Father Rex celebrates 40 years in the priesthood
By JULIA ILES
"IS that God, Daddy?" four-year-old Milly Deefholts said as she gazed up at Father Rex
Hackett while at Grafton's St Mary's Catholic Church.
He's not God but the veteran priest who yesterday celebrated 40 years in the priesthood is quite possibly a good friend of the man upstairs.
"I knew when I was 15 I wanted to be a priest and I saw how kind the priest at the time Father John Rodger was and thought I'd like to do that," he said.
"I was the youngest of six children and at the time had an ordinary life with social activities and girlfriends.
"It was accepted some of the boys my age would become priests and no-one said anything much about my decision."
Father Rex attended St Mary's from infancy and became the parish priest two years ago.
Since his homecoming he has felt an overwhelming joy about being back.
"As a child I used to love the top floor of the church and from the candlesticks to the alter I know everything here so well," he said.
His parents Clarrie and Jess Hackett lived in the Valley and were strong Catholics.
To become a priest he studied for six years at St Columbas Seminary in Springwood NSW, completing three years of philosophy and four years of theology.
Last week he united with his former classmates in Sydney.
Father Rex became a deacon before he was ordained in 1966. From then he worked at a church in Byron Bay for 13 years and at Casino for 12.
It was when he was ordained that a miracle occurred.
"I had always hated public speaking and when I got up to the pulpit was very uncomfortable and would have a mental blackout but after the ceremony I was given the gift of preaching," he said.
"I still have to do my homework but as soon as I get up to preach the words just come out, it's just wonderful."
Father Rex has also witnessed massive changes throughout his service.
"There used to be terrible suspicion between Protestants and Catholics but that tension goes back 400 years; after the Vatican II movement the church changed its view on a lot of things," he said.
"Over the years the whole culture has changed in Australia, religion hasn't failed but culture has succeeded to make people too busy for God, but the message of Jesus is still relevant for everyone and I am still excited about it."
Father Rex said the bible verse 'Do unto others as you wish them to do unto you' was a revolutionary command as it promoted a fair-go and was non-discriminatory.
In his personal life he has faced a battle with depression and for many years his condition went undiagnosed.
"Now I am diagnosed and on medication but on reflection I've seen how God has used it to show compassion to others in the same situation, God takes difficulties and uses them to make you strong," he said.
"We are living in exciting times and I am looking forward to my 50th year."
To celebrate Father Rex's 40 years as a priest, after Mass yesterday, morning tea was served, while in the afternoon he had a barbecue with family, which includes 16 nieces and nephews and 22 great nieces and nephews.