“That’s my grandfather,” says high-profile Mortlake local, Father Tom Stevens, pointing to a large framed black and white photograph hanging on the wall of his residence. “He’s at the races as a bookmaker in that photo. I was always around horse racing when I was young and in fact, I’m still there quite a bit now.” 


It’s a sentimental connection between the generations that Tom, 44, is clearly touched by, despite the fact his reason for hitting the track is worlds apart from that of a bookie. Tom, a devoted parish priest at St Patrick’s Catholic church in Mortlake, is also the Australian Turf Club’s chaplain. “Everyone always jokes, ‘Man, what do you do there at the track? Just go to lunch and gamble?’, but there’s actually a lot going on behind the scenes – injuries, stable hands and jockeys wanting support. Even marriages, funerals, and baptisms. It’s interesting work,” says Tom. 


It’s a far from typical sideline for a clergyman but Tom is far from the conservative Catholic priest stereotype. For one, Father Tom – as his congregation knows him – loves a punt. Then there’s the successful career he forged as a lawyer before surprising his friends by applying for seminary school at age 30. “It’s not the kind of thing you talk about with your mates on Friday night at the pub, but I’d been thinking of priesthood since I was a teenager,” he recalls. “There was no ‘road to Damascus’ moment – nothing so romantic, unfortunately. I just thought, You’re not getting any younger, so you’d better give it a go.” 


Easygoing Tom, who grew up in Chatswood as the youngest of seven children in a devoted Irish Catholic family, boarded at St Joseph’s College in Hunters Hill on the lower north shore of Sydney, played rugby, and thrived academically. Law school followed, as did a successful career in maritime law, first in Sydney then in Singapore, until Tom could ignore his spiritual yearning no longer. The then 30-year-old quit law and applied for seminary school in 2008. “You get psych tested as part of the application, and surprisingly, I managed to scam through,” jokes Tom of entry to the seven-year course that started in Sydney and finished in Rome.


His first year, Tom says, had more of a spiritual focus than an academic one but the following six saw him complete bachelor’s degrees in both philosophy and theology. “Basically, it’s like university, but with a lot more prayer,” he says. “During that time, though, you’re also involved in different elements of outreach – hospitals, schools, various things to help others.”

“As a kid growing up, my family would go to St Vinnies in Chatswood and help fold blankets or restock the store. It made my siblings and I constantly aware there were other people who were struggling and we had a duty to help them.”

After being ordained in Italy, Tom returned to Australia and was posted to Liverpool’s All Saints Church as a deacon for four years, before replacing St Patrick’s much-loved long-term pastor John Usher when he retired. “This was already a fantastic, very vibrant parish thanks largely to Monsignor Usher, who had a social welfare background. His great legacy is that he enabled parishioners to take ownership of many aspects of parish leadership. It’s not one of those parishes where the priest does everything. There’s no, ‘Leave it to Father, he’ll do it’ – which, if you’re an inherently lazy priest like me, is a very good thing,” jokes Tom, laughing.


It’s just as well there are plenty of willing and able volunteer hands on deck, given the range of activities, charity initiatives and community offerings Tom instigates. His goal is for the local community to see St Patrick’s as a hub rather than somewhere they come for mass once a week – if at all. There are festival nights in the green space during daylight saving, with food trucks and bands. In May, the church hosted a brunch as part of the Australia-wide Biggest Morning Tea event that raises money for the Cancer Council. And there’s a classical concert featuring an all-female ensemble of Stradivarius Strings scheduled for July 1.

“That’s my grandfather,” says high-profile Mortlake local, Father Tom Stevens, pointing to a large framed black and white photograph hanging on the wall of his residence. “He’s at the races as a bookmaker in that photo. I was always around horse racing when I was young and in fact, I’m still there quite a bit now.” 


It’s a sentimental connection between the generations that Tom, 44, is clearly touched by, despite the fact his reason for hitting the track is worlds apart from that of a bookie. Tom, a devoted parish priest at St Patrick’s Catholic church in Mortlake, is also the Australian Turf Club’s chaplain. “Everyone always jokes, ‘Man, what do you do there at the track? Just go to lunch and gamble?’, but there’s actually a lot going on behind the scenes – injuries, stable hands and jockeys wanting support. Even marriages, funerals, and baptisms. It’s interesting work,” says Tom. 


