During the last week, the funeral of a Roman Catholic priest, Father Peter Maher, took place. I have known Peter for five decades, and was very sorry to learn that he was unwell earlier this year. I met him when he was training as a priest; in those early years, Peter and I were in a Christian musical together for a while (organised by the Anglican Youth Dept—very ecumenical!!).
I attended Peter’s ordination at St Mary’s Cathedral in the mid 1970s—and in an early act of quiet defiance of the established doctrines of his Church, he gave me, a Proddy, communion!. Peter then attended my ordination in 1980–and I gave him communion (with no angst in terms of Uniting Church polity). Peter and his brother Chris visited us while I was studying in the USA. We caught up from time to time over meals—Peter was a superb cook and delighted in offering hospitality through good food and even better conversation!
Years later, Peter spent a year as my professional supervisor when my previous supervisor took a sabbatical year. His gentle approach and incisive commentary was invaluable, especially as that was a time of heightened stress and intense emotional pressure because of an ugly and unhappy situation in my church environment at the time.
I heard Peter’s stories about his run-ins with George Pell, always told with a lightness of tone despite the cost that this brought to his own ministry. I was chatting to him a couple of months ago about an LGBTIQA+ initiative here in Canberra. There are lots of rich memories, even though we weren’t in regular communication over the last few decades.
Peter was a strong advocate, throughout his ministry, for “the least and the lost”, and especially, in recent decades, for members of the LGBTIQA+ community. His weekly Mass for rainbow people, held at St Joseph’s Church in Newtown, attracted people and was the basis for the formation of a wonderfully extensive community of people of faith who identify with sexual or gender diversity. Peter lived a lifetime of work devoted, in various ways, to the gender agenda—affirming, supporting, counselling, encouraging, and advocating for, the many people of faith (and of no faith) within the broad LGBTIQA+ community.
The former Executive Director of Uniting in the NSW.ACT Synod of the Uniting Church, Peter Worland, described Peter as “A mighty man. Small physically but massive heart … for others”. My Uniting Church colleague Rod Pattenden captured the very essence of Peter’s modus operandi: “impishly uncomplicated in attitude and lightly subversive”. The Roman Catholic media commentator, Noel Debien, referred to Peter’s “generous and inclusive ministry [which] he carried out at great cost to himself. He suffered significantly because of his compassion for others, but that was far, far outweighed by the blessing of his ministry. He made a huge pastoral difference” in the ArchDiocese of Sydney.
Noel recalls that “few (very few) priests I have ever known have had so much integrity, humour, compassion and determination to live the Gospel every day.” He continues, “I find it odd that in Sydney, we have gay bishops, archbishops with gay and lesbian siblings, clergy who are gay (and celibate) as well as huge numbers of Catholics with LGBTQIA kids, uncles, aunts and friends—and at a funeral like this, the church is not adequately able to fully recognise the real nature of LGBTQI ministry in our city.”
Another friend of Peter noted “This constant presence. This smile. Peter taught us about patience. About relationship. About being open to the most unlikely of allies. Planting seeds. And slowly waiting. And now we must wait to meet him again.” I saw a comment that described “the delight and mischief in his eyes”—how true! Another person noted, quite poignantly, “Peter was always encouraging and welcoming to me, even though I felt pretty unworthy.” That, there, is the Gospel, lived in all aspects of life.
Yet another wrote, “Peter always did the best he could and made the best of things. If something didn’t go as hoped for he’d say “that’s okay we can…”. “Well I’m glad because…”. A shrug, a twinkle of his nose and a “whatever”. He didn’t let what anyone else thought stop him from doing the right thing. He celebrated the smallest of wins and smallest of changes. An excited ‘Yes!’ fistpumped in the air. Always enthusiasm and heartfelt sincerity and seriousness in the one package.”
Others noted his “steadfast commitment to solidarity and equality”, his “warmth, kindness and affection … generosity, tenacity, laughter and good humour”. One wrote “Thank you for being a prophet. And teaching others to be too. Thank you for making mischief. Making change. With a twinkle of delight and hope in your eyes. Thank you for being a protector for people you will never meet. Doing justice.” Another, “Thank you for the healing. For the deep hearing. For the liturgy. For nourishing weary souls.” More Gospel qualities, so clearly evident!
These are wonderful testimonies to a man whose life was given in devoted service to the God who offers the grace of inclusivity, a celebration of God’s abiding love.
The songs and readings that Peter chose for his funeral are at
A fine tribute to Peter is at https://www.misacor.org.au/item/28929-rip-peter-maher-vigorous-priest-sydney-longtime-editor-of-the-swag