Many Catholic families have a special priest in their lives and for the large, extended family of former Queensland Senator Dr John Herron this has been Fr Jim Spence, reports The Catholic Leader.
John and wife Jan both agree Fr Jim's wisdom and guidance had been a 'steadying presence through all the joys and tragedies' of the Herron family for more than two decades. 'We've been blessed with a large family,' John said.
'We have seven daughters, three sons and 23 grandchildren. He's married five of our children and baptised all the grandchildren. So in many ways, Jim is very much part of our family.'
Despite his distinguished and varied career as a surgeon and a senator for Queensland, John said he had always found time to maintain a close friendship with Fr Jim. This included John's time abroad as Ambassador for the Holy See when Fr Jim came to stay with the family in Ireland at what Jan calls 'the beautiful old home called Abbey Lea.'
In the Australian Senate on September 2, 1997, John gave other senators an insight into the importance of this relationship. The senator and his wife Jan had just lost their daughter Maryann, 37, born with Down Syndrome. She had died the previous week and then Senator Herron wanted to share Fr Spence's eulogy with his fellow senators.
John said the words of their priest and family friend made it onto the Senate's Hansard as a permanent record. 'Father Jim's eulogy spoke of St Augustine's words that "in the evening of our life we are judged on love",' he said.