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Priest and poet, baker, neighbour

Born in Gippsland, Anglican friar Noel Jeffs studied theology at St Barnabas College in Adelaide. The Sisters of the Anglican Community of the Holy Name ran a retreat house there, and Noel was inspired by their missionary works. The Sisters helped Noel discern a call to Franciscan life and ministry.

Ordained a priest in the Ballarat Diocese in 1976, Noel served in Ararat and Horsham for three years before moving to Brisbane. There, he joined the Society of St Francis, a religious community marked by faith, compassion and simplicity. “It was in the days of potted ferns, and ladies in hats and gloves,” Noel recalls.

In the late 1980s, Noel travelled to England via the United States. He served in Cambridge, Sheffield and Lincolnshire, then Alnmouth in Northumberland. Neighbourhood ministry centred on hospitality.

Noel enrolled in further study at Regents College, London. He was awarded a Master of Arts in the Psychology of Therapy and Counselling by Antioch College, an affiliate of the University of Ohio.

He remembers living near Whitechapel, joining the Group Analytical Society and working as an honorary psychotherapist in London. “My therapist and teacher was Sr Eva Hamann RSJ,” Noel says. “She encouraged my work on spirituality and sexuality.”

While in London he studied under psychotherapist Jeff Roberts at the Royal London Hospital. Dr Roberts would prove an encouraging mentor. Noel explains: “Later, I lived in a hermitage in Stroud, NSW. Beautiful mud-brick buildings. It was there I completed my thesis on maturing in the religious life. I’m indebted to Jeff. We had a lovely correspondence over many years.”

Further opportunities in counselling led to ministry with the St Vincent de Paul house in Redfern, then the Matthew Talbot Hostel in Woolloomooloo. Noel lived for a time in Marrickville, then Enmore where he joined St Luke’s Anglican parish (he remains a member).

For the past 20 years Noel has lived in a Bridge Housing flat in Eveleigh. “I will stay here until I fall over,” Noel laughs. “I’m comfortably established here. I volunteer a little and I enjoy writing poetry.”

Poetry is a passion. In 2011, Noel completed a Master of Creative Writing at the University of Sydney under Associate Professor Kate Lilley. St Francis of Assisi was a poet too, Noel observes. “He wrote in the vernacular.”

Noel describes his own poetry as postmodern. He belongs to the Judith Beveridge Poetry Group, which meets online.

Chronic back pain and impaired hearing make some days very challenging, and Noel appreciates the support of an ACON counsellor, his fellow Franciscans at Stroud, in Brisbane, Sri Lanka and Korea, as well as kind neighbours in South Sydney.

A regular patron of Lobby Boy Café in South Eveleigh, Noel enjoys friendship with staff at Delhi O Delhi in Erskineville and the Alexandria Service Station. “I like to bake,” Noel says. “I take – or send by post – something to share with the staff – brandied cumquats, cakes, something gluten- and lactose-free. I sometimes receive a coffee in return.”

Noel sees religious vocation as care for neighbours. “I offer poetry, connection, silence. My neighbourhood is around me.”

Noel Jeffs SSF, Maturing in the Religious Life: The Image of the Heart and the Heart’s Desire is published by MoshPit, Penrith, NSW, 2021.

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