Father James Feenan (left) was born at Mt Norris, County Armagh, Northern Ireland in 1926. He completed his training for the priesthood at St Patrick’s College, Carlow, Ireland. He was ordained on 10th June 1956 and migrated to Australia that same year.
Father Feenan was Parish Priest of Sunbury from 1973 – 1977.
He served in a number of parishes including Diamond Creek, Geelong West, Gardenvale, Moorabbin and Gordon. Before coming to Sunbury Father Feenan was Parish Priest of the Good Shepherd Parish in Mulgrave from 1971 – 1973.
With the opening of the Airport in 1970 there was a population boom in Sunbury. The newspapers of the day described Sunbury as a future Satellite City.
Father Feenan was quick to rally the resources of his new parish to embark on an ambitious expansion program. Sister Helen Barnes recalls “Father Feenan brought a new life into the Parish when he came.”
Father Feenan established the Parish Education Board in 1973.
He liaised with the Archdiocese to purchase land in Stewart’s Lane Sunbury and plans for the building of St Anne’s School commenced.
At a Meeting of the Parish Education Board in 1974 the name St Anne’s was chosen for the new school.
One of the school houses at St Anne’s School was named Feenan.
The Education Board also guided Our Lady of Mt Carmel School’s development during this time.
Standing L to R: Hilary Williamson, Maureen Kennedy, B White, Pat Swan, Clare O’Brien, Dale Gordon, Sister Agnella Kenny, Margaret Raspin
Seated: Sister Anne Porter, Jenny Whitty, Shirley Whitely, Sister Bernadette Cunningham, Rev Father Feenan, Carmel Edmends, Irene Podolcszak, Sister Teresa.
Father Feenan taught the Sunbury Sisters of St Joseph to drive when they got their first car. Father Feenan suggested we compose a Parish Prayer. The Parish Prayer was composed by Sister Helen Barnes, Father Feenan, the late Carmel Edmends with the Grade 6 children of Our Lady of Mt Carmel School in 1973 and it was Father Feenan who incorporated the Parish Prayer into our Liturgy.
Father Feenan built the Altar that is in Our Lady of Mt Carmel Church. During renovations in 2007 the Altar was made smaller and the panel that was removed from the Altar was used by Jo Wiegerink to build the Welcoming Desk in St Anne’s Church.
Father Feenan enjoyed building and he also made a Baptismal Font.
Interior of Our Lady of Mt Carmel Church prior to 2007 renovations
He turned the garage into a much needed classroom. Carpeted the concrete floor and put in a heater. All the construction was done in the school holidays.
He also converted a little room that was near the Presbytery so that it could be used for remedial work/reading recovery.
Part of the old stable buildings was converted into what became known as Sister Agnella’s room. Sister Agnella set this room up as a religious education centre.
Father Feenan rebuilt the kitchen in the Presbytery.
The Convent was also renovated in this time.
In addition to his normal parochial duties, he was also chaplain to the Sunbury Training Centre. The Saturday morning Mass at Caloola began in 1975 during Father Feenan’s time in the parish.
Father Feenan also began Religious Education classes for the children in the Government schools. In 1974 he approached the Principal of Sunbury Primary, Mr Jack Segrave, about starting classes in the school. The program also began at Sunbury West Primary in 1974.
He was seen regularly at all local schools and would often ask Brian Dodd to help him by reading a story to the children.
Also in 1974 children from the surrounding towns of Bulla, Diggers Rest and Clarkefield started coming to Our Lady of Mt Carmel. Father Feenan was happy to take the class on a Friday night with Pat Readman helping him.
He was a great support to the Catechists and travelled with them to partake in a new program initiated for Catechists to receive their diploma. This was something new and he was very interested in finding out about it.
Kelvin Cardillo was the representative for the Government School children on the Parish Education Board.
Father Feenan was transferred to Manifold Heights in 1977 before St Anne’s School was opened.
A farewell dinner was held in the Memorial Hall in Sunbury on Friday 17th June 1977 on the eve of his new appointment in Manifold Heights. The dinner was preceded by a concelebrated Mass in the Sunbury Church.
Father Feenan retired in 1990.
Since retiring Father Feenan has regularly helped out at St Patrick’s in Portarlington, especially in the holiday season. He also enjoyed playing golf.
In May 1995 Father Feenan sent a message to a Catechist reunion held in the parish.
“Thank you for thinking of me. How did you remember me?
I would love to attend but unfortunately I am leaving for Queensland on Saturday.
Remember me to Sister Agnella.
I set up the garage. We used to work in the garage.
One day we had snakes hopping in during the meeting. I don’t know what brand they were. Another time a snake came out from under the church.
I killed it with a shovel. I had all the grade 6 children around me. They all got the shovel and hit the snake.
Once again thanks for thinking of me. I was so pleased to get the invitation and I am sorry I cannot be with you on the day.”
In June 2016 when Fr Kevin McIntosh contacted him, Father Feenan was painting the fence. A most remarkable man.
At Father Kevin’s invitation Father Feenan returned to Sunbury and joined the parish for Mass on Sunday 26th June 2016 to celebrate his Diamond Jubilee. Father Feenan was given a lavender plant as he is a keen gardener.
After the purchase of land in Stewarts Lane Sunbury for St Anne’s School Father Feenan began negotiating with Jenny and Peter Whitty regarding purchasing their land in Riddell Road for a future church. Jenny and Peter Whitty made the trip from Tasmania to join the parish on Sunday 26th June 2016.
A garden will be established at the school and named the Feenan Garden.
Father Feenan is remembered, by all who knew him in our parish, as a dedicated leader of their spiritual welfare.