Rest in Peace Peter Toohey
Peter Toohey’s sudden passing on 9 July was a shock to us all – his calendar was still full with commitments to the many individuals and groups to whom he gave so generously of his time.
His Requiem Mass on 2 August at St Joseph’s Priory in Perth was a wonderful celebration of a life well lived. Known for his humility, he would have been amazed at the number of people who came to farewell him. As a music lover he would have rejoiced in the selection of music, from the entry hymn ‘Here I am, Lord’ to Handel’s Messiah as his coffin was led out: it was impossible to remain dry-eyed.
In his quiet way Peter was an eco and social justice warrior: his coffin was biodegradable, of course – waste not want not, and he lived the simplest of lives. He was drawn to people who are marginalised in society and spent much of his life with prisoners, the indigenous community, people with intellectual and mental health problems, the homeless and refugees. He was also drawn to those, like himself, searching for a genuine response to the Gospel demands for peace and justice.
Born in Sydney, the fourth of six children, Peter entered the Columban Seminary and was ordained in 1963. He spent five years in Korea before returning to Sydney to work with people who were marginalised. His interest in people with intellectual disabilities began when he pastored a group home in Ashfield and this led him to L’Arche. Following a visit to L’Arche communities in Canada, he was inspired to help establish a Community in Burwood, Sydney which thrives today. He remained committed to L’Arche and was a faithful member of the Perth community for 10 years, where his gentle presence and sense of fun will be greatly missed.
From 1986-9 Peter worked in the Columban mission in Chile and became fluent in Spanish. On his return to Australia and following a stint at the Aboriginal Spiritual Centre in the Kimberley region of WA he became chaplain for Aboriginal Ministry, first in Kalgoorlie and later in Perth. From the end of the nineties until he retired in 2014 he was chaplain to three prisons. Retirement didn’t slow him down and, apart from being pastor to the St Thomas More College Chapel, he continued to spend his life in the service of others.
The Prayer of St Francis, read at his funeral, says it all about the way Peter lived his life:
Make me a channel of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me bring your love.
Where there is injury, your pardon, Lord, and where there’s doubt, true faith in you.
Make me a channel of your peace. Where there’s despair in life, let me bring hope.
Where there is darkness, only light, and where there’s sadness, every joy.
Oh Master, grant that I may never seek so much to be consoled, as to console.
To be understood, as to understand. To be loved, as to love with all my soul.
Make me a channel of your peace. It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
In giving of ourselves that we receive, and in dying that we’re born to eternal life.