It’s a far from typical sideline for a clergyman but Tom is far from the conservative Catholic priest stereotype. For one, Father Tom – as his congregation knows him – loves a punt. Then there’s the successful career he forged as a lawyer before surprising his friends by applying for seminary school at age 30. “It’s not the kind of thing you talk about with your mates on Friday night at the pub, but I’d been thinking of priesthood since I was a teenager,” he recalls. “There was no ‘road to Damascus’ moment – nothing so romantic, unfortunately. I just thought, You’re not getting any younger, so you’d better give it a go.” 

“As a kid growing up, my family would go to St Vinnies in Chatswood and help fold blankets or restock the store. It made my siblings and I constantly aware there were other people who were struggling and we had a duty to help them.”

Easygoing Tom, who grew up in Chatswood as the youngest of seven children in a devoted Irish Catholic family, boarded at St Joseph’s College in Hunters Hill on the lower north shore of Sydney, played rugby, and thrived academically. Law school followed, as did a successful career in maritime law, first in Sydney then in Singapore, until Tom could ignore his spiritual yearning no longer. The then 30-year-old quit law and applied for seminary school in 2008. “You get psych tested as part of the application, and surprisingly, I managed to scam through,” jokes Tom of entry to the seven-year course that started in Sydney and finished in Rome.


His first year, Tom says, had more of a spiritual focus than an academic one but the following six saw him complete bachelor’s degrees in both philosophy and theology. “Basically, it’s like university, but with a lot more prayer,” he says. “During that time, though, you’re also involved in different elements of outreach – hospitals, schools, various things to help others.”


After being ordained in Italy, Tom returned to Australia and was posted to Liverpool’s All Saints Church as a deacon for four years, before replacing St Patrick’s much-loved long-term pastor John Usher when he retired. “This was already a fantastic, very vibrant parish thanks largely to Monsignor Usher, who had a social welfare background. His great legacy is that he enabled parishioners to take ownership of many aspects of parish leadership. It’s not one of those parishes where the priest does everything. There’s no, ‘Leave it to Father, he’ll do it’ – which, if you’re an inherently lazy priest like me, is a very good thing,” jokes Tom, laughing.

It’s just as well there are plenty of willing and able volunteer hands on deck, given the range of activities, charity initiatives and community offerings Tom instigates. His goal is for the local community to see St Patrick’s as a hub rather than somewhere they come for mass once a week – if at all. There are festival nights in the green space during daylight saving, with food trucks and bands. In May, the church hosted a brunch as part of the Australia-wide Biggest Morning Tea event that raises money for the Cancer Council. And July 1 we had a classical concert featuring an all-female ensemble of Stradivarius Strings.


Tom has even facilitated a Friday playgroup from 9.15am-10.15am in the church hall for local toddlers and their parents. “I initially suggested to the ladies helping arrange it that it be a Friday afternoon so we could have wine, but I got shot down,” he says, only partly in jest. “I want people to know these parish activities are a community activity, not a Catholic-only thing. It doesn’t matter what ‘brand’ of Christian people are. In fact, you don’t have to be a knee-bender at all to get involved.”


Tom might be extraordinary, but the same can also be said of the people who make up the St Patrick’s parish catchment, which extends from Mortlake and parts of Concord to Cabarita and Breakfast Point. “[Our parish is] quite small in terms of land space, but high population thanks to its demographic – there’s strong Irish and Italian heritage here, which are both predominantly Catholic,” says Tom. “A lot of parishioners have been here a very long time, but with the school across the way, there are more young families moving in, too. In fact, it’s one of the busiest parishes in Sydney in terms of baptisms, which is interesting. We’d easily have 12 to 15 baptisms here a month.”

That generational change to his audience means Tom, like the Catholic Church itself, has needed to reconsider how he operates. “That traditional model of mass every week isn’t necessarily something younger generations of churchgoers adhere to,” he notes. In fact St Patrick’s, like many Catholic churches in Sydney, now live streams its Sunday services. “People have a lot of work and family commitments on Sunday. I’m always amazed at how much running around parents do for their little ones’ sporting commitments. We’ve got to respond to where people are at.”

