proud, and we are fortunate that he has provided us with this pen portrait of his life, especially since he walked out of St Patrick’s Cathedral on 24 July, 1965, “a priest forever according to the Order of Melchizedek.” I for one am grateful that he has so thoughtfully done so, and I suggest that you will be, too, if you are fortunate enough to take in this story of his fascinating life.

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