‘People’s priest’ fondly remembered

June 22, 2017

Fr Frank Jones was a priest for more than 50 years.

Friends, family and the Catholic community have remembered Father Frank Vincent Jones as a ‘‘knockabout bloke’’ and the ‘‘people’s priest’’ following his recent death.

Fr Jones, 79, died on June 10 at Acacia House at Shepparton Villages, following health complications.

He was born in 1938, the eighth of 10 children — five girls and five boys — to Rutherglen farmers Jack and Madge.

His father gave him the choice while home on school holidays after finishing Year 8 — stay and work on the farm or return to school.

It was then he decided he wanted to become a priest.

‘‘I loved serving on the altar and at Assumption we had to go to Mass every morning at 7am,’’ Fr Jones said in an interview in 2012.

‘‘I just loved going to Mass.’’

Fr Jones was ordained on June 29, 1962 at St Patrick’s Catholic Church in Wangaratta, where his parents married.

He served at churches in Shepparton, Myrtleford, Corryong, Cohuna, Cobram, Wangaratta and Numurkah.

An important part of his life — sport — was the common bond of all parishes he served at, including a stint as a jockey, playing cricket for St Brendan’s in Shepparton and playing reserves football.

Fr Jones’ nephew Tony Jones remembered him as a genuine and sincere man who was always there for people.

‘‘He loved a smoke, a drink, betting on horses and his family,’’ he said.

‘‘He’s the uncle who married us all, baptised our kids and, thank God, rarely buried members of his own family.’’

Father Joe Taylor recalled a story of Fr Jones which involved him becoming a dairy farmer — for a day — to help out a battling family.

‘‘A friend at Mooroopna Hospital had a husband who was sick with meningitis and a baby not well either,’’ he said.

‘‘That day Frank ventured out to their dairy farm and spent hours milking the cows and cleaning their house, much to the delight of the woman when she returned home to see him in her husband’s milking trousers.’’

Long-time friend Celie Hicks said she ‘‘thought Fr Jones was God’’ during the first week after her grandson’s birth.

‘‘My grandson Ben was born in Yarrawonga and overheated, so was transferred to Wangaratta Hospital, where Frank was working at the time,’’ she said.

‘‘Frank met him on the steps of the hospital, baptising him then and there, and stayed until all hours of the morning to welcome us after our journey from Shepparton at 2am.

‘‘That night he took us in at the presbytery and we stayed with him. He was the people’s priest.’’

Fr Jones retired from the priesthood in 2012, moving to live in Nagambie, but fellow priests still asked him to help at funerals and other services, ensuring he was not properly retired.

‘‘In Nagambie he would still run barbecues, be at social events and do other civic duties,’’ Fr Taylor said. ‘‘That was just the person he was.’’

Fr Jones’ health declined during the past three years and he was moved to Acacia House at Shepparton Villages just three months ago.

‘‘On the day of his passing Monsignor Peter Jeffrey was going to go for a walk but said to me he heard an inner voice telling him to visit Fr Jones,’’ Fr Taylor said.

‘‘So he did, having dinner with him, and not long after Monsignor Jeffrey left, Frank passed away. It was their last supper.’’

Father Peter Taylor, parish priest of St Joseph’s in Benalla, said Fr Jones had great presence among the diocese and a great awareness of his priesthood.

‘‘He had close relationships with his local churches and the communities which he was a part of,’’ he said.

‘‘He had an earthiness to his life, how he ministered to people and a great love for the sacramental life of the church, especially through the celebration of the Eucharist.’’

Fr Jones was remembered at a vigil Mass at St John’s Church, Numurkah at St Brendan’s Church in Shepparton before he was buried at the Numurkah Cemetery.

—Hayden Thompson.

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