 

That said, Tom’s own life isn’t lacking plates to spin, either. As well as leading St Patrick’s, he serves as chaplain to Burwood Police Station, “supporting the staff, not their clients”. He also runs his own registered charity called The Anawim Society, which hosts restaurant-like meals in Chippendale and Glebe for those in need who don’t otherwise get to enjoy dignified dining experiences. Anawim, Tom says, is a Hebrew word from the Old Testament that describes those on the fringe of society – the poor, lonely, sick, and afflicted who, in spite of their difficulties, keep their trust and faith; a faction Mary, mother of Jesus, apparently belonged to. “There’s a place in Spain called Robin Hood that runs a paying restaurant during the day, then at night gives people who are struggling the same experience for free. Basically, we’ve taken our model from that,” says Tom. 

While Anawim currently invites guests once a month via women’s shelters, outreach centres, and St Vincent de Paul Society contacts, Tom’s goal is to establish it as a public-facing restaurant with a charitable outreach so it is self-supporting. 

Service, he says, is the role of the church in today’s society.“That great principle of, ‘My life is in service to you’, is a beautiful aspect of Christianity but people don’t have to be religious to tap into that,” says Tom. “It’s what marriage is. It’s what friendships are. Lives, when they’re lived well, are a life of service to another.”

 

So too should church buildings be sanctuaries from the whirlwind of modern life. “Unless it’s terrible weather, I try to always have the church doors open in the daytime,” adds Tom. “It’s beautiful that pretty much any time of the day, someone will be in there saying a little prayer. Maybe it’s just for 20 seconds as they go past on their daily constitutional walk, or maybe they light a candle, then sit in silence and listen to the music. Maybe they’re having a siesta for an energy kick or getting a break from home. Often, they aren’t the people I see at Sunday mass – everyone’s on their own journey, and for some people, that 20-second pop-in is their mass. At the end of the day, everyone’s just searching for peace. I’m glad St Patrick’s is a sanctuary where people can feel at home.” 

For details on St Patrick’s services and community activities, visit stpatsmortlake.org.au 

To support The Anawim Society or learn more about its mission, visit anawim.org.au

Tom has even facilitated a Friday playgroup from 9.15am-10.15am in the church hall for local toddlers and their parents. “I initially suggested to the ladies helping arrange it that it be a Friday afternoon so we could have wine, but I got shot down,” he says, only partly in jest. “I want people to know these parish activities are a community activity, not a Catholic-only thing. It doesn’t matter what ‘brand’ of Christian people are. In fact, you don’t have to be a knee-bender at all to get involved.”


Tom might be extraordinary, but the same can also be said of the people who make up the St Patrick’s parish catchment, which extends from Mortlake and parts of Concord to Cabarita and Breakfast Point. “[Our parish is] quite small in terms of land space, but high population thanks to its demographic – there’s strong Irish and Italian heritage here, which are both predominantly Catholic,” says Tom. “A lot of parishioners have been here a very long time, but with the school across the way, there are more young families moving in, too. In fact, it’s one of the busiest parishes in Sydney in terms of baptisms, which is interesting. We’d easily have 12 to 15 baptisms here a month.”


That generational change to his audience means Tom, like the Catholic Church itself, has needed to reconsider how he operates. “That traditional model of mass every week isn’t necessarily something younger generations of churchgoers adhere to,” he notes. 

“That great principle of, ‘My life is in service to you’, is a beautiful aspect of Christianity but people don’t have to be religious to tap into that,” says Tom. “It’s what marriage is. It’s what friendships are. Lives, when they’re lived well, are a life of service to another.”

 

In fact St Patrick’s, like many Catholic churches in Sydney, now live streams its Sunday services. “People have a lot of work and family commitments on Sunday. I’m always amazed at how much running around parents do for their little ones’ sporting commitments. We’ve got to respond to where people are at.”

 

That said, Tom’s own life isn’t lacking plates to spin, either. As well as leading St Patrick’s, he serves as chaplain to Burwood Police Station, “supporting the staff, not their clients”. He also runs his own registered charity called The Anawim Society, which hosts restaurant-like meals in Chippendale and Glebe for those in need who don’t otherwise get to enjoy dignified dining experiences. Anawim, Tom says, is a Hebrew word from the Old Testament that describes those on the fringe of society – the poor, lonely, sick, and afflicted who, in spite of their difficulties, keep their trust and faith; a faction Mary, mother of Jesus, apparently belonged to. “There’s a place in Spain called Robin Hood that runs a paying restaurant during the day, then at night gives people who are struggling the same experience for free. Basically, we’ve taken our model from that,” says Tom. 

