Reverend Gerard Patrick Dowling OAM DE passed away at Justin Villa, Balwyn, on 26 November 2023. He was aged 91 years.
Announcing his death, Vicar General Joe Caddy said, ‘Fr Dowling served the Church in a very positive and pastorally enriching manner, giving fine example and leadership to both his brother priests and the community for 65 years. The Archdiocese is most grateful for his untiring service to the Church of Melbourne. A gifted counsellor and “radio priest”, Fr Dowling shared in many activities of the Archdiocese.’
Gerard Patrick Dowling was born in Essendon to Jack and Cathy Dowling. He had an older brother and a twin sister, Mary, who was born the day before him and with whom he remained close. His family were active in the life of the Church, and he would later say that he felt fortunate to have grown up in such a ‘close, positive family’.
Though he grew up in Essendon, his father was raised in North Melbourne and would take the family ‘to the north’ to watch the football. Fr Gerard remained a passionate North Melbourne football supporter his whole life, eventually writing a couple of books about the history of the club.
Following his ordination at St Patrick’s Cathedral, East Melbourne, on 27 July 1958, Fr Gerard served temporarily as assistant priest at Healesville (1958) and then was appointed assistant priest at the parishes of Burwood (1959) and Altona (1961). Enrolling in the University of Melbourne, he completed studies in counselling and social work in 1963, joining the Catholic Social Service Bureau (later the Catholic Family Welfare Bureau and now CatholicCare) as a counsellor that same year. His longstanding residence during this time at Avondale Heights Parish earned him the esteem of many.
Not long after he was ordained, Fr Gerard was ‘discovered’ by the editor of The Advocate, the Archdiocesan newspaper of the time, after giving a homily at St Patrick’s Cathedral. Asked to contribute a regular piece to the paper, he began writing a monthly column called ‘Timely Tip’, which later became ‘Perspective’—a column he continued to write and publish in various Catholic media until he died.
In 1973, Fr Gerard began hosting an on-air radio counselling program, The Family Counsellor, which was broadcast every Sunday between 10pm and midnight on Radio 3UZ (now known as RSN 927). The program, which brought great comfort to many, celebrated its 50th anniversary of continuous broadcasting in September this year.
Through his pastoral work in parishes, his counselling work both at the Catholic Family Welfare Bureau and on radio, his columns and books, and his chaplaincy work for organisations such as Stella Maris and St Vincent’s Hospital, Fr Gerard gave generously and tirelessly of his time. In an interview he gave a few months before his death, he spoke of his counselling as being ‘a natural flow-out’ from his priestly calling. ‘For the many years that I’ve been a counsellor, it’s been extremely fulfilling work,’ he said.
In 1985, he was recognised for his social services work by being awarded the Order of Australia Medal.
In 1999, Fr Gerard was appointed Dean of St Patrick’s Cathedral, East Melbourne—an appointment that he held until his retirement in 2003. As Dean Emeritus, Father 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, having moved there in 2016.
The Pontifical Requiem Mass for the Repose of the Soul of Reverend Gerard Patrick Dowling OAM DE will be offered on Thursday 7 December 2023 at 10am at St Patrick’s Cathedral, East Melbourne. The Mass will be livestreamed by Tobin Brothers Funerals. View the webcast and online tributes here.
Fiona Basile23 August 2023
CatholicCare Victoria31 July 2023