HELPING people “fall in love with Jesus” – how’s that for a job description?
There probably should be more words around that but that’s at the heart of what Mike Humphrys has been doing in Brisbane archdiocese for the past 24 years.
His job title when he retired at the end of last year was associate director with Evangelisation Brisbane but his roles in that agency and its predecessors Faith and Life and Church Life and Mission have always centred on evangelisation, faith formation, prayer and spirituality.
He was head of the archdiocese’s Santa Teresa Spirituality Centre at Ormiston.
He’s been in the thick of planning and organising every major prayer and evangelisation event and initiative in the archdiocese for the past two-and-a-half decades – starting with preparation for the Year of Great Jubilee initiated by Pope St John Paul II and flowing into milestones like Hearts on Fire, diocesan Synod Assembly, Year of Grace, Pray 2010 and Proclaim 2018.
It all started when the late Bishop Michael Putney, then Auxiliary Bishop of