Priests I Have Known: William Henry (Mick) Slattery
Mick Slattery was ordained by the fourth Archbishop of Sydney – Irish-born Michael Kelly.
For me he was a bridge to another country – the Sydney church of the 1930’s, the depression, an essentially Irish church, a church being built with the scarce resources of its people. Cardinal Norman Thomas Gilroy (the fifth Archbishop) was his uncle.
His full given name was William Henry, but he commonly answered to Mick given his Celtic inclinations. Despite his roots being firmly planted in the church of the 1930’s and forties, right to the end of his life Mick was a voracious supporter of a progressive Catholic thinking and practice which was given voice by the insights of the Second Vatican Council. He consumed progressive English and American Christian magazines, such as The Tablet and The Furrow like a hungry teenager. Sitting in his favourite chair in the Holy Family presbytery at Maroubra, he would light up a Rothmans and read to his heart’s content, and then head off and sit in the confessional available to whoever turned up. In this house of four priests, the table conversation carries the memory of being lively, informed and great fun – with not a little slagging.
His own father had died at 47 leaving his Mick’s mother with seven children. These were the days devoid of any Government support for such families. Kitty Gilroy ( Cardinal Gilroy’s sister) took the children one at a time to her own home to look after them because there was little food at the Slattery home. Jack Lang, the New South Wales Premier, was elected and brought in State pensions for widowed mothers with children under 14. Lang was the family hero. The Slattery never forgot him or the party he served.
Another of his great heroes and a person he credited with his own approach to sharing parish responsibilities was the legendary Monsignor Jim Meaney. Meaney and Slattery were parish priest and curate at St Marks Drummoyne for five years during World War 2. In these years James Meaney was one of the Sydney church’s dynamo’s – founder of Radio 2SM, he resurrected the Catholic press, gave leadership to Catholic Schools, organising secretary for the 1928 Eucharistic Congress, and founder of St Michael’s Golf course, just some examples of his creative energy. According to Mick, Jim Meaney would say to him, ‘here is the cheque book . You look after the parish, make all necessary decisions and I’ll see you tonight.’ Following the Meaney example, Mick Slattery would involve whoever was his assistant priest in the real decision-making in the parish.
Like finding a precious jewel, research turned up an invaluable audio-file of the man himself describing Church life in the parishes of Croydon and Drummoyne in the forties.
(audio reflection of Fr Mick Slattery) Father William Henry Slattery is a luminous example of a man who witnessed the tumultuous history of his church for the best part of seven decades and yet preserved his humanity and his hope to the last.