As awards go, they don’t much higher than this. After a lifetime of service to the community, Hastings resident Brian Stahl has been honoured with the Papal Award, the Cross Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice.
The boy who hailed from Wycheproof in North Western Victoria believes it was his small town upbringing that taught him the importance of community service.
“In a small town, it was essential that everybody chipped in to help,” said Brian.
“I was lucky enough to have my formative years in a town that had people well ahead of their time, and that understood the importance of fostering community spirit and service in people from a young age.”
Brian speaks specifically of Norm Saffin and his wife who were involved in the higher elementary school in Wycheproof and who broadened the horizons of the country kids there, setting Brian up for a life of service.
“Not only did they take us on field trips to broaden our horizon, we had exchange students from England (remember, this was the 1950’s), and more importantly, a Junior Council in Wycheproof with elected junior councillors.”
By the time Brian and his late wife Bernice arrived in Hastings, community service was already intrinsic to the daily life of the pair.
“We purchased the barber shop in Hastings. We’d heard about the BP Refinery, and the possibility of a deep-water port, and knew it was a place where we could work and raise a family”.
On his first day in the barber’s, Brian was paid a visit by Tom Holland, a member of the local Catholic parish, and a fellow member of the Knights of the Southern Cross.
“Day one I was involved. That was the kind of community Hastings was. Again, all shoulders to the wheel in those days”.
And there were a lot of wheels to be shouldered.
Brian’s list of community service and achievements is long and constant throughout the over 50 years that he has lived in Hastings.
From involvement in the CFA, Hastings Cricket and Football clubs (where he is a past president and life member), and Hastings Tennis Club (where he is a past president), Brian has served on more committees, clubs and associations than it is possible to mention.
Brian became a Justice of the Peace in 1978.
With the encouragement of retiring councillor, Jim Paton, Brian stood for council for the Shire of Hastings in 1987 and won.
His role as a local councillor was at a time of tremendous change in local government in Victoria, with the Kennett government aggressively pursuing the merger of councils across the state.
The Shire of Hastings merged with both the Shire of Flinders and the Shire of Mornington to make one shire covering the entire Mornington Peninsula.
Brian was elected to the new Mornington Peninsula Shire in 2003, and served as a councillor until 2008, including a stint as mayor in 2005/6.
In 2004, a letter arrived at the family home with “Personal in Confidence” stamped on the front. Brian, expecting it to be mundane and non-urgent, put it aside, but was encourage by his wife to open it
“It was actually a notification that I had been awarded an Order of Australia Medal (OAM) for service to local government and the people of Western Port”, said Brian.
It was a great honour, but one he credited not just to himself, but to the whole community, and his late wife.
Tragedy struck for Brian and his family with the sudden passing of his wife, Bernice on 20 June, 2014.
During his entire life in Hastings, Brian has been a cornerstone of the local Catholic church, and served on the church building committee, the pastoral council, the finance committee and the board of Padua College.
It was this service that saw Western Port Parish Priest, Father Michael Miles, and the current Western Port Stewardship Committee nominate Brian for the prestigious papal award.
Brian was asked to attend St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne on Sunday 20 November, where he was presented with the award from Archbishop Denis Hart, in front of family and friends.
“Just as I did with my OAM,” said Brian. “I accept this award not just as an individual, but as a representative of the entire community. All these achievements, these outcomes, could not be done by the work of just one person, but by the efforts of many.”