1955 in the playground of St Luke's school, Revesby, I'm part of a
large group of kids excitedly surrounding our visitor, a quietly
jolly, gentle, dark-haired, athletic man wearing glasses and
dressed in a black suit. Word passes quickly and children
run from all over the school towards Father Paddy Landers like he
was a magnet. If you could look down on the ground from
on-high that day you'd surely see little dots rushing at and
rapidly encircling their source of attraction.
That day, Father Landers had
been invited over from the adjoining Parish, St Christopher's,
Panania, by his All Hallows Dublin seminarian mate, Father Patrick
Carr (Parish Priest who was planner, architect, builder and
wheeler-dealer of the district and driver of the ever-expanding
Catholic school and church building projects in Revesby, Revesby
Heights, Milperra and Padstow) who wanted help to prepare us
little villains for First Holy Communion.
"Bless me Father, for
I have sinned. This is my first Confession and these are my
sins...." turns over and over in my nervous mind when
the Confessional wooden door opens and a boy walks out with a
mimicry sombre look on his face. Now it's my turn. The
tiny room is chastely dim. Kneeling. Alone with myself
(gulp). Mumbling on the other side of the little sliding
panel but nothing heard clearly; a good thing because it's a sin
to over-hear anyone else's Confession. And besides, it
complicates your own to admit you overheard another's.
Shut it out Shut it out!
Gong to Confession with
Father Landers wasn't the stern affair it was with other priests.
Confession hearing was unpretentious and Penance was a few easy
compared to lashings of Rosary decades dished out by some other
priests with tough confessional reputations we heard about and
feared. Not for him the glib dispensation - 'Done it
plenty of times myself. Be off, you are forgiven'. Nor
the other extreme: insistence on scrupulous conscience examination
and delving into the nitty-gritty of every fault, failing and
sinful occasion. (When you wished these Father-Confessors
were deaf). Instead, with Father Landers, there was
gentleness, understanding, generosity and forgiveness extended to
us all. And like a virtuoso fiddle-player, he somehow plumbed to
the depths of our being and beyond, seemingly touching our souls.
Proud Irishman, Father Paddy
was a gifted sportsman who played Gaelic football for Annascaul,
Kerry. In Australia, he played weekly tennis well into his
His twilight years and
true to form, Father Landers could be found, in hi tweed
golf cap, walking and waiting in St Christopher's school yard
early every morning keeping an eye on strays who arrived before
any of the teachers. He had not lost his genuine love for
kids with his humour, gentle encouragement, shared wisdom and,
sometimes, a tennis ball from his collection, or a sweet.
Father Lander's humility and gentility broke through barriers most
shy and awkward kids
A French savant at Holland House spoke
scathingly of the Supreme Being. After listening for
some time in silence, Sydney suddenly addressed him: "Very
good soup, this." The Frenchman agreed: "Qui,
monsieur, c'est excellent." Said Sydney; "Pray, sir,
do you believe in a cook?"
- The Smith of Smiths, by Hesketh Pearson
Sydney is Sydney Smith, one of the founders of The Edinburgh
Review and an Anglican Clergyman.
have while his natural sporting prowess matched the smart boys who
through they were pretty good with a bat or ball. "Don't the
noisy children at Mass put you off?" I once heard him asked.
Father Landers' reply: "no - why should they? It's their way of
On March 30, 2000 Father
Patrick Landers was carried to his final rest from his beloved St
Christopher's church. Earlier that day, a man in his fifties
called at the St Christopher's School office with a large bag of
tennis balls. His way of thanking Father Landers, he said,
who gave him a tennis ball or two and some wise words nearly half
a century before. That day, 430 school kids each got a
brand-new tennis ball.
For thousands of years
before that famous Roman, St Patrick, rocked onto Irish turf in
the fifth century, the Celts had a deep spiritual tradition.
Celts found divinity all about them - in the hills, dells, rivers;
in the seas, forests; in animals, air and even leaves. I
think Celt Father Patrick Landers found divinity in kids. He
honoured his Celtic roots and more importantly - far, far more
importantly - he lived Christ's words: Suffer the little
children to come unto me.
Like leaves drifting down
softly to nourish the earth, Father Landers gave us kids tender
words and support for our spirits. I remember. In the
Tony Murphy is a cartoonist, caricaturist and copy
writer who is presently putting together a children's animation
series to be totally produced in Australia for the world's kids.
He can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org