Notre Dame celebrates Fr John Neill’s 80th birthday

Document Type

Media Release

Publication Date

Fall 21-5-2012

Publisher Name

The University of Notre Dame Australia

Publication Place



The University of Notre Dame Australia has congratulated one of its founders, Fr John Neill, on his 80th birthday and celebrated the special day with a Mass and barbecue on the Sydney Campus attended by students, staff and members of the public. Fr John was the University’s first employee and established the Notre Dame Planning Office in 1988, which brought to life the long-awaited dream of a Catholic university in Australia.

Mass was led by Fr John, whose homily reflected on the message of John 15, “Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”

“This is the heroic love of our Lord Saviour Jesus Christ and we rejoice in that and we try, according to our own limitations, with the opportunities we have, to mirror that love in giving our life to Christ, to a worthy cause, to a community, to all of those who come to us in need,” said Fr John.

“And if we can do that, Jesus tells us, then we are no longer servants, we are friends.”

Fr John went on to say genuine friendships are precious because they are so rare but God is always a true and loyal friend.

“A friend is someone in whose company I feel safe, whom I admire so much for their integrity, who is compassionate and who gradually comes to know me as I really am. Looking back on 80 years, there are few, it doesn’t mean my life has been lonely, it hasn’t, but it is such a unique relationship,” Fr John said.

“Should my friends fail me, there is one who knows me through and through and He will never fail me. And I can speak with Him, listen to Him. He is my friend. And I give thanks today for His friendship and that He’s let me share in His world.”

Fr John Neill, OP, joined the Dominican Order in 1955 and was ordained a priest in 1960. He has been chair of the South Australian Commission for Catholic Schools, a member of the Standing Committee of the Headmasters Conference of Australia and a member of the National Catholic Education Commission. Fr John was Headmaster of Blackfriars Priory School in Adelaide between 1972 and 1988 and was elected a fellow of the Australian College of Education in 1986.

A brief retirement following a health scare in 1988 saw him join a group of founding fathers working to establish a new Catholic university in Western Australia; Notre Dame.

Between 1990 and 2000, Fr John served as Prior and then Master of Students at St Dominic’s Priory in Melbourne. In 2001 he transferred to Sydney as a member of the spirituality team of the Sydney Catholic Education Office. He became Parish Priest of St Benedict’s in 2005. Fr John was a trustee of Notre Dame between 1996 and 2009. In 2006, the University awarded him the Honorary Doctorate of Laws. In 2012, he was awarded the papal honour, Croce Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice. Fr John currently works with the Notre Dame Chaplaincy team on the Sydney Campus.

As the Notre Dame community gathered to sing “Happy Birthday” to Fr John, Pro Vice Chancellor Academic, Professor Margot Kearns, said the University was grateful for the time, love and energy Fr John has invested in building and nurturing Notre Dame.

“Fr John spoke about friendship earlier and he made it clear that he does not use the word ‘friend’ lightly, but I truly believe that this University can call Fr John a friend,” Professor Kearns said.

“He is a wise man, he is a very learned man, a caring, compassionate man and he is a fabulous spiritual advisor. We’re very lucky to have Fr John caring for us. Everyone here joins me in wishing Fr John all the best on this special day and thanking him for the love he’s given over the years.”

Fr John said he was proud to be part of the Notre Dame community.

“I have been fortunate to work with a number of tremendously visionary and energetic people who have great ideals about the law of Christ in society and the rebirth of the Catholic Church’s involvement in the university world of Australia,” Fr John said.

Fr John reflected on his 17-year-old self, who dreamed of seeing a Catholic institution in the Australian tertiary landscape and gave thanks that, 63 years on, this dream had come to fruition with Notre Dame and the Australian Catholic University thriving.

“As you look back, you can suddenly see the finger of God in the messiness of life; you can’t see it until you’ve lived long enough to be able to see things in perspective. So be patient, wherever you are, it may all make some sense eventually!” Fr John said.

Fr John thanked the Parish of St Benedict’s and the Notre Dame community for sharing in the day with him.

“Thanks be to God for all of you, and all the others; the school communities, the people in Western Australia, my own religious community, the ACU staff, for their collective work in God’s glory and for the wellbeing of all people. Thank you for sharing in my life, it has been my honour to be able to, in some little way, share in yours.”

For further information please contact: Communications Officer, Elizabeth Fenech The University of Notre Dame Australia, Sydney Campus

T: 02 8204 4407

E: elizabeth.fenech@nd.edu.au

W: www.nd.edu.au/