Melbourne’s own ‘radio priest’ Fr Gerard Dowling OAM DE was farewelled on Thursday 7 December in a Requiem Mass held at St Patrick’s Cathedral—the same place he’d been ordained a priest 65 years ago and where he served as dean from 1999 until his retirement in 2003. More than a thousand gathered for the Requiem Mass, with Fr Gerard’s family, friends, fellow clergy, former parishioners and colleagues in attendance.
Archbishop Peter A Comensoli welcomed those who had gathered in person and online for Fr Gerard’s funeral, acknowledging the far-reaching impact of a ‘down-to-earth man of faith and compassion’.
‘And many of you [were] fellow workers in the vineyard of the Lord, especially in social services,’ said Archbishop Comensoli, who also acknowledged the presence of the many devoted listeners of Fr Gerard’s radio program, The Family Counsellor, which only recently celebrated its 50th anniversary of continuous broadcasting.
His radio co-host for the last 20 years, Philip Touzel, spoke during the eulogy and said Fr Gerard saw their show as ‘a way of reaching out, of communicating almost one-on-one with people’.
He said Fr Gerard saw the radio as a means of providing comfort, compassion and a friendly ear, and of spreading the Good News. ‘And to sneak in a mention of the Kangaroos every now and then,’ he said, referring to Fr Gerard's beloved North Melbourne Football Club.
‘Fr Gerard would say the most important thing you could do was listen and be there for whoever was on the other end of the line,’ Philip said.
‘It’s difficult to say how many people benefited from Fr Gerard on the air—from his intellect, his wisdom, his skill of counselling and his sense of humour. When you think about 50 years [on air] and 2,600 shows, the answer must be in the tens of thousands. Fr Gerard relished every moment on air. It was part of his life’s work.’
The radio priest was also remembered by his nieces, Leonie and Jacinta, who both shared heartwarming anecdotes of the man they knew as ‘The Big G’, ‘Uncle G’ or simply ‘U.G.’
Jacinta described her uncle as ‘larger than life’ and ‘an empathetic man who never stopped caring deeply about others’.
‘His personal purpose in life was to make a positive contribution to others and to support them to find meaning and purpose in life.’
‘The Big G was a son, a brother, a brother-in-law and an uncle and a grand-uncle and his love of family was unwavering,’ shared Leonie.
‘And it wasn’t a one-size-fits-all approach either. He knew all of us as unique individuals … and he always engaged with us in great conversations about what was happening in our lives.
His love of family was unwavering.
‘He also actively brought us together as a family several times of the year for Masses to honour our parents and to celebrate birthdays and his own personal milestones,’ said Leonie, while recalling the many sacraments that her uncle had conferred upon members of the family—from baptisms to first holy communions, reconciliations and weddings—even the funerals of his siblings.
‘At the end of the day, he was just like the rest of us, experiencing with us the joys of everyday family life and the grief that comes with deeply loving your family. He was part of the tapestry of our family lives ... and we are the richer for it.’
Friend and fellow priest Fr Kevin Dillon AM delivered the homily and fondly remembered Fr Gerard's ability to treat each person with dignity and respect, ensuring each person felt special.
‘Many of us would have letters that we've kept from him, knowing that they were special and knowing that they said something to us that we didn't want to forget. And those handwritten letters, in that big flowing writing ...
‘It was about the fact that it wasn’t some email sent to hundreds of people. It was about you, as an individual person, that he would take the time to say to you what was in his heart.’
He would take the time to say to you what was in his heart.
The Requiem Mass was concelebrated by the auxiliary bishops of Melbourne, Bishop Martin Ashe, Bishop Terry Curtin and Bishop Anthony Ireland, as well as Bishop Gregory Bennet (Bishop of Sale) and Bishop Leslie Tomlinson (Bishop Emeritus of Sandhurst). Very Rev Joe Caddy AM (Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Melbourne) also concelebrated, along with Monsignor Stuart Hall (Dean of St Patrick’s Cathedral) and a number of active and retired clergy.
Fr Gerard was ordained in 1958 and served as assistant priest at Healesville before being appointed assistant priest at the parishes of Burwood (1959) and Altona (1961). In 1963, he completed studies in counselling and social work at the University of Melbourne, after which he joined the Catholic Social Service Bureau (later the Catholic Family Welfare Bureau and now CatholicCare) as a counsellor. Not long after he was ordained, Fr Gerard began writing for The Advocate, the Archdiocesan newspaper of the time. In addition to his roles as a radio host and counsellor, he continued writing for various Catholic media until his passing.
Throughout his life, Fr Gerard gave generously of his time, working in various parishes around Melbourne and doing chaplaincy work for organisations such as Stella Maris and St Vincent’s Hospital. In 1985, he was recognised for his social services work and awarded the Order of Australia Medal. From 1999 until his retirement in 2003, Fr Gerard served as Dean of St Patrick’s Cathedral, East Melbourne. As Dean Emeritus, Fr Gerard continued with his counselling work and writing while residing and providing pastoral assistance at Camberwell South Parish. He spent his final years at Justin Villa.
Vale, Fr Gerard.