Queenstown’s Catholic priest, who tomorrow celebrates 40 years in the ministry, is being hailed for his understanding of people.
Father Tony Harrison, 63, has been parish priest in Queenstown for three years after stints at Oamaru, Invercargill’s St Mary’s Basilica, Alexandra, Dunedin’s St Joseph’s Cathedral, and Milton.
He’s also amassed wide chaplaincy experience, originally at Invercargill’s Southland Hospital.
In the past 10 years, Harrison has also served as an army chaplain with New Zealand troops in the Solomon Islands and East Timor, had three secondments to Antarctica and has been chaplain at Queenstown’s St Joseph’s School.
“He’s looking at everyday situations in the army which gives him a much wider appreciation of people rather than just being a parish priest,” local pastoral minister Fae Robertson says.
“This is a demanding parish to be in because often people’s businesses have to come first.
“It’s not that they don’t particularly love their Lord but He’s not always the first priority when it comes to making a living – and Father Harrison is very understanding of that.”
Harrison accepts there are a lot of RCs – “retired Catholics” – around.
“Part of it is that people here have to make the most of opportunities to pay their mortgages and rentals.”
Harrison also recalls when Sundays weren’t a day for sport or shopping.
“It’s sad the church becomes a place for times of disaster and other times of enjoyment but we need to be fed daily.”
Queenstown’s tourism influence also makes this parish very different, Harrison says.
“On Sundays, a large part of the congregation is visitors so they want to say ‘hello’ and some of them want to get their photos taken with me.
“Then you miss out on talking to some of the local people.”
Tomorrow’s celebrations take the form of a mid-winter Christmas party at the Events Centre.