Eulogy of Father Tam Ferlazzo (died 26 March, 2008) given by Stephen Guazzo
Firstly, on behalf of the Herbert River parishes, I would like to extend our deepest sympathy to the Ferlazzo family. It is a special privilege for me tonight to pay tribute to the memory of Father Tam Ferlazzo.
Father was ordained a priest in 1953 at the age of 26. He had the distinction of being the first son of Italian immigrants to be ordained a priest in the Townsville diocese. He first came to Ingham as an assistant priest in 1955 from the Cathedral Parish in Townsville. He melded perfectly with the community here, primarily because he came from an Italian sugarcane growing family in Mackay. He was destined to make a great contribution to the Herbert River parishes during his lifetime.
In 1960, only seven years after he was ordained, his obvious special talents led him to be appointed director of the Abergowrie College. Father Tam remained as director until 1976 and Abergowrie College became the love of his life and he remained faithful to its success till the end of his days.
When Father arrived at Abergowrie he quickly realized that the Christian Brothers were best equipped to manage the education of the students while he drove the farming side of the business. By 1963 he commissioned architect Ian Ferrier to provide a master plan for Abergowrie College. In our parish history book, Portrait of a Parish, it is said that “the reason behind the master plan was Father Ferlazzo’s dream not to build any more junk buildings… he would only build according to a master plan, build only in brick, and spend next to nothing on maintenance of old buildings. The 60s and 70s were golden years for Abergowrie, all the new buildings went up but much more importantly the school, as an educational and boarding institute acquired a very high reputation and achieved a status of excellence in Queensland.”
To provide resource for his dream for Abergowrie College, Father Tam worked tirelessly to develop the farming enterprise into a very profitable and successful business. I first met Father Tam as a young grade 8 boarder at Abergowrie College. Up until then my understanding of a priest was that of a holy man carrying out usual church duties. However at Abergowrie, Father Tam altered that perception. At dawn he would appear as a priest in his vestments to say morning mass for the boys, then after breakfast as we were doing morning charges or chores we would see Father in a pair of overalls, driving by in his favourite green international ute, heading over to the machinery shed. Then in the evening he would be back in his normal priestly regalia hearing our confessions etc. There is no doubt that his determination and positive outlook rubbed off on the Christian Brothers, the students of the college and the wider Abergowrie community. The college motto is “Sow what you reap” and many would say that he was the seed of the famous Abergowrie College spirit. As a leader with a vision he led from the front and brought the whole Abergowrie community along with him. He consistently looked after pastoral needs of the Abergowrie parish - who could ever forget those boisterous sermons.
Reflecting on my five years at Abergowrie College, I saw Father operate dozers, trucks, tractors, harvesters, the only thing I never saw him operate was a horse, maybe because he preferred the stability of 4 wheels or tracks.
Father left Abergowrie in 1976 and went to the Burdekin as parish priest. He was to return to the Herbert River district in 1985 as parish priest and remain here for the rest of his life.
He was back on familiar territory in more ways than one. As fate would have it Gilroy Santa Maria was encountering financial problems. There would be no better person to turn things around. Today we have a regional co-ed Catholic secondary school that caters for the invaluable spiritual and educational needs of our students.
During his 22 years here as the parish priest, Tam oversaw major refurbishments and new buildings to all primary and secondary schools in the parish. He always said that Catholic schools were a cornerstone of Catholic education and the breeding ground of faithful Catholic men and women of the future. For that reason he was always a great supporter of our school system.
In 1987, when the Sisters of Mercy acquired Jackson House, he instigated the renovations of their former convent into the parish office and presbytery. St. Patrick’s Church also underwent major renovations in 1993, as it was showing considerable deterioration and Father Tam wanted to make it more comfortable and beautiful and more up to date with modern liturgy requirements. In 1996 he also extended St. Teresa’s Church at Abergowrie.
Realizing that the number of priests in the diocese were dwindling he again showed foresight with the introduction of lay ministers. Involvement of lay people has increased over the years and has helped build a sense of community. Father surrounded himself with some key people to make the sacramental programmes in this parish a shining light for the rest of the diocese. There was a period when Father ministered to all three parishes single-handedly. His energy during this time amazed me and his stamina surpassed those much younger than him.
