Blackheath parish priest gets OAM

Father Bob, OAM: 'I have a whole family of parishioners who are doing all the work.'

Father Bob, OAM: 'I have a whole family of parishioners who are doing all the work.'

Father Robert Sheridan - or Father Bob as he is known - did not follow the usual route to priesthood.

For 33 years he was married to Dawn, and worked in secular life, everything from photography to marketing and management, taxi driving, owning an ice cream truck and a running a gymnasium.

For 26 of those married years, Dawn had paranoid schizophrenia.

"I learnt a lot about pain and suffering and those who need help," he said.

After Dawn's unexpected death in 1997, he struggled.

"I was 65 when my wife died. I spent the next three years finding my way."

It was a chance conversation with the parish priest at Emu Plains that changed his life.

"He said something that got to me. He said the priesthood isn't a question of age, it's a matter of 'being' rather than 'doing'."

He began studying for the priesthood, in an "accelerated" format, finishing in four years what usually takes seven.

Father Bob was ordained at the age of 71. He was posted to Katoomba, where he spent three years, then to Blackheath a decade ago.

He has been awarded a medal in the Order of Australia for his services to the Catholic Church.

"I was staggered when I found out [about the OAM] and I was even more staggered when I found it was my own people, my own parishioners who nominated me."

His parish is the smallest numerically in the Parramatta diocese, but probably the largest geographically, stretching from the Megalong over to Mt Wilson and including Blackheath and Mt Victoria.

He puts in several hundred kilometres a week ministering to his people.

"At this time of year and in this financial climate there's a lot of people doing it pretty tough and we're able to help them," he said.

"I am at the giving end of the spectrum - I am happiest when I'm giving... There's a lot more satisfaction in giving than receiving, believe me, and that's my motivation."

Of his OAM he said: "This award thing, it certainly doesn't tell the whole truth because the whole truth is that I have a whole family of parishioners who are doing all the work.

"We have over 20 groups of people who contribute... There's a whole swag of them in this little place and they are the ones who deserve a medal, not me. They are a great bunch of people."

The parish's volunteers help with everything from fundraising to morning teas, managing the finances, maintaining and cleaning the church. The St Vincent de Paul outreach group provides food, shelter and clothing, and the care group helps particularly for those who are ill or otherwise housebound.

Father Bob has no thoughts of retirement, despite his age.

"I've spoken to the bishop about it - he said stay here as long as you like and I said I'll have another look at it when I turn 90 - so long as my health holds up, physically and mentally."