 

 

 

While Anawim currently invites guests once a month via women’s shelters, outreach centres, and St Vincent de Paul Society contacts, Tom’s goal is to establish it as a public-facing restaurant with a charitable outreach so it is self-supporting. 

Service, he says, is the role of the church in today’s society.“That great principle of, ‘My life is in service to you’, is a beautiful aspect of Christianity but people don’t have to be religious to tap into that,” says Tom. “It’s what marriage is. It’s what friendships are. Lives, when they’re lived well, are a life of service to another.”

 

So too should church buildings be sanctuaries from the whirlwind of modern life. “Unless it’s terrible weather, I try to always have the church doors open in the daytime,” adds Tom. “It’s beautiful that pretty much any time of the day, someone will be in there saying a little prayer. Maybe it’s just for 20 seconds as they go past on their daily constitutional walk, or maybe they light a candle, then sit in silence and listen to the music. Maybe they’re having a siesta for an energy kick or getting a break from home. Often, they aren’t the people I see at Sunday mass – everyone’s on their own journey, and for some people, that 20-second pop-in is their mass. At the end of the day, everyone’s just searching for peace. I’m glad St Patrick’s is a sanctuary where people can feel at home.” 

For details on St Patrick’s services and community activities, visit stpatsmortlake.org.au 

To support The Anawim Society or learn more about its mission, visit anawim.org.au

“That’s my grandfather,” says high-profile Mortlake local, Father Tom Stevens, pointing to a large framed black and white photograph hanging on the wall of his residence. “He’s at the races as a bookmaker in that photo. I was always around horse racing when I was young and in fact, I’m still there quite a bit now.” 


It’s a sentimental connection between the generations that Tom, 44, is clearly touched by, despite the fact his reason for hitting the track is worlds apart from that of a bookie. Tom, a devoted parish priest at St Patrick’s Catholic church in Mortlake, is also the Australian Turf Club’s chaplain. “Everyone always jokes, ‘Man, what do you do there at the track? Just go to lunch and gamble?’, but there’s actually a lot going on behind the scenes – injuries, stable hands and jockeys wanting support. Even marriages, funerals, and baptisms. It’s interesting work,” says Tom. 


It’s a far from typical sideline for a clergyman but Tom is far from the conservative Catholic priest stereotype. For one, Father Tom – as his congregation knows him – loves a punt. Then there’s the successful career he forged as a lawyer before surprising his friends by applying for seminary school at age 30. “It’s not the kind of thing you talk about with your mates on Friday night at the pub, but I’d been thinking of priesthood since I was a teenager,” he recalls. “There was no ‘road to Damascus’ moment – nothing so romantic, unfortunately. I just thought, You’re not getting any younger, so you’d better give it a go.” 


Easygoing Tom, who grew up in Chatswood as the youngest of seven children in a devoted Irish Catholic family, boarded at St Joseph’s College in Hunters Hill on the lower north shore of Sydney, played rugby, and thrived academically.


Law school followed, as did a successful career in maritime law, first in Sydney then in Singapore, until Tom could ignore his spiritual yearning no longer. The then 30-year-old quit law and applied for seminary school in 2008. “You get psych tested as part of the application, and surprisingly, I managed to scam through,” jokes Tom of entry to the seven-year course that started in Sydney and finished in Rome.

“As a kid growing up, my family would go to St Vinnies in Chatswood and help fold blankets or restock the store. It made my siblings and I constantly aware there were other people who were struggling and we had a duty to help them.”

His first year, Tom says, had more of a spiritual focus than an academic one but the following six saw him complete bachelor’s degrees in both philosophy and theology. “Basically, it’s like university, but with a lot more prayer,” he says. “During that time, though, you’re also involved in different elements of outreach – hospitals, schools, various things to help others.”


After being ordained in Italy, Tom returned to Australia and was posted to Liverpool’s All Saints Church as a deacon for four years, before replacing St Patrick’s much-loved long-term pastor John Usher when he retired. “This was already a fantastic, very vibrant parish thanks largely to Monsignor Usher, who had a social welfare background. His great legacy is that he enabled parishioners to take ownership of many aspects of parish leadership. It’s not one of those parishes where the priest does everything. There’s no, ‘Leave it to Father, he’ll do it’ – which, if you’re an inherently lazy priest like me, is a very good thing,” jokes Tom, laughing.

