Emerald parish celebrates devoted Fr Hanly
WHETHER he has held your child during a christening, held your hand during a funeral, or held his head high while celebrating the love of a newlywed couple, Fr Stephen Hanly has seen the community through good and trying times.
The local priest is celebrating 25 years in the ministry this year, and it is safe to say he has left his footprint in the hearts of Central Highlanders.
Of his 25 years, Fr Stephen has spent eight of those in Emerald, and the milestone did not go unnoticed in the Emerald community.
"From Brisbane, Rockhampton, Bundaberg, and beyond, they came for a special occasion, but they were made to feel so special," Fr Stephen said.
"They were welcomed into the community and we celebrated together and new friendships were made and everyone had a good time.
"The parish community got together on the Saturday night and we had a meal that was provided by the parish and then the Filipino community provided the breakfast after mass on Sunday.
"It was great to have Fr Bill there, as well as Fr Marcel from out west and Bishop Michael McArthy - the new bishop of our diocese of Rockhampton.
"And as he said, he wanted to come out and honour me, for the fact that I have celebrated 25 years in ministry, but also to honour priesthood as a very important vocation to continue to witness to, and promote."
After leaving school, Fr Stephen began his seven-year journey to study ministry, and after six months as a deacon in Yeppoon, Fr Stephen moved into Cathedral Parish in Rockhampton, then to Emerald for two years before heading back to Mackay for 10 years to care for his mother.
"When Mum went to heaven, I came back to Emerald and have been here ever since, and have been really enjoying the community," he said.
"One of the great things that I have taken on since I have come back to Emerald this time is police chaplaincy, and that has been very rewarding for me."
Fr Stephen, working alongside Fr Bill, has been ministering in Emerald, Springsure, Rolleston, Blackwater, Dingo, Duaringa, Bluff, Woorabinda and the Gemfields.
Fr Stephen said being a part of the Central Highlands community has shaped his career, and his life.
"It has just been marvellous being a part of a community spirit that is very strong; we have seen that time and time again, a community spirit where people look out for each other," he said.
"When we celebrate, we celebrate together; when we cry, we cry together. We look after each other in Emerald, and if a part of that looking after each other in Emerald is the God experience and I help in that, then I thank Emerald and I thank God for the privilege of being able to do that.
"Being a part of people's lives and sharing in the story of life, in those sad moments, those happy moments and those challenging moments, has been a high point."
Fr Stephen will be leaving Emerald today for six months, embarking on an overseas adventure to "re-energise" in Ireland.