Seeing Catholicism the 'Aboriginal way'

Fr Fletcher

Fr Frank Fletcher worked with Mum Shirl of Redfern and co-founded the Aboriginal Catholic Ministry. He preached 'heart spirituality' and leaves a rich legacy.

Francis John Fletcher, priest of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart.

Born January 1, 1932; died November 29, 2013.

- By Terry and Luke Fletcher, The Sydney Morning Herald.

Inspired by Vatican II, Fr Frank Fletcher believed that modern theology placed too much emphasis on reason and logic and neglected religious experience, a reality that is mysterious and cannot be fully understood.

He developed these ideas in his first book, Falling in Love with God (2010), where he presented the case for faith in which mind and heart are acknowledged as complementary.

Fr Fletcher was born in Sydney on January 1, 1932, the son of Jack Fletcher and his wife Eugenie (nee Fahy).

After coming from humble beginnings, Jack had risen to be president of the Rural Bank of NSW (now the Colonial State Bank) but he and Eugenie never forgot their struggling childhoods and fostered social justice in the family.

Fletcher was ordained a priest in 1956 at St Mary's Cathedral and, in 1957, was appointed to teach at Chevalier College, near Bowral. Many of his students remained devoted to him in adulthood. One of them, former NSW premier John Fahey, said Fletcher inspired in him ‘a wonderful sense of humanity and justice.’

In his theological writings, lectures and workshops, he explained the importance of heart spirituality. Ultimately it drew him to explore the spirituality of Aboriginal people.

At the same time, his concern for the poor and marginalised led him to ministering at the Matthew Talbot Centre and the Franciscan community in Surry Hills for homeless people.

In the 1990s Fletcher went to Erskineville to work with the Kooris of South Sydney. With the late Mum Shirl (Smith) and others, he established the Aboriginal Catholic Ministry in 1989. Seeing that the ceremonies and symbols of Western Christianity did not have meaning for Kooris, Fletcher helped incorporate Aboriginal dance, music, ceremonies and rituals, such as the water blessing and the rite of smoking or fires, into the Mass.

One of his dreams was for them to set up their own church, which became a reality when the Church of Reconciliation was established in La Perouse in 1999.

Sometimes he was asked why the Bible was a terrible thing 'on the mission' but not now. He always replied: 'Because now we are looking at the Bible in an Aboriginal way.'

This theological reflection continued until his death and his thoughts are presented in his final work, Jesus and the Dreaming, which will be published soon.

Read full obituary: Man of heart and deep spirituality (The Sydney Morning Herald)

Related material:

Watch Fr Fletcher's funeral: HERE (YouTube)

Frank Fletcher, burial (The Missionaries of the Sacred Heart) 

Father Frank's legacy will live on (Catholic Communications, Sydney Archdiocese)

Death notice (The Daily Telegraph)