Chaplain in brown habit bids farewell to ACU

He’s one of the most recognisable people at ACU Banyo, but Fr Harry Chan’s time as campus chaplain is coming to an end.

Since 2014, Fr Harry has been a friendly and unassuming presence to students and staff on the Brisbane campus. His distinctive brown habit, characteristic of his Franciscan religious community, means Fr Harry stands out from the campus crowd, but he uses the extra attention to his advantage.

“Part of my job is to go around and say hello to people,” Fr Harry said.

“During the semester I tend to wear my habit more often, to be seen and be visible. I’ve found people are quite receptive when I do that. There’s a friendliness in the Queensland culture.”

From baptising the babies of students, to sitting with staff in some of their darkest moments, Fr Harry’s most important job is to be present.

“Some of my most memorable moments are being with students and staff in the most difficult moments in their lives, whether they’re experiencing marriage issues or stressing out about their studies, or they have health issues,” Fr Harry said.

“Sometimes you feel helpless, but just by listening to them and offering your prayer, it gives them some hope and consolation. When I go around saying hello to people, occasionally if someone is in need or are troubled, they will come to me for guidance. I treasure these moments.”

Born in Hong Kong but raised in New Zealand, Fr Harry initially set out to become an accountant. After graduating from university, he worked in a finance company for one year, before assisting his father’s toy factory business.

When he joined the Order of Franciscans Minor, he assumed he would work in a parish for most of his priestly life. But the leader of Fr Harry’s religious community had other plans, and after two years as a priest, he was appointed chaplain in a foreign city.

“I was shocked and in disbelief that they wanted me to come here to Brisbane. I think it was fear of never having lived in Brisbane before, and also not knowing anyone here,” Fr Harry said.

“Chaplaincy work is also quite different from working in a parish. As a parish priest, you get a lot of requests for funerals, baptisms, wedding and Masses. Being a university chaplain, you are invited to a variety of events and activities.”

University events and activities, both on campus and off, take up a large chunk of Fr Harry’s time, but there’s one event that can’t go on without him.

“Being a Franciscan, I like to bring a bit of Franciscan flavour to the campus,” Fr Harry said. “It’s our Franciscan tradition around the world to bless animals, usually around the feast day of St Francis.

“Here at ACU Banyo, we have been doing the Blessing of the Animals for the past eight years, and just once during COVID I did it online. It’s become one of the most popular events on the campus.

“During the year students and staff often ask me when the animal blessing will be on. Even people who aren’t particularly religious are always willing to bring their pets to campus for a blessing.”

Sadly, next year’s blessing is likely to go on without Fr Harry, who has been reassigned by his religious community to another ministry. But before the new chapter begins, Fr Harry will go on sabbatical for six months, and plans to do short courses in the Holy Land and in Scotland.

“These courses hopefully will help me to grow spiritually and also will be helpful in my future ministry,” Fr Harry said.

“After sabbatical I’ll come back to Australia and then I will find out where I will be, what I will do for my Franciscan order community.”

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