Leader of the pack

By Joe Novella Photos Yanni

There’s a lot more to the Reverend Father Geoff McIlroy than a life of prayer and preaching. Sure, as the Parish Priest at Saint Macartan’s in Mornington, Father Geoff spends a lot of his time doing God’s work, but when he does get some spare time, he often swaps his priestly vestments for leathers and heads for the wide-open roads of the beautiful Mornington Peninsula on his Harley Davidson Softail Heritage Classic.

I asked Father Geoff what his parishioners think when they see him in his riding gear. “First impression, I suppose, is I look a little scary, like a rebel maybe, not as a Priest should look like. But then they see it’s me with the big fluorescent cross on my back, and they know I’m riding for pleasure on my day off.”

Father Geoff’s life journey into the priesthood, and eventually to Saint Macartan’s in December 2019, has been one full of twists and turns. “I came out from England in 1968 aged five with my father, mother and sister and we lived in Sydney for four years before moving to Keysborough, Melbourne. It was a new estate with no church. So my family and others became the foundation members of the new Keysborough Parish of the Resurrection.”

Becoming part of the community in Keysborough was an important part of Father Geoff’s spiritual journey. The young Geoff McIlroy witnessed firsthand the power of belonging and feeling welcomed. “We came to a country where we had no relatives and we became part of a beautiful new family in the Church.”

The young Geoff attended Keysborough Tech. before moving to St Bede’s, Mentone, where his faith could be nurtured and his academic aptitude for English and the Sciences could be further developed. And from there he graduated  to a highly successful career in business with 25 years as an Industrial Chemist, Quality Assurance Manager and International Systems Auditor.

As a young man, Geoff had it all: a loving partner, great jobs, money and travel experiences all over the world including Italy, America and England. So what made him leave a lifestyle that would be the envy of many to become a priest at the ripe old age of 46? “Something was missing in my life,” said Father Geoff. “Even with all the trappings there was an emptiness, a missing link, and it was my love of God that was missing, I’d lost it. I asked myself, ‘How can I love someone I don’t know?’ Well, I can’t, so I set out to find out, to find the face of God.”

Father Geoff’s spiritual search for reconnection with God led him into community work: retirement villages, setting up a halfway house and Christian counselling service, even into leading a mission overseas. “I saw the face of God in all these places. And the last place I saw him was in my heart, where he revealed my life’s purpose. It happened when I was teaching a person the power of prayer to help her deal with a loss, and it was then I realised that this is what I was meant to do. I was meant to connect people with God.”

So how did his love of motorbikes come along, I wondered? It seems so removed from the life of a Priest. “Riding a motorbike,” said Father Geoff, “is quite a solitary thing; you alone in your helmet experiencing the road and environmental conditions, feeling connected to nature all around you. You can smell it, taste it, sense it, and most of all really thoroughly appreciate it better. It is a pleasure to feel the torque of an engine kick in when you take a tight line up a curving mountain road, feeling the temperature change when the weather conditions change, and feel the grip of the road and the speed of the bike – all within the limits of the law of course, and within the limits of the road conditions and my ability. Also meeting other motorcyclists; having the bike opens up dialogue and helps begin friendships.”

Father Geoff’s words gave me pause to think about my own moments of peace and connection. Now, I must admit, I have my own struggles in connecting with God, but I cannot deny we all have times and ways to connect to an energy greater than ourselves. For me, it’s when I swim in the waters of our beautiful bay; for others it may be as the walk or jog, work in their gardens or meditate. For Father Geoff, it just so happens to be on the back of a “hog”.

Father Geoff’s love of his bike has led him to start a club. “All through my motorcycle life I have been part of motorcycle clubs, as they are places where those who love riding and forming friendships meet and go riding. So wherever I go, I try to find a club to ride with. I couldn’t find one on the Peninsula that would fit around my duties at Saint Macartan’s, so I decided to start my own, which I have called Peninsula Motorcycle Club.”

And Father Geoff’s favourite rides? “I used to lead a ride over Mt Hotham each year, staying a few days at Harrietville and touring around before heading over to Omeo, Swifts Creek, Bruthen then back to Melbourne. I’ve also gone over to Adelaide, overnight at Mt Gambier. Both terrific rides. But right now, I like the challenge of the hairpin, corkscrew turns, up and down Arthur’s Seat and around the Peninsula.”

Father Geoff is enjoying his time as part of the Mornington community. “I love the windy, crisp, clean air with a hint of saltiness,” he said. “I love Main Street cafe’s and restaurants, but mostly it’s the people. They seem more relaxed than other places I’ve lived, or maybe it’s just me?”

During his time at Saint Macartan’s, Father Geoff hopes to reconnect people with God and the Church, grow the parish and make the Church more relevant in the everyday lives of the locals. And most of all, he’d love to get more people to join him on one of his rides around our beautiful Mornington Peninsula.

The Peninsula Motorcycle Club meets the last Monday of the month at 10am in front of St Macartan’s Community House (10 Drake Street).

For further information or to join, contact Fr. Geoff McIlroy at mornington@cam.org.au

Peninsula Essence – May 2021