Chaplain Harold Frederick Stevens’s strong work ethic was instilled when he was only a child and had to help his newly widowed mother support the family. Now aged in his nineties, Harold has no plans to stop working.
Archbishop Justin Daniel Simonds took eight-year-old Harold under his wing after his father died of a heart attack and his kindness sparked Harold’s desire to become a chaplain.
‘My whole life was built around the church,’ Harold says.
But because of his family’s financial situation, it wasn’t a straightforward path to the seminary.
‘I got it really tough. My elder sister used to try and come down one or two nights a week, but she had four children so that made it difficult. My uncle was the local police sergeant and where we lived was part of the police station. He arranged for us to do the prisoners’ meals and also to do the cleaning at the courthouse.’
As he got older, Harold worked at an uncle’s hardware shop during the day and another uncle’s local cinema at night.
‘My uncle asked me to go to RMIT and do a four-year course become a fully qualified projectionist. I passed the exam and then began working as a licensed protectionist for Hoyts.
‘At the same time, I had a cousin who worked for General Motors and they had vacancies down there for accountants, so I got a part-time job down there several days a week, as well as doing the projection work at night.’
Harold was in his late 30s by the time he started his religious training. He became a chaplain at St Vincent’s Hospital and for his RAAF Reserve 21st Squadron unit, which he was a member of for 40 years.
A highlight was his appointment as the Papal Liaison officer for the visit of John Paul Pope II to Australia in 1986, when Harold not only met the Pope, but received communion from him.
Whilst Harold has loved being a chaplain, he admits dealing with grief and loss has been challenging at times.
‘In 1986, I was asked to go across to Fairfield Hospital and learn all about HIV and AIDS. I'd meet people in the morning, and I’d get a call in the afternoon to come back because they were seriously ill. You would get back and they'd just passed away; and that was happening repeatedly.
‘Following that, I was transferred to Footscray Town Hall to train people in the HIV field and that led to nine years on Lifeline, which was the biggest challenge of all. the stories you heard and the poor people themselves…they can't understand why they've got this disease and it upsets you as well. You've got be so strong and you are, for a start, but before long you find you almost breakdown with them.’
Harold still provides pastoral care and holds services for staff and his fellow residents at his aged care facility. He dismisses any thought of retirement.
‘You never retire from doing God's work.’
Listen to Harold's story
Reviewed 31 August 2022