Numurkah’s Michael Grace grew up in a devout Catholic household, so it was no surprise to his family when he decided to join the priesthood.
It has been 50 years since Fr Grace was ordained and he still loves the job and plans to keep going into his 80s.
Fr Grace recently attended several celebrations at different parishes across the region to mark his 50-year milestone.
‘‘I’ll come down out of the cloud in about a week’s time,’’ he said.
For Fr Grace, being a priest has been a wonderful adventure and one he chose because of an incident in his childhood when he was growing up at Browns Plains, between Rutherglen and Wodonga.
He was just nine when he was involved in an accident which left him unconscious for five days.
‘‘When I recovered I thought, ‘the Lord has spared me’ and obviously that stayed with me,’’ he said.
These days, Fr Grace likes to joke people have difficulty pinpointing his profession and, at times, he has been mistaken for being a doctor, teacher, sheep farmer, funeral director and even a grave digger.
Sheep farmer and funeral director are fairly good guesses as Fr Grace spent the first part of his life on a farm and plays a key role in many people’s funerals.
‘‘In the ’50s and ’60s there were plenty of vocations to the religious life,’’ he said.
‘‘While I enjoyed growing up on the farm, I thought I’d have a different flock to look after.’’
While studying to be a priest, Fr Grace lived in Adelaide, where he spent seven years learning about philosophy and theology.
Study helped broaden his understanding of the world around him.
‘‘Our understanding of the meaning of life is based not only on reason but the gift of faith,’’ he said.
‘‘They don’t clash, they complement each other.’’
Just as he was being ordained his mother died, leaving him devastated but determined to continue on as a servant to God and the community.
‘‘I would’ve liked to have had her there but some things you have to accept and have the strength to persevere,’’ he said.
During his time with the Catholic church, Fr Grace has worked in many places, including Papua New Guinea, where he was doing missionary work from 1975 to 1979 and again from 1985 to 1991.
‘‘It broadened my outlook on the meaning of priesthood,’’ he said.
‘‘I’ve enjoyed my work. There have been challenges.’’
Fr Grace spent 10 years at St Mel’s Catholic Parish in Shepparton and then moved to Moira Shire, where he now takes care of St John’s Catholic Church in Numurkah and St Mary’s Catholic Church in Nathalia.
‘‘It’s always difficult to leave parishes, but you move on,’’ he said.
‘‘Friendships are forever, hopefully.’’
Fr Grace said each time he moved to a different area he enjoyed the challenge of meeting new people and making new friends.
‘‘It’s a matter of listening and being available,’’ he said.
‘‘Your link with families is never-ending.’’