Fr Henry Paul was born in Germany in 1939, migrated to Australia, professed his First Vows in 1990 and was ordained a priest in 1997. He has lived in Plumpton, Newton and Wynnum. He has ministered as parish priest in both Newton and Plumpton, and is currently in Wynnum and chaplain to Nazareth House. The autobiography below was written in the late-2000's.
The year is 1939, springtime in a small Silesian town with a population of about 32,000. I was born there just before the outbreak of World War II into a partly Catholic and partly Lutheran family: My grandfather was Catholic and my grandmother Lutheran. It was commonplace in mixed marriages that their children would be baptised according to the faith of the parent of the same gender, so, my mother became Lutheran. My father was also Lutheran and both, my brother Peter and I were baptised Lutheran.
After the war - my father had already died of injuries received in WW I - we became refugees from Communist East Germany to West Germany, where we sought asylum in Munich, Bavaria, which had a predominantly Catholic population. It was there that, out of the blue, my mother decided that both Peter and I should be educated as Catholics.
My introduction to the Catholic faith included a ten week stay in a country hospital with a broken thighbone after a collision with a motorcycle. This hospital was tended by the Daughters of Charity (the flying nuns - they still wore the distinctive headgear). Once I could get up and, as a nine-year-old, thoroughly bored with the hospital routine, I used to go and watch the sisters praying their office and the Rosary in the Chapel.
After this I was sent to an orphanage in a Bavarian country town which also boasted of the Archdiocesan Minor Seminary. After my brother Peter had come there I thought is would be also good for me to study to become a priest.
I had done fairly well with my studies at school and, with some extra help of my teacher, I was able to pass the entrance exam from Grade four instead of the usual Grade five.
During my first year at the Seminary I ventured one day into the house-chapel, which was more like a parish church, and I offered my life to God, if He wanted it.
Studies were going reasonable, though I didn’t stand out with any kind of brilliance, when, suddenly at the age of twelve, I developed very painful ulcers in the stomach and the duodenum. It was then, I had not yet turned fourteen, that I turned my back on a priestly vocation, and decided to live a ‘normal’ life. After one false start, I started work as a trainee clerk.
When we, that is, my stepfather, my mother and brother and I, emigrated to Australia I was toying with the idea of staying behind and joining the White Fathers in Africa, but then, I wasn’t ‘man’ enough. This was in 1955 and I was sixteen.
After a seven week sea journey we arrived in Sydney on the ninth of December. Only Peter could speak a little English. As I couldn’t speak English I could only do unskilled work. Because we came almost penniless we had to work and pool our resources to establish some kind of home. Going to School was out of the question.
By 1964 the idea of a priestly life, preferably in a religious order had resurfaced. By this time my English was quite good and I approached the Franciscans in Lockleys, Adelaide - we had moved to Adelaide soon after our arrival in Australia - and was accepted as a Brother-candidate by the Australian Province of the Franciscans, because of my uncompleted education. In those days the facilities for mature students were not in place as they are today.
A collapse in health - the ulcers required surgery - at the very beginning of my postulancy brought about my dismissal from the Franciscans and my return to ‘the world’. After a mixed working life of a total of almost thirty-five years which included gardening, farming, bus- and truck-driving, real-estate and insurance selling, construction work as a carpenter, cleaning in a shopping-centre, care taking and repair work in High Schools, eventually, in answer to that inner nagging that I should become a priest, I applied to the Capuchin Franciscan Order, who accepted me, perhaps reluctantly, at the age of forty eight to commence the postulancy programme in the following year of 1988.
During my noviciate I was once again told that I was only acceptable as a Brother-candidate, much to my disquiet and disappointment. However, God has prepared the way for me and after much soul searching and quietly pursuing my religious vocation I was given permission to study for ministry, and, with the support of some of my superiors I was accepted to the ‘clerical’ state. On the 12th of December 1997 I was happily ordained priest in our Shrine of Saint Anthony in Hawthorn, Melbourne by Archbishop George Pell.
After my ordination, my first placement was, together with my former Postulant Master, at the “High Valley Hermitage” in the upper Hunter Valley, which was being established by the Australian Province of the Capuchins, giving retreats to individuals who came to stay for a few days or week or so. We were also available to give retreats upon the request of parishes and Religious Communities.
Presently I am Parish Priest in a very vibrant, multi cultural Parish in Plumpton in Western Sydney as well as Guardian (that is, local superior) of our Plumpton Community of Friars - a challenging position, but at the same time very rewarding.
My Odyssey began when I decided to opt out, without giving God the opportunity to carry me through.
It came to a happy conclusion when I allowed God to take over and open the way. Are you willing to allow God to show you the way to your true vocation?