Our time on earth is like a flash of light compared to eternity.
A tribute to Father John Carnie, by his brother, Malcolm Carnie.
Our family moved to Benalla in 1938 so that Dad could enjoy a warmer climate in the hope that his poor health would improve.
Learning to ride a bike resulted in a clash of John’s head against the fence, causing much blood and panic, but he did survive! When he was 8 years old he developed appendicitis that turned into peritonitis which in those days was usually fatal. Fortunately he was rushed to Wangaratta just in time for his life-saving operation. Ironically, at that time, the part-time ambulance officer was also the part-time undertaker, and people wondered about the potential conflict of interest that this may cause!
After finishing primary school at St. Joseph’s in Benalla, progression to High School was the next move. On reaching the age of 16, it was then the norm to leave school and gain employment to supplement the family income. Accordingly John gained a position at the Post Office and with that, a certain amount of independence.
At home, there was the cow to be milked, wood to chop and chooks to be fed, but John was never there! But, credit where credit is due, he was always home at meal time. Dad always referred to him as “the star boarder”!
We must have had an amicable brotherly relationship, as the only time I can remember remonstrating with him is when I had him in a headlock after he had just kicked the crutches out from underneath our younger sister, Margaret.
John was always interested in the parliamentary broadcasts on the radio, with his head against the speaker and a stack of Hansards (parliamentary notes) by his side.
In the early 1950’s, Fathers Scanlon and Murtagh gave a mission in Benalla, which I well remember, and which left a deep impression on John. One day the next year, I went into the kitchen, and was confronted by clothing, sheeting, and much sewing on of labels. I said to Mum “What on earth is going on?” and she replied “Your brother is going away to join the Redemptorists”, and that was the first I knew of it. Because of his level of education, there was naturally some hesitation in accepting his application. However, a very luminating reference from the local Monsignor convinced the priests to give him a go, and the rest is history! John finished his schooling in Galong and gained Honours in his final year as well as being Head Prefect of the students. He was then able to come home for Christmas that year and again worked at the Post Office for a short time.
His Profession at Pennant Hills was an exciting time, but we would not be seeing him again for about 2 years. After that, he transferred to the Monastery at Ballarat and we were able to occasionally visit him there – although we were to go no further than the front parlour! On the great day of his Ordination we relatives gathered to celebrate the momentous occasion with him. Father John was not able to attend our wedding later in that year, but we made Ballarat the first stop of our honeymoon and there he said a special private Mass just for us. One of his first Missions was just out from Wagga Wagga and we were able to spend a few days there. Father John then went to New Zealand and was Rector at the Christchurch monastery, returning home in the late 60’s when Dad became seriously ill and eventually passed away.
In the early 70’s, Father John and Father Crow gave a mission in the Warrnambool area. My wife Patricia took the children out to Koroit to hear the priests, and came back ecstatic, saying Father John’s sermon on death was the most reassuring she had ever heard. Shortly after, he went in for minor surgery, but the surgeon found lumps where they shouldn’t have been and this led to a diagnosis of early Hodgkin’s disease which required radiation treatment. This was successful, but was to, I believe, tell on him in the most recent time.
After Dad died Fr. John went up to Mum at Benalla as often as he could until she could no longer look after herself and came down to Melbourne to a care facility, in 2001, after being widowed for some 30 years. However she was frail by then and passed on later that year, aged 94.
Fr. John was then able to visit us more in Geelong, having the use of the Brothers’ house at Ocean Grove. We enjoyed many family occasions together, including Christmas, for many years.
It was a great turn of events when Fr. John was offered the Chaplaincy at Marcellin College. This enabled him to turn missionary work into a very special cause. He thoroughly enjoyed every minute of his 25 years there, and it gave him a real purpose in life.
He told us the story of a Year 7 boy, who, finishing the interview, Fr. John (in his late 50’s at the time) said “I know all about you; what do you know about me?” The boy replied “You’re the old priest who looks after the chapel”. This was not good for the dear priest’s ego!
We were also told of the international soccer player at whose wedding Fr. John was celebrant. One of the boys asked Fr. John when this was to be, but he was unable to say due to confidentiality. However, on the evening of the rehearsal, with the groom aware, Fr. John contacted the boy’s father and said “if you happen to be taking little Will for a walk and happen to be going past such and such a church at 6 o’clock you may like to pop in for a visit.” The groom, worded up, beckoned the boy over, gave his autograph, and had a few words with him, before the boy left the church without his feet touching the ground!
In late June this year, Fr, John told us he was having problems and needed to undergo an operation that could take 6 hours. This took place on the 14th of July and was more serious than first thought. We rang him afterwards on the Friday and he was very distressed. On the Saturday we were told that he was transferred to Intensive Care and was not expected to live. He lingered on but for most of the time was not conscious and mercifully passed away in the afternoon of August 10.
“Come o faithful servant and sit at the place I have reserved for you”