Mons Frank Hickey Celebrates 70 Years of Priesthood

The Parish of Nagambie held celebrations on Sunday 1 August to thank Monsignor Frank for his presence among them and his devoted service to their parish during his retirement years. “You are a valued member of our parish and we wish you many blessings for the future,” said Sally Fyfield on behalf of the parish.


By Anne Close

On 22 July 2021, Monsignor Frank Hickey celebrated 70 years as a Catholic Priest. Ordained in Shepparton on 22 July 1951, Monsignor Frank can now look back on a lifetime of serving God and loving people. Or, if you prefer – loving God and serving people.

Although Monsignor Frank himself would dread any form of accolade for his faithfulness, his story deserves to be told. Partly because it is an incredibly rare achievement, but perhaps even more so, because we live in a time where we desperately need people whose example we dare to follow.  

Monsignor Frank Hickey was born in 1927 and raised in a family of eight children. This was the era of droughts, financial depression, floods, and mice plagues. Yet, despite these hardships, Frank and his siblings were brought up in a spirit of generosity. There might only have been kerosene lamps and candles, hand-me-down clothes and patches, but it did not change the family’s willingness to share what little they had.

This generosity was extended to neighbours in need, to the Parish, and to those serving the Lord. On the piano in the family home, a tin was placed for offerings to the less fortunate. This approach on how the Christian life should be lived; authentically and sincerely, partly explains what kind of man and priest Frank would later become. To him, faith is not simply a matter of the mind; it is a matter of the heart, which inevitably extends to one’s actions. Or like he so eloquently, yet simply summarises it himself: “You have to embrace the faith with your whole heart.” 

When Frank was seven years old, he was to receive his first Holy Communion. During the three weeks of preparation, he stayed with his grandmother, Mrs Wilson, in Numurkah. This involved going to Mass every morning and attending the Convent school run by three Josephite Sisters. “Taking the sacraments for the first time made a big impression.” Monsignor Frank remembers, “I met the Lord in that ceremony. It was the most faith-filled experience of my life. It introduced me to the idea of the priesthood.”

Yet, the road to become a priest had not yet fully revealed itself to Frank. “I always felt like an outsider.” Monsignor Frank states, “Going to church on Sundays, as a young boy, I used to be sitting at the end of my seat, looking at the children who attended the Catholic School.” That same feeling would linger as it was later decided Frank was to attend St Patrick’s Boarding School in Ballarat. “I came in from the outside to that group.” 

A few weeks after his arrival, a Religious Brother came to give a talk on vocations, looking for recruits. Afterwards, all the students were interviewed individually, and this was when Frank found himself expressing that he wanted to be a priest. “It was the first time I had ever said it. I didn’t feel inclined to be a Brother, I felt inclined to be a Priest!” And there it was: the secret desire of his heart, possibly even secret to Frank himself, verbalised and openly confessed. 

More hurdles were however yet to be overcome, one of them being Latin. “I was assigned a teacher who was to teach me, but he dropped me like a hot potato once he found out I smoked! 'Smokers don’t become priests!’ he said and wiped me off! Even after eight years of study I still never learnt the first declension of Latin, but as recompense I did learn Italian,” Monsignor Frank says with a warm chuckle. His possible lack of knowledge in Latin was however not what nearly got him kicked out of the seminary. “I still had a farming inclination you see, and the seminary at Werribee was in a farm setting, so we were encouraged to follow some farming interest. A friend and I decided to buy a horse and break it in! I remember one time we were running the horse and cart outside the seminary, and we ran it past the Rector, but luckily he didn’t recognise us!”

Perhaps it is the experience of slightly breaking the mould, or with Monsignor Frank's own, recurring description – feelings of not quite fitting in, which later made him such a loved priest. Because when asked what he has meant to Parishioners of days gone past, they all describe a man with a great sense of humour who always gave a hundred and ten percent of himself to those he served. A kind and knowledgeable man but also visionary and passionate about the Church and the faith. After having had the pleasure of meeting him in person, if yet for a brief moment, that aspect of him still resonates; his conviction of embracing faith with one’s whole heart in a way that affects one's actions. 

And as for his humble statement about being an outsider, it might to some sound like an ill-fitting description, but if you start looking at what other characters we find in that same biblical corner of misfits – Amos, Jonah, Ruth, Paul, the woman at the well, Jesus – it all somehow makes perfect sense. Monsignor Frank Hickey; the outsider. 

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 Monsignor Frank Hickey with hs sisters at the Nagambie celebrations 

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Monsignor Frank (Front row centre) with his parents and siblings.