Father Tam always practised a special devotion to our blessed Lady and he built the new grotto in front of the church out of his own private funds.
Father Tam had a keen interest in the sugar industry and always made sure he kept himself up to date on all issues that were happening from time to time. In the early nineties he showed genuine concern about the introduction of continuous crushing in this district. He was concerned that continuous crushing would be detrimental to family life and wanted to ensure that everyone was treated fairly. In 2003, when the Herbert district was facing a drought and low sugar prices Father led a novena to pray for rain. It was strongly supported and received wide spread media attention.
He was highly respected by the whole Herbert River community. This was highlighted in 1995 when he was presented with the Bill Garbutt citizenship award for service to the community, awarded by the Rotary Club.
Father had one of his prayers answered when Bianca Vidonja Balanzatequi generously accepted his invitation to write a parish history. When she asked Father Tam what did the future hold for this parish, he said that it really was in the hands of the Holy Spirit, but there were three things that we could do now:
- The parish community really need to take a more aggressive role in passing on the faith to its children through community worship and sacramental preparation.
- Catholic schools are the bastions of Catholic education and developers of faith. Catholic parents need to be more active in the faith and teachers in Catholic schools need to be prepared to witness to their faith and Gospel.
- A Catholic Church cannot be fully Catholic without the eucharist, the community needs to dig deep and find the courage to provide vocations.
One of Father Tam’s visions was to see the parish establish a childcare centre. When plans for the old church to be turned into a childcare facility fell through last year, the parish finance committee decided to acquire the old government preschool for that purpose. It is perhaps our last parting gift to father, to fulfil this dream and we are determined to honour his spirit by opening a first class facility in the not too distant future.
Like everybody else, Tam had some serious bumps along the way, but his dedication to God, to the priesthood and to his flock never faltered. He was a priest for 54 years, and his vocation was an enormous gift to us all. He was a holy man with great devotion to our blessed Lady. He could be stubborn at times but always without fear, doing what he thought was best for his parishioners. His parishioners were his family and like a good father his never let us down. He served us long passed the call of duty and never really enjoyed any real retirement. We hope that we also gave him a lot of satisfaction and joy in his life and occasionally put a smile on his face. He has touched every one of us in some way and each of us has a special memory of him. He married my wife and I and also baptised our first child at Abergowrie. I encourage you to share your thoughts and memories with each other over the next couple of days.
Father Ferlazzo was God’s right hand man in this district and our church community has been deeply saddened by his passing. We will remember him with reverence and love and his spirit will forever remain amongst us.
Father, we know that you are finally enjoying the fruits of your labour and eternal happiness in God’s presence. Father Tam rest in peace.
Eulogy delivered by Fr Tam’s nephew – Francis Ferlazzo
Upon the steep hills of Sicily in the township , Librizzi, lived two remarkable people, Francesco and Maria Santa Ferlazzo, my grandparents. Neither had received any formal education and were forced to live poor and humble lives. It was then on 20th March 1927, that Tindaro, better known as Tam, was born into this world.
With little or no prospects of a decent future in their own hometown, my grandfather decided to travel to Australia in search of a better life for his family. After working in different parts of the country, he settled on a small farm in Kolijo , 50kms north of Mackay. He worked hard and eventually earned enough money to bring his wife Maria and son, Tam over from Italy. Tam was nine.
As migrants, Tam’s parents struggled to survive and fit into the foreign community. They began their life in Australia, living in a small tin shed with a dirt floor.
Tam began his primary education at the local school in Mt Pelion, a 6km journey on foot, each way, every day. One of Tam’s strongest memories of those days at school was a priest, Fr Basil Foster, who visited the school each week to conduct religious education to the Catholic children. Tam’s faith at this time was basic but pure and he believes it was during this time that the seed was sown in his heart and mind to work for God.
After completing his primary education, he then had to travel 50km by rail motor every morning to the Christian Brothers School in Mackay. This is where he completed what was known then as sub-junior and junior. Whilst at high school the Brothers continued the teaching of God and the history of the church. This only confirmed his feelings that he had in primary school and reinforced the hunger to give his life to God. Tam developed a great love for Our Lady and always asked for her guidance during these troubled times.
