Obituary: Father Vallis showed how faith enabled trust in the Lord
The life and pastoral work of the well-known Fr Tony Vallis from the Archdiocese of Perth will be forever remembered and marked by his firm trust in the Lord and witness to following the will of God. Photo: Supplied
By Jamie O’Brien
The life and pastoral work of the well-known and respected Father Anthony (Tony) Desmond Vallis from the Archdiocese of Perth will be forever remembered and marked by his firm trust in the Lord and witness to following the will of God.
The 71-year-old Fr Vallis passed away last month on Friday, 23 October 2015, with his funeral Mass celebrated on Friday, 30 October at St Gerard’s Church, Mirrabooka in the presence of some 600 family, friends and former parishioners.
The funeral Mass and burial was celebrated by Perth Auxiliary Bishop Don Sproxton and concelebrated by Bishop Justin Bianchini from the Diocese of Geraldton, in addition to some 45 priests from across Western Australia.
In his homily for the occasion, Bishop Don said that, as Fr Vallis faced his last illness, he showed those around him how, in a sense, he had been formed by the hands of the potter.
“He showed how the faith that he had developed in his heart throughout his life enabled him to put his trust in the Lord, and to press forward knowing that, inevitably, in a very short time, he would have to pass over from this life to the next,” Bishop Don said.
“He faced that reality of his condition and he decided to hand it over to Jesus,” he said.
“That serenity of heart could only have come from his confidence in Jesus that he had developed over many years.”
eRecord Editor Jamie O’Brien spoke to Fr Vallis’ sisters, Nancy Allen, Leticia Vallis and Joyce Dunn, to learn more about the life of the widely well-regarded man who served as assistant priest at Our Lady of Lourdes Rockingham Parish, chaplain at Royal Perth Hospital, and then parish priest at St Mary’s Kalgoorlie and Our Lady of Mercy Girrawheen Parishes.
Fr Vallis was born in Bangalore, India in 1944 after his family had not long moved from Rangoon, Burma during the Second World War for safety reasons.
As a devoted child and son to his parents, Walter and Theodora Vallis, the young Tony Vallis will be remembered by his siblings as a mischievous but smiling and content young boy.
In approximately 1946, the family returned to Rangoon while Tony was still very young.
It was during his school years that, with a very natural talent, Tony taught himself how to read music and play the keyboard, skills he developed as he grew older.
“He retained a life-long love of music, enjoying the blues, jazz and classical music with a modern twist, especially Andre Rieu,” Mrs Dunn said.
As a young man, his desire to follow Christ and help others led to his decision to enter the seminary of the Salesian Order, where he spent two years studying in India.
Unfortunately, due to health issues, Fr Vallis decided it wasn’t the right time, and returned to Rangoon.
In October 1966, Fr Vallis emigrated to Australia, together with his mother, Theodora, and sisters in search of a better life.
“However, he always had fond thoughts of Burma and wanted to remember it as the beautiful country of his childhood,” Miss Vallis said.
For the next 21 years, Tony went on to work in accounting and administration, while also serving on various parish councils, playing the organ at church and as a volunteer, helping those facing illness and death.
It was during this time that Tony returned to India where he worked with Mother Teresa, whose conversations were instrumental in his decision to again seek out a vocation to the priesthood.
Returning to Australia, Tony, then aged 42, entered St Charles’ Seminary, unsure of the final outcome but positive of the knowledge that “God leads you where he needs you at particular points in your life”.
Following six years of study at St Francis Xavier Seminary in Adelaide, Fr Vallis was ordained to the priesthood on 7 December 1991 by then Archbishop Barry Hickey at St Mary’s Cathedral.
His first Mass on the feast of the Immaculate Conception on 8 December 1991, and subsequent first appointment as assistant priest at Our Lady of Lourdes Rockingham, were to remain as strong signs for the newly ordained priest, who was forever inspired by his mother’s devotion (to the Virgin Mary).
This connection to the Virgin Mary had also been encouraged in the previous year, during which he served as a Deacon at Our Lady of Lourdes Nollamara Parish.
In 1994, Fr Vallis was appointed as chaplain at Royal Perth Hospital, where he served for some eight years, finding great fulfilment in exercising his passion for comforting people in time of crisis with a unique pastoral care.
It was this challenge that enabled him to later become an effective and sensitive pastor in Kalgoorlie and in Girrawheen.
Mrs Allen said that, for Fr Vallis, his ordination, working alongside his hero Mother Teresa and twice meeting then Pope John Paull II (the first as JPII’s mitre bearer in 1986 and the second, in Rome in 2003) remained the stand-out moments of his life.
“He was enthralled by John Paul II and was delighted that ‘this little priest from Australia’ was invited to meet with the Pope at the Vatican,” Mrs Allen said.
“But it was also his daily life as a priest, working with the many wonderful parishioners, school and local communities, that gave him enormous amounts of inspiration, satisfaction and spiritual nourishment. He loved every moment of his priesthood,” she said.
Fr Vallis retired for health reasons at the start of 2011.
“He lived that final part of his life, like St Paul had himself done when he, too, realised that his life was rapidly coming to an end, and that he saw that his life now, whatever was left of it, could still be an offering that he could make to the Lord,” said Bishop Don at the funeral service on October 30.
“I believe that was one of the hallmarks of Tony’s life that he has always wanted to be at the service of God.
“The ways in which he has done that show that he kept nothing back, that he wanted that offering to be complete, to be full, and to be joyous,” he said.
Editor’s Disclosure Statement: Fr Vallis was the cousin of Jamie O’Brien’s grandmother, Crystal Talbot.