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Remarkable: Australia’s First Permanent Deacon, an Aboriginal Elder


Deacon Greg Kandra - published on 06/20/16

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Check out this amazing story from the Catholic Leader:

Last month the people of Wadeye, Northern Territory, celebrated the 80th birthday of Deacon Boniface Perdjert. Deacon Boniface is senior elder of the Kardu Diminin clan and Murrinhpatha language speaker, and the traditional owner of the land on which the town of Wadeye (Port Keats) is built. He is also Australia’s first permanent deacon and well known to Missionaries of the Sacred Heart who have worked in the Northern Territory. …Deacon Boniface was born on May 14, 1936, son of Perdjert and Pilimbi at Werntek Nganaiyi (Old Mission). That was just short of a year after the first Mass had been celebrated at Old Mission by Missionaries of the Sacred Heart Father Richard Docherty on June 23, 1935. His mother Agatha Pilimbi last year celebrated her 100th birthday and still lives in the aged-care centre at Wadeye. Deacon Boniface is the eldest of two brothers and two sisters. He was the first child to be baptised at Old Mission on June 28, 1936, by Fr Docherty with Br Quinn as the godfather. On completing school he began work as a catechist with the mission and worked very closely with Fr Docherty and later Fr John Leary. In an interview with Fr Martin Wilson in 1978, Deacon Boniface spoke then of his work as a teacher and later as an Aboriginal deacon. He told Fr Wilson he planned to be a Missionaries of the Sacred Heart Brother, but then married Bridget Narpur in 1958. They had three daughters Florence Minggi, Margaret Rose Nguluyguy, and Mary Concepta Demngurrtak, and he is now grandfather to 11 grandchildren and has several great-grandchildren. Bridget died in August 2002. Deacon Boniface continued to want to work for the Church and the possibility to do so as a permanent deacon became apparent. On another occasion he has said that Fr Brian Healy spoke to him about working for the Church in this capacity. He said he was only able to do this after permission was granted from his clan elders and his wife and with encouragement from Fr Leary, who was the parish priest at the time. Apart from preparations with Fr Leary at Port Keats he undertook a three-month preparation course at St Paul’s National Seminary, Sydney, in early 1974 under the direction of Fr Peter Hoy. He was ordained the first permanent deacon in Australia at Port Keats on July 19, 1974, by Bishop John O’Loughlin, a member of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart who was then Bishop of Darwin.

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Ad multos annos! 

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