A Tribute to Father J

The following tribute to Father Julian Williamson O.M.I. was written by John Oxley during his Matric Year at Grosvenor Boys High, where he was Head Boy. He also served as an altar server.

 The death of a Priest often seems to kill off a large part of a parish, or at least part of it’s faith. With a new Priest comes many new parishioners. Like nature, like life itself. We seem to be able to grow back and repair ourselves, but things are never really the same.

Father J was a man of God like no other. More than a Priest, he was a friend – trustworthy, ever-willing to help, and blessed with the true spirit of the Lord. It was this spirit that gave him the strength that his body could not provide. His weak ankles constantly supported by corrective shoes limited his movement, but not his soul. He persisted with a 500 metre swim every morning shortly after sunrise. It was after this one would see him looking eccentric and slightly like a drowned rat: his hair matted and dishevelled; the greying beard with it’s set of smiling teeth white as the bony legs protruding from below the hidden shorts. Even then there was a genuine holiness about him, a glow and a sparkle in his eyes.

It was the church that always displayed the true depth of his faith. It’s strength overcoming his practical weaknesses. He would stand arms outstretched, palms heavenward, and become one with both the Lord and the congregation as he spoke. Never a brilliant orator, it was his simple presence that brought the Lord to the people. His small frail figure seemed to grow in stature as he stood before the church and greeted arriving parishioners; as if the actual building were his disciples standing tall and strong behind him, for him. At the altar one would recognise the pain in his legs – suffering from another week of nightly – some would say idiosyncratic – walks to surprise parishioners with his pleasant company. Standing still seemed more difficult than walking, yet his face registered no anguish – even when he paused during his sermon to jet a comfortable smile over to a mother pleading fruitlessly with her noisy toddler. Father J loved the kids, and everyone loved Father J.

The altar was his throne: each time I shared it with him I felt the love of God radiating from him. He never forced it out – never forced anything. Yet he seemed to control the world from the altar; even during the winter the eastern sky remained light for just that moment longer, twinkling; the view over the ocean only grew in beauty, and the altar candles – already seemed burned out, but still lasting through the mass just for him. This beautiful figure was not a man of great ceremony, but of simple love of the Lord and of His love. And it is the simple movements of each mass that linger in my mind, the warmth of his handshake; the whispered Thank You” to the altar boys; the ministers huddled in a semi-circle around the altar; and above all the twitching of his baby fingers during the Eucharistic Prayer.

Father J told no one that he had only months to live. His illness bred faith, his death change.

A new Priest, I look at him through the ceremonial incensed smoke billowing from the golden thurible and see him, younger, a Priest that almost everybody loves. But the sky is darker. The ocean is rough. The candles burn faster and die.

Faith is there, so are the people, so is the Lord, so is the Priest. But one thing is missing he is just not Father J.