Dr. John Parkes is an occupational and environmental physician and public health physician in private practice in Melbourne.
He is involved in the full range of occupational medicine, including occupational injury management and rehabilitation, pre-employment and periodic medical examinations, health
surveillance, fitness for duty assessments, secondary referrals, providing advice to industry, workplace assessments, risk assessments, investigations into cancer clusters, provision of medical-legal advice and providing other consultant advice.
He has been an adjunct professor at the Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of Queensland and was a military physician in the Royal Australian Navy for 19 years in a number of countries.
Dr. Parkes met his wife, Kaisu (who is Finnish by birth), when they were working together with the International Committee of the Red Cross on the Thai/Cambodian border.
Both of them have had a strong Anglo-Catholic disposition, and were received into the Catholic Church on September 7, 2012, as part of a ceremony receiving the first Ordinariate lay members in the city of Melbourne, by Msgr. Entwistle. They live in the inner suburb of Brunswick and have an adult son and daughter and a daughter-in-law. Their first grandchild is due in the octave of Christmas 2012.
How does it feel to become part of history, by becoming one of the first Anglicans to become a Catholic, through the Ordinariate established by Pope Benedict?
Dr. John Parkes: I feel very privileged to be part of this process initiated by the Holy Father. It is very humbling to think that he sees the importance of unity in diversity and that he has erected a structure where we can maintain the traditions that are precious to us that are consistent with the Catholic faith and to think that he considers that these traditions are a gift to be shared with the wider Church. We thus feel that we are coming into the Catholic Church not empty-handed, but with something to offer. These traditions include our musical heritage, our particular approach to liturgy, and other services we have, such as Evensong.
We have been overwhelmed by the warmth and generosity that Catholics have shown to us as we prepare to join the Church.
My wife and I were in Perth for the ordination of our Ordinary, Monsignor Harry Entwistle, and the announcement of the erection of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of the Southern Cross on June 15, 2012. It was a joyful, exciting time.
As a lay person, what were the reasons which drew you to the Catholic Church?
Parkes : A number of us felt that it was time to move on from the Anglican Church. In the beginning we were just happy that the Holy Father had sent a lifeboat for us. We didn’t care so much what color the lifeboat was or what it was like inside.
As time went on, however, and we went through the process of being taken through the Catechism of the Catholic Church, through the Evangelium course, we found that there was much more to the Catholic Church than we had imagined. We continued to meet after the 25-week course and have had visiting speakers from many different parts of the Catholic Church, including Catholic Women’s League, Opus Dei, Missionaries of God’s Love, Knights of the Holy Sepulcher, Societies of Mary, Missionary Society of St. Columban, National Civic Council, and St. Vincent de Paul Society, and presentations on Benedict XIV, the Blessed Virgin Mary, the New Evangelization, the Theology of the Body, bioethics, and so on.
We have come to realize that the Catholic Church has many treasures to share. Our faith has been deepened and our spirits lifted and we are learning so much. It is much more exciting than we had ever imagined in the beginning.
As it turns out, I am grateful for the seemingly long gestation from the announcement of Anglicanorum Coetibus in November 2009 until now, as it has allowed time for me to imbibe some of this amazing Catholic culture.
Did you regard as disquieting any current trends in the Anglican Church, that may have influenced your decision?
Parkes: The Oxford Movement in the 19th century ushered in Anglo-Catholicism in the Anglican Church. That regaining of Catholic faith in the Anglican Church was to have a profound influence on the Church. Many good things came out of that, including the influence of Blessed John Henry Newman, a convert to the Catholic Church from the Anglican Church who eventually became a cardinal. For us Anglo-Catholics we were relatively happy in this sort of “parallel Catholic universe.”
Parts of the Anglican Church, however, became increasingly liberal and there was less tolerance for our Anglo-Catholic position. In particular, there appears to be a real difference between the Churches regarding the theological significance of gender differences and the purpose of human sexuality. We felt less welcome in the Anglican Church. For us it is time to move on.
We bear no ill feeling to those staying in the Anglican Church; indeed, some of our best friends will still be Anglican.
Anglicans can become Catholic via the ordinary means. Of what importance is your Anglican patrimony in this decision to join the Ordinariate?
Parkes: I can understand that some Catholics might be concerned that, like immigrants to a country who don’t let themselves be assimilated into the culture of that country, we Ordinariate Catholics might just stay in our enclaves, worship in Anglican ways, and never bother venturing out into the wider Catholic Church. Let me reassure you that this will not be the case!
We are very eager to be part of and participate in the wider Catholic Church. We have already been trying different experiences. We were at Holy Cross Church in South Caulfield for Divine Mercy Sunday, having said our Divine Mercy Novena in the days leading up to it. How wonderful it was to see the church so full, and so very many people availing themselves of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. (It’s great to think we’ll soon be worshipping at Holy Cross Church, as this is the Catholic Church in Melbourne designated for us to share with the local congregation there.)
To take the immigrant analogy a little further, the Catholic Church is very multicultural, and our little immigrant community has something to offer the wider Catholic Church, as I said earlier.
So it is important for us to be joining the Catholic Church through the Ordinariate. Although an individual decision, we are doing it together, bringing our gifts, and doing our bit for the unity of the Church.
I understand you and your wife made a pilgrimage last year to Lourdes. How did visiting a Catholic shrine affect you personally?
Parkes: My wife and I were in Rome this time last year. We thought that by that time the Ordinariate in Australia would have been erected and we would have been admitted to the Catholic Church. I had a conference in Europe and we felt we wanted to thank the Holy Father for his very gracious provision for us by attending his regular weekly general audience. We warmed to him greatly at the audience. We were fortunate to attend the Pallium Mass at St. Peter’s the following week (the 60th anniversary of Pope Benedict’s ordination to the priesthood) and we experienced all the pomp and grandeur of 40-plus new archbishops being presented with their pallia by the Holy Father.
In Rome, while I was praying one evening, I felt that the Lord was telling my wife and me to go to Lourdes. It seemed a strange thing, something I would not normally have thought of doing. I asked the Lord to confirm it to me the next day, and to my surprise, He did. (That’s another story, Andrew…)
So off we went to Lourdes. What a blessing it was to us!
On our first afternoon we were in the underground Basilica of Pius X when the procession of the Blessed Sacrament came in. The strong presence of our Lord was palpable, as we knelt in tearful adoration.
Later on in the evening Marian procession, holding our candles and singing with thousands of other pilgrims from many different countries, my wife and I looked at one another and thought, “We’ve come home.”
Where do you think the Ordinariate might be in about 10 years’ time?
Parkes: The sad thing for us Anglo-Catholics is that, before the Ordinariate came along, our energies were almost entirely absorbed in staying alive and fending off absorption into an increasingly liberal Church. Now that we can relax, sure where we stand and not having to spend our days looking over our shoulders, we can get on with the real work the Lord intends for us to be involved in. Part of the Catholic culture is to be involved with the Lord’s work in practical ways. We really want to do this.
We have a real interest in schools and I believe we have a particular part to play there. I hope and trust we will be a vibrant part of the wider Catholic Church with our own particular ministry and grow from strength to strength.
It would be nice to think that in due course we might see some new vocations come out of the Ordinariate. Some folk from other parts of the Catholic Church might well find that they like our particular style of worship and join us.
So in about 10 years’ time I think the Ordinariate will be an integrated, growing part of the Catholic Church with its own cultural strengths and gifts, and practically participating in education, evangelization and other ministries.
As a specialized doctor, how does your religious faith influence your work, particularly when today health care professionals must confront a number of ethical dilemmas from a Christian perspective?
Parkes: My religious faith undergirds my work. Health and life come from the Lord, and it is only through His grace that doctors and others in the healing professions do their work.
Our faith confirms the preciousness of life, the dignity of individual people and the love that God has for everyone. Reliance on our Lord Jesus helps me through even potentially difficult situations.