Fr David Catterall’s walk for cancer is also a walk with Christ

Fr David Catterall at the St Mary MacKillop convent in Arrowtown, New Zealand, during a time of respite with his family earlier this year. Photo: Supplied

When David Catterall was diagnosed with cancer weeks before his ordination in 2000, he never guessed how illness would shape his ministry. 

The much-loved founding priest of St Mary MacKillop parish at Oran Park in Sydney’s southwest has lived with cancer as an ineluctable part of his vocation. 

“Next year I celebrate my silver jubilee, yet my dear oncologist at the time when I was 27 and asking him about my prognosis said, ‘Well David, we really don’t know,’” Fr Catterall said. 

“I’d been diagnosed with breast cancer and that was really rare for young males at the time, but now I look back on that and think well, God had a plan. The Lord has put me in places I never expected to go.” 

Fr Catterall says that through him, God has reached people in oncology waiting room chairs as much as in church pews. 

Now, despite damage to his lungs due to metastatic prostate cancer, the 50-year-old has completed a 21 kilometre walk during Men’s Health Week (10-16 June) as part of the Prostate Cancer Foundation’s “Walk for Him” campaign. 

The priest, known for his infectious enthusiasm, is the top fundraiser by far for the national campaign, raising nearly $20,000 in donations for research into the disease which has claimed more than 18,000 Australian lives in the past five years. 

prostate cancer awareness - The Catholic weekly
Fr David Catterall visiting the tomb of St Mary MacKillop in March to celebrate Mass in thanksgiving for her ongoing intercession and for the intentions of all who prayed for his successful treatment. Photo: Facebook

He had planned a final day’s walking pilgrimage on 16 June but now hopes to complete it in August around the parish’s feast day, and more than 100 parishioners have promised to join him. 

Fr Catterall has been open about his health struggles—first undergoing a radical mastectomy and months of therapy, in 2014 he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and in 2017 early prostate cancer. Last September he was told the cancer had spread to his lungs.  

Rounds of chemotherapy, radiotherapy, surgeries, various other therapies, medications and side effects have been woven into his priestly life. 

Some have questioned the wisdom of him speaking publicly about his health to parishioners, in the media and other forums. 

“I’ve often said in response to that, Jesus didn’t always have choices about where he’s going to have private moments and public moments,” Fr Catterall said. 

“Not to discredit the liturgy, which I dearly love, I have found that some of my greatest preaching over the last 25 years hasn’t taken place standing at the lectern but has been through my presence more than anything, in the situations where God has put me. 

“It’s been in that silent presence in oncology rooms dressed in my jeans and t-shirt, having chemo or radiotherapy or just sitting in the waiting room. 

“Now, have I wanted to be in those situations? No.  

“But some of the more beautiful moments in my ministry have been when I’ve had phone calls from people saying, ‘Oh Father, you don’t know me, but you sat next to my husband, or wife, during treatment and they were touched by what you said and I’m wondering now, could you do their funeral?’” 

prostate cancer awareness - The Catholic weekly
3. Fr David Catterall on his ordination day in 2000. Photo: Facebook

In 2014 Fr Catterall consulted with his doctors before accepting then-Bishop Peter Ingham’s request to establish the Oran Park parish in one of the fast-growing areas of the state. 

His is the busiest parish in the Diocese of Wollongong and still its newest, with its largest rate of Mass attendance (1,500 people each Sunday) and congregations brimming with young people and families. 

“People have really embraced the vision of the parish and have stepped up to our four touchstones of embrace, serve, nourish, respond,” Fr Catterall said. 

“We’re called to embrace others with radical hospitality, to serve with humility, nourish our own faith and the faith of others and respond to the needs of others. 

“I also appreciate their patience with me. When I have to take treatment or I’m having a day off or whatever I need, they always respond to that beautifully. It’s always, ‘No problem, that’s ok.’” 

St Mary MacKillop and Servant of God Eileen O’Connor are dear to the energetic pastor and his parishioners, who have been praying with others across the diocese and beyond for the women’s intercession for his healing. 

“It’s amazing to see the support Fr David’s been given and he really deserves it, because even when he’s not been well he always puts others first to help them grow in their faith,” said parishioner Dianne Wagg. 

“He just encourages everybody all the time. He is always joyful, his homilies are uplifting, he works very hard with great attention to detail and is very caring. He’s just a lovely man.” 

Fr Catterall said that his walk for cancer research has also been a walk with Christ. 

“We’ve made our own the words that are found on the website for the National Eucharistic Revival in the United States—’Jesus doesn’t want us to walk alone… The desire of his Sacred Heart is to be present in every situation of our lives, every moment of every day. Processions remind us that Jesus desires to be present in even the seemingly mundane moments of life, as well as the painful experiences we all have.’ 

“Parishioners ask me, what can we do Father? And I tell them, remain faithful to the practice of your faith, do all you can to support ministry in the parish, and pray for me as I pray for you.” 

The post Fr David Catterall’s walk for cancer is also a walk with Christ appeared first on The Catholic Weekly.

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