29 August 2022
A Melbourne priest who struggled to finish school and later studied at St Stephen’s Seminary in Oxford is soon to celebrate 50 years of ordination.
Father Noel Whale’s career in ministry has taken him to the United Kingdom, Jerusalem, Turkey and Manhattan, as well as a number of parishes across Melbourne.
As part of his career, he also served as Precentor of St Paul’s Cathedral for several years.
Mr Whale recently retired as vicar at Holy Trinity Port Melbourne, just prior to turning 81.
He said that he was born into a nominal Anglican family who attended St Paul’s Welshpool in Gippsland but knew early on that the priesthood may be a pathway he wanted to pursue.
“I remember telling my mother very early on that I was quite interested in being ordained, and she didn’t think it was a very good idea at all,” Mr Whale said.
Mr Whale’s family later moved to Dandenong, where he said they lived on a shoestring. It was there that he became much more involved in the church. He attended Sunday School, then later, Young Anglican Fellowship. He was confirmed as a teenager was later confirmed by Reverend Michael Clark of St James’ Dandenong. He said Mr Clark was a key influence in his life and his love of the church.
Mr Whale left school without graduating to provide for his family and was forced to complete his schooling at night after work.
Mr Whale said that he was always interested in the rest of the world, and that eventually, Dandenong began to feel small. He dreamed of living in the United Kingdom. All the while in the back of his mind, a call to ministry was growing.
He moved to England in his early working life and settled at a parish in Kensington.
“When I got to England, the hound of heaven was even more vocal there, so I had to actually come to terms with it,” he said.
Eventually in 1967, through the influence of former Melbourne Bishop James Grant AM and Frank Woods, former Archbishop of Melbourne, he chose to study at St Stephen’s House in Oxford. He said the seminary study was challenging, as he had been in the workforce for 10 years and had no tertiary education. But he persisted.
He was ordained at Christ Church Cathedral in Oxford in 1971, then served his curacy at St Michael’s and All Angels in Amersham.
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Mr Whale returned to Australia in 1973 by working as a chaplain on a migrant ship. He began his second curacy at All Saints’ Newtown in Geelong, before serving his first appointment as a priest in Australia at St Eanswythe’s in Altona.
After nine years in this role, he took a leave of absence to study at St George’s College in Jerusalem, then briefly worked in Manhattan at the episcopal Church of the Transfiguration.
Upon his return to Australia, he served at St George’s East Ivanhoe and St Peter’s Bundoora. Between these appointments, he also served a stint as Precentor of St Paul’s Cathedral. Mr Whale also retired twice – the first time when he was 70. Soon after stepping back, he left retirement to take up the position of vicar at Holy Trinity Port Melbourne. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise for the priest of 40 years.
“I’m always up for a challenge,” he said.
“It’s great that I ended on the same note really after all those years. [I] still love [ministry].
“l like the idea that I’ve been bookended with a fantastic beginning and a fantastic end. My second retirement was almost as exciting as my first appointment.”
During his ministry, Mr Whale also led Holy Land tours to Turkey, and partook in his own travels through the UK, Europe and North Africa.
“I’m very much an international,” he said.
Mr Whale said that his extensive travel experience assisted with his work, as he learned to trust his gut through risky situations. He said this served him well in ministry.
He also said that throughout his life, he felt a responsibility to listen to the voice of God and was committed to seeing God at work wherever he was.
“If you’re touched by the hand of God, in a way it’s scary. But it’s hugely liberating and [offers] confidence and security. And that’s what I love about it, the fact that I just feel that I don’t walk alone,” he said.