The celebrations continued at a special lunch where heartfelt speeches were made, all testimony to the enduring impact Fr Peter has had on so many lives. The speeches also gave an insight into Fr Peter's childhood and sporting pursuits with his elder brother Kevin reflecting on Peter's love of the outdoor life with camping, surfing, sailing and kayaking all regular pursuits. His love of literature was also evident.
"Peter always had a depth to him, a special vision of life. He has always given homilies that reference literature," Kevin Rees said.
A former student of Fr Peter's, Paul Kish, gave a wonderful speech about Fr Peter's time at St Pius X High School, Adamstown and his total dedication to the students. He spoke about his extraordinary teaching load, the huge classes (40 students to a class), his creation of a religion syllabus that was accepted by the Department of Education, his introduction of ice-skating and surfing as school sports, his commitment to the students' spiritual welfare through retreats, as well as surfing trips away and the beautification of the grounds of St Pius X and St Anne's. At the same time, Fr Peter was completing a Bachelor of Arts at night and working as a supply and relief priest all around the diocese.
Paul has maintained a friendship with Fr Peter across the years and was profoundly moved a few years ago when they were discussing their frustrations with the church.
"I asked him why he still does it and his answer was so simple but one of the most profound things that I have ever heard. He said, 'I do it because I believe in Jesus Christ'," Paul said.
Fr Peter's connection to the Sugarloaf Parish is also profound and under his humble guidance the parish has become a community committed to social justice. He has been in the parish for a total of 24 years and in that time has encouraged the community to support the needs of those less fortunate than themselves. The connection to Vietnam is incredibly strong and the Western Pastoral Region of the diocese now has 8 nuns and a priest from Vietnam working in the Sugarloaf and Wallsend-Shortland parishes and schools. There is no doubt that the people of these communities benefit from the joy and pastoral care of these men and women and their presence in the community gives extra resonance to the fundraising works of the parishes to support projects in Vietnam. The Vietnamese Sisters entertained those gathered at the lunch with traditional dance and drumming.
Fr Albert Yelds MSC, a priest from Kiribati, sent a letter of congratulations that was read at the lunch. He noted, "Fr Peter challenges me by his thinking. He knows the right questions to ask me, he knows the problems in places like Kiribati and Vietnam, and he has put into the hearts of his people a love for those courageous Catholics and he lives and prays for God's blessing on them."
Another former student, Fr Richard Lennan, credits Fr Peter as "a great teacher". He was one of many voices on the day who appreciated Peter's ability to think creatively and draw on his love of literature, theology and history to infuse his homilies with a richness that challenges, entertains and spurs his faith community into action.
"I remain most grateful for the seeds that Peter planted decades ago. I can certainly recognise God's Holy Spirit in Peter's willingness to think outside the box, in his capacity to draw wisdom and richness from broad areas of human experience," Fr Lennan said in a letter read to those gathered.
Congratulations Fr Peter on 50 years of dedicated service. We wish you many more.