As there were no facilities for sub senior and senior high school at the Christian brothers in Mackay, Tam decided to travel to Banyo Seminary in Brisbane. This is where he spent the next 9 years of his life, 2 years completing High School and 7 years studying to become a priest. He could only come home each Christmas, and during this time, he spent many hours telling his family about the gospel and the life of Jesus Christ. My father, Sarino, Tam’s Brother, still vividly remembers the time when Tam graphically tells the story of the crucifixion. After telling that story, Tam’s mother, Maria, just sat down and cried.
On 29th June 1953, together with Father James, Tam was ordained a priest in the Sacred Heart Cathedral in Townsville by Bishop Ryan. The entire family, together with many parishioners of St Helens Parish of Kolijo made the journey to Townsville by train for the celebration. After the ordination, they all got back on the train and travelled back to Kolijo, and it was there that he celebrated his first mass in the small humble tin church of St Helens. This was the very next day.
So the seed that was planted by God, way back in his early primary school years, was well on the way towards being something special.
Even though Tam was devoted to his work in the priesthood, he always found time to be with his family during the religious celebrations of the year. I have fond memories of the times when my Grandmother would delay lunch, without question, on Christmas Day and Easter Sunday because Tam hadn’t arrived from either Ayr or Ingham to be with us. A good 3-5 hour drive.
Tam had always made himself available to attend religious ceremonies within the family as well. All family weddings, all family funerals and most of the family baptisms were proudly and carefully planned, down to the last detail, and performed to perfection.
He devoted much time to explain the spiritual meaning of all these events. He couldn’t emphasise enough the sanctity of marriage as well as what the serious commitment to one another entailed.
He baptized all of his nephews and nieces, including myself, my brothers, George, Michael and Anthony, my sister Marie and my cousins Nicholas and Louise. He also flew to Sydney to baptize and marry our cousins, of whom some are here tonight.
Then 12 grandchildren came along. Ten of these had the privilege of Father Tam performing their baptisms. The last 2 , Young Samuel & Thomas were both born last year , and even though their parents waited to see if Tam would recover enough to baptize them, this was just not meant to be.
Tam buried his own mother and father as well as my mother’s mother and father, but he told us that the hardest funeral he had ever performed was that of my 19 year old brother, Michael.
Now before I end my brief reflection of Tam’s life and because we can’t thank you all personally, we wish to sincerely thank all the priests of the diocese, the friends and parishioners of all the parishes of Townsville, the Burdekin and Ingham for all your many prayers, visitations and masses, especially in the last 18 months. Also special thanks to the staff of the Ingham Hospital, the Townsville Hospital, the Townsville Mater Hospitals, and the staff of Canossa home for their professional and compassionate care.
Tam had many, many friends, and also quite a large number of very close friends. They not only made him so welcome, but opened their hearts to him and also gave him a room to stay in to relax if he needed.
I must also, on behalf of the family, extend a sincere thankyou to Bishop Michael Putney, who showed much concern and compassion for Tam. Bishop Michael came to his bedside in the hospital up to twice a day for the last five weeks of Tam’s life, giving him a blessing everytime. He was a great support for the family. Bishop , we thankyou from the bottom of our hearts.
I must also sincerely thank Sister Catherine who for the last 18 months cared for Tam in his every need, even driving to Ingham from Townsville to see him in hospital there and whilst he was at Canossa. Mum and Dad are very grateful, not just for looking after Tam’s needs, but also theirs. Thankyou sister.
Mum and Dad would not normally do this because so many people have been so very special, but there is one person who does deserve a special mention because she has known Tam since he was ordained in 1953. Together with her late husband and children, they became very close friends throughout Tam’s 55 years as a priest. This lady is Ursula O’Donnell, who was there everyday of the last 3 ½ weeks of Tam’s life, sometimes for hours on end, sometimes well into the night, praying together with us. Her presence was a great comfort for us all, right until the very end. We love you Ursula and we thankyou.
There are many precious gifts that Tam gave to our family in his life , but none greater than the gift of love from a great son, a great brother, a great uncle and a true friend. And may I quote Fr Taylor. ”May the Lord welcome and bring Father Tam Ferlazzo into the glory of God, and recognize him as we do – a colossal champion for Christ” He will be sorely missed.