It’s just as well there are plenty of willing and able volunteer hands on deck, given the range of activities, charity initiatives and community offerings Tom instigates. His goal is for the local community to see St Patrick’s as a hub rather than somewhere they come for mass once a week – if at all. There are festival nights in the green space during daylight saving, with food trucks and bands. In May, the church hosted a brunch as part of the Australia-wide Biggest Morning Tea event that raises money for the Cancer Council. And July 1 we had a classical concert featuring an all-female ensemble of Stradivarius Strings.

 

 

Tom has even facilitated a Friday playgroup from 9.15am-10.15am in the church hall for local toddlers and their parents. “I initially suggested to the ladies helping arrange it that it be a Friday afternoon so we could have wine, but I got shot down,” he says, only partly in jest. “I want people to know these parish activities are a community activity, not a Catholic-only thing. It doesn’t matter what ‘brand’ of Christian people are. In fact, you don’t have to be a knee-bender at all to get involved.”

 

 

Tom might be extraordinary, but the same can also be said of the people who make up the St Patrick’s parish catchment, which extends from Mortlake and parts of Concord to Cabarita and Breakfast Point. “[Our parish is] quite small in terms of land space, but high population thanks to its demographic – there’s strong Irish and Italian heritage here, which are both predominantly Catholic,” says Tom. “A lot of parishioners have been here a very long time, but with the school across the way, there are more young families moving in, too. In fact, it’s one of the busiest parishes in Sydney in terms of baptisms, which is interesting. We’d easily have 12 to 15 baptisms here a month.”

That generational change to his audience means Tom, like the Catholic Church itself, has needed to reconsider how he operates. “That traditional model of mass every week isn’t necessarily something younger generations of churchgoers adhere to,” he notes. In fact St Patrick’s, like many Catholic churches in Sydney, now live streams its Sunday services. “People have a lot of work and family commitments on Sunday. I’m always amazed at how much running around parents do for their little ones’ sporting commitments. We’ve got to respond to where people are at.” That said, Tom’s own life isn’t lacking plates to spin, either. As well as leading St Patrick’s, he serves as chaplain to Burwood Police Station, “supporting the staff, not their clients”. He also runs his own registered charity called The Anawim Society, which hosts restaurant-like meals in Chippendale and Glebe for those in need who don’t otherwise get to enjoy dignified dining experiences. Anawim, Tom says, is a Hebrew word from the Old Testament that describes those on the fringe of society – the poor, lonely, sick, and afflicted who, in spite of their difficulties, keep their trust and faith; a faction Mary, mother of Jesus, apparently belonged to. “There’s a place in Spain called Robin Hood that runs a paying restaurant during the day, then at night gives people who are struggling the same experience for free. Basically, we’ve taken our model from that,” says Tom. 

While Anawim currently invites guests once a month via women’s shelters, outreach centres, and St Vincent de Paul Society contacts, Tom’s goal is to establish it as a public-facing restaurant with a charitable outreach so it is self-supporting. Service, he says, is the role of the church in today’s society.

 

“That great principle of, ‘My life is in service to you’, is a beautiful aspect of Christianity but people don’t have to be religious to tap into that,” says Tom. “It’s what marriage is. It’s what friendships are. Lives, when they’re lived well, are a life of service to another.”

So too should church buildings be sanctuaries from the whirlwind of modern life. “Unless it’s terrible weather, I try to always have the church doors open in the daytime,” adds Tom. “It’s beautiful that pretty much any time of the day, someone will be in there saying a little prayer. Maybe it’s just for 20 seconds as they go past on their daily constitutional walk, or maybe they light a candle, then sit in silence and listen to the music. Maybe they’re having a siesta for an energy kick or getting a break from home. Often, they aren’t the people I see at Sunday mass – everyone’s on their own journey, and for some people, that 20-second pop-in is their mass. At the end of the day, everyone’s just searching for peace. I’m glad St Patrick’s is a sanctuary where people can feel at home.” 

For details on St Patrick’s services and community activities, visit stpatsmortlake.org.au 

To support The Anawim Society or learn more about its mission, visit anawim.org.au

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