Fr Brendan Lane remembers feeling ‘rotten’ on the day of his ordination. On a wintry Saturday in August 1973, he was one of four ordinands to walk up the long aisle of St Patrick’s Cathedral, ready to dedicate their lives to God and his people.
‘It’s a big step, isn’t? I guess I was overwhelmed by all that,’ he reflects. ‘But then when the ceremony began, it gave me a great peace. Somehow God gave that peace and strength.’
It's been 50 years since that fateful day, but he remembers it clearly. ‘At the start it was overwhelming. I felt rotten,’ he says with a chuckle. ‘And then I lay down on the floor and they sang the litany and suddenly I got a peace and a power there that came over me, and I was alright.’
Fr Brendan is currently parish priest of St Mary’s in Dandenong, and has served in a variety of ministries over the last 50 years, including a four-year stint in Zambia, and as an assistant priest at the parishes of Fitzroy, Bulleen, Glen Huntly and Cheltenham. Following his time overseas, he was the assistant priest at Sunshine before being appointed as its parish priest. He went on to serve as parish priest at two more parishes, St Kevin’s Hampton Park and St Francis of Assisi in Mill Park, before being appointed rector of Corpus Christi College Seminary in Carlton in 2009.
During his time as rector, he says he tried to help the students discern their true vocation—whether that was as a priest or something else.
‘In the seminary, it’s a time of discernment for people,’ he says. ‘I would tell [the students], “This is your home. All I want is for you to be yourself.” That’s all you’ve got to offer God: yourself. Hopefully it’s your redeemed self and you offer that to God, and if that’s what he wants, [then] you can be a priest. If he doesn’t want that, well, you won’t be able to live it here.
‘And it would show up soon enough. For instance, if they couldn’t get up for Mass … if they kept making excuses, then they couldn’t do it. I tried to keep it reasonably demanding so that if they had that [priestly vocation], then they could meet those demands.
‘And if they didn’t, well, that’s alright. I rejoiced to see them go off and have a family and all that if they found their true vocation. So that’s [my advice] … just to pray and to listen and to look at yourself and try and see what God’s saying to you. It’s a mysterious thing, but it is a real possibility.’
At the time of his own ordination, Fr Brendan was known as a ‘late vocation’, having already completed degrees in science and teaching before entering the seminary. He attended a late vocation seminary in Sydney, where he completed a four-year course. ‘It was a national seminary, and there were about 18 in our year level. But they all went to other parts of Australia, and we were the only four from Melbourne,’ he says. Of the four, two have since died and one left the priesthood. ‘I’m the only one standing now.’
It was during his time at this national seminary that he met a number of priests who were involved in overseas missions, and their experiences piqued his interest in gaining the same pastoral experience.
‘The seminary in Sydney was attached to the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart, and all these missionaries were coming down [to Sydney] to go to the doctor and things like that. They were coming mainly from New Guinea. And I got talking to them, and I thought I should spend some time in a third world country,’ he reflects.
The idea took flight when one day he met the bishop of Zambia at a luncheon hosted by the seminary and, during the conversation, he was invited to visit. The bishop had been looking for a chaplain and teacher for one of the local boarding schools, and because of Fr Brendan’s background, he fitted the bill. ‘Because I was qualified—I had a science degree and a diploma of education—I could get into his country. It just fitted in with what I had been dreaming about.’
After his ordination, Fr Brendan would go on to spend four years in Zambia, which he describes as his ‘second home’. ‘I’ve been back a few times. It’s changing now, but like a lot of these things, it was just the right time, right place. It was a great experience.’
While there have been many highlights over the years, Fr Brendan says he’s also had his share of challenges, but prayer has always provided a sense of reprieve.
‘One year, I had a terrible year,’ he reflects. ‘But I’d get up and pray, and I came through that year, a very unhappy year, and it taught me a lot, you know? With God’s help I can go through anything, and that’s what I chose as my motto: With God on our side who can be against us? Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ made visible in Christ Jesus our Lord (cf. Romans 8:31). So that sort of confidence gives you the confidence to take risks; to try things and have a go. Because you have that sense of God with you.’
Along with prayer, Fr Brendan says that it’s been the people around him who have sustained him in his many years of ministry—that and a constant sense of awe at the vocation he’s been given.
Look, I’m an ordinary bloke. I’m half good at everything. I’m not a specialist. I’m not an academic, and I just try to do my best at everything. As St Paul says, we’re just clay pots. We hold a treasure but … we cannot do too much ourselves.
‘When I’m weak, then I’m strong, you know? You’re conscious of that ... and that you’re dealing with something bigger than yourself. It’s overwhelming to me to even be in the persona Christi—in the place of Christ—at Mass. It’s just extraordinary,’ he shares.
‘And I’m only as good as the people around me. When there’s a wonderful group of people that you can work with, who do it for everyone else ... that’s the blessing!’
Celebrations for Fr Brendan’s golden jubilee started last week and have continued since, with parishioners, friends, former students and colleagues visiting him from all over the country to mark the occasion. Even one of his students from his time in Zambia, Fr Fabian Patiki, travelled to Australia to join Fr Brendan for the special Golden Jubilee Mass held at St Mary’s Dandenong on Sunday 27 August.
Fifty years into his priesthood, is there anything he has yet to tackle that he’d like to turn his mind to now? ‘Look, I’m a parish priest—that’s what I love!’ Fr Brendan says. ‘That’s my expertise, and I just want to keep doing that as long as I can.
‘Different things will happen in the future that I don’t know about, and with God’s help I can say yes to that. The main thing is to say yes. Say yes to whatever God brings along in your life, really. Don’t worry about whether you can do it or not. Just say yes.’
Melbourne Catholic29 February 2024
Melbourne Catholic28 February 2024