Answering God’s call is not always an easy task, especially when it sometimes requires leaving family, friends and possessions behind.
But modern-day disciple Frank Birrell is fully ready for his spiritual mission in the Kimberley, with a prayer in his heart, spirit in his soul and a suitcase in his hand.
The evening of May 25 heralded a new chapter in Frank’s life when, in front of his family and a church full of worshippers, his time as a deacon ended and he was ordained a priest by Broome bishop Christopher Saunders.
Although known as a teacher for most of his career, Frank said deep down always knew he was destined for a more spiritual call.
“I’ve always had a very close relationship to God,” he says.
“For most of my life I’ve thought about priesthood.”
He started his teaching career at the now-defunct Price College in Melbourne before graduating in 1974.
However, during this time, the state was experiencing financial woes, and Frank became one of many teachers added to the unemployment list. Frank’s eldest brother moved to Perth in the mid-1970s, where there was an abundance of jobs, and encouraged Frank to visit and consider his options.
Frank later attended Notre Dame University in Fremantle, completing a theology degree.
He was introduced to the Kimberley in 1998 through his friend, Father Eugene San, from Beagle Bay.
He was offered the job at the local school as assistant principal in religious education, which he did for eight years.
Frank said he faced many challenges when he first started, including coping with a serious staff shortage.
“It was a shock but we just pitched in,” he said.
“The people and the kids were fantastic.”
After his stint in Beagle Bay, Frank moved to Derby for three years, where he also faced challenges with communication, such as using dial-up internet.
But Frank said no matter what challenges arose, locals were always on-hand.
In 2008, Frank realised it was time for a change and felt he needed to move on from teaching.
After assisting with a confirmation for eight students in Derby, attended by Bishop Saunders, Frank revealed his plans to leave teaching and consider travelling.
But, at the same time, the bishop approached Frank to consider becoming a deacon. The time felt right, and in 2009, Frank was appointed a pastoral associate.
He was sent to Kununurra to fill in for a priest, and subsequently travelled around the Kimberley to assist in different parishes including Balgo and Wyndham.
The experience was an eyeopener.
“I realised there was such a need for priests,” he said.
The following year, Frank was sent down to Perth and updated his qualifications at the Notre Dame Fremantle campus.
He spent 18 months living and studying at a seminary before he was finally ordained a deacon in 2010. Frank returned to the Kimberley last July, where he was in charge of the parish in Halls Creek, before finally arriving in Broome in April where he soon became a familiar face during the masses.
After a whirlwind period in Broome, Frank said he is ready and looking forward to taking up his new position.
“It feels like I’m coming home,” he said.