Fr Darryl Mackie, 16 February 2023
In liturgical ministry, says Fr Darryl Mackie, “we need to speak in a language that all may understand.” And so his liturgies are a result of relationships, listening and making choices that have meaning for the people he serves.
Life began for Darryl in Branxton/Greta (Hunter Valley), NSW, and then a move to Maitland. His family were very much involved with the Catholic Church, and he had relatives who were Josephite Sisters and Marist Brothers and visitors to his home. Darryl was inspired by his parish priest, who they called ‘Grandfather’, and served him at the altar.
When he was 17 years old, Darryl joined the St Vincent de Paul youth group and became involved with helping people who were homeless. It made him realise that not everyone was as lucky as he was, that “there is more to our world”. His first job, even before he finished school, was in a bank. There he was taught to be a good manager and quickly promoted. But Darryl’s most important lesson was about looking after one’s staff. He learned that if you care for the workers, they will spread the good news and, in turn, care for the customers. This attitude translates into service, “extending hope and happiness to others”.
Throughout this working time, Darryl continued to volunteer for St Vincent de Paul conferences, and felt drawn to something more. He entered the seminary and, in 1996, was ordained a priest of the Maitland-Newcastle Diocese. It was in one of his parish roles, in Taree, that he really started liturgy on the margins. An Aboriginal elder had died, and the chaplain was not able to make the funeral. So Darryl was called on instead.
“Just do whatever they tell you to do,” was the direction. Darryl felt like Jesus being instructed by his mother at Cana. So he listened and followed, eventually becoming much more involved with the local Aboriginal community. He got to know the elders and they did projects together, helping with food and uniforms for the children. Darryl was also able to connect more personally, as many of his family and cousins are Aboriginal from the Parkes/Forbes area.
After some time, Darryl asked the elders why their children didn’t present for baptism. They responded that they felt that the church wasn’t welcoming enough and their culture wasn’t brought into it – “it was a whitefellas’ church”. So Darryl developed a liturgy for baptism that involved water from the river and an outside ceremony near the side of the church. He was able to illustrate the meaning of baptism using symbols that had Aboriginal as well as Christian significance.
When Darryl moved to Sydney, it was to be a chaplain to St Vincent’s Hospital. This involves a lot of ministry with people who are homeless and poor. It is also about finding liturgical ways to speak to people in situations of vulnerability, because “life is sacramental, the presence of God in our lives.” For example, if someone is sick or dying, he finds ways for the families to participate as he anoints the patient. He asks them to make a cross on their foreheads with holy water, a reminder of baptism. When life is hard, he says, the cross is a symbol that we have been claimed for Christ, that God loves us and it is therefore a sign of hope.
In Darryl’s ministry, he believes that “everyone should feel welcomed, valued and safe.” And, like Jesus, a lot of his pastoral care revolves around food and meals. He remembers a particular time when a woman was dying and he was told that there was something troubling her. Yet their conversation was entirely around eating. Eventually, her real challenge came out and Darryl was able to find a solution before she died in peace.
After some time in Sydney, the mob heard and asked him along to the Aboriginal Catholic Ministry. In 2018, Darryl became their chaplain. In all things, he tries to listen to the community and “find what is meaningful for them.” He challenges the Australian Church to look beyond a Western worldview to engage Aboriginal cultures in their own unique and precious particularities. He wants the cultures to listen, understand and work together, until the vision of Pope St John Paul II is realised, “You are part of Australia and Australia is part of you. And the Church herself in Australia will not be fully the Church that Jesus wants her to be until you have made your contribution to her life and until that contribution has been joyfully received by others.”1
Darryl is constantly learning and seeking out new ways to connect Aboriginal cultures and the liturgy. For example, he is exploring symbols, rituals and prayers used in baptisms and funerals. A new Mass setting has been developed that can be translated to any of the Aboriginal languages, and they hope to trial it soon in the community. In all of this, Darryl feels that “the more we can tie our life experiences, culture in liturgy, the more people will know we are here for them, the more we will value and celebrate together.” Thank you, Fr Darryl!
1 Address of John Paul II, 29 November 1986, Alice Springs, https://www.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/speeches/1986/november/documents/hf_jp-ii_spe_19861129_aborigeni-alice-springs-australia.html.
One thought on “Finding Meaning, Extending Hope”
Beautiful story. Thank you.