Obituary, Herald-Sun, Melbourne
Fr Christopher Michael Barnett (20-06-1931 – 01-01-2004)
Fr Chris Barnett arrived in Melbourne by boat on a blisteringly hot summer’s day a week before Christmas in 1955. He had left Ireland to go on mission and chose Melbourne because of some passing comment made by his father. He was a big man, a good pastor, and a genial friend.
How did he feel, as he stood on the deck almost fifty years ago and looked at the landscape so different from the green fields of home? He had left Ireland but Ireland never left him. He felt for his native country and returned frequently to see his family and to fish in the waters off Goleen, a small village near Cork where was born in 1931.
Fr Barnett’s first appointment was to South Melbourne. How did he cope, fresh faced and innocent, with the colourful characters of that time? He later ministered in Armadale and East Melbourne and experienced the immense period of change in the Catholic Church – one of the greatest in its long history – following on the Second Vatican Council. In all this change he did not lose his faith because he felt “carried on eagle’s wings”, as he put it. He led a life of prayer, and even as he sat breathless and exhausted on the bed at Bethlehem Hospital he prayed from the Divine Office, which was placed and remains on his coffin in the vault of the Priests’ Chapel at Melbourne General Cemetery.
Fr Chris was much respected in the Archdiocese for his balanced view and steady character. He was on many important committees but never bragged or boasted about this. Nor did he ever speak ill of people or recount their faults, no matter how much he disagreed with their opinions.
Chris later ministered in Ivanhoe then in Diamond Creek where he lived cramped in a small annex to the old pioneer’s church. After that, it was Burwood and lastly St Mary’s, East St Kilda where he welcomed all the flotsam and jetsam of that area with practical courtesy and gifts of food. He spoke so well at the funeral of Vincent whom, unwashed and unkempt, he allowed to serve each week at Mass. In this way he honoured Vincent who in return gave him the opportunity to show the extent of Christian hospitality. Chris’s coffin was placed on the same spot as Vincent’s.
The outstanding feature of his character, which everyone notes, was hospitality. He gave dinners for large groups and small. In Burwood, over two years, he hosted the whole Parish to dinners given every fortnight. He delicately extended the hand of friendship to all and felt the hurt when it was refused.
He had the Irish gift of the gab and over the years gathered a store of hilarious anecdotes from which he could draw to illustrate any point he wished to make.
Fr Barnett became to tired to continue full time but still supplied. His diary was full. Even in his last days he spoke of future activity. He died with his boot on, a true pastor to the end.
At the funeral on Tuesday 6th June – there had been a vigil Mass the previous evening – the bishops of the Archdiocese, a large body of priests, his many friends and a large crowd of parishioners with members of his family come from Ireland filled the church of St Mary’s that he had restored, to give thanks to God for him and to speed him on his way. He came from Ireland to “the ends of the earth” and now he is on his last, his greatest journey.
It is not possible to capture a life even with many words, but perhaps three syllables will suffice. In the words of Nancy, his housekeeper at Burwood, he was “a great guy”. Or to put it more grandly but no less truly, his legacy was “universal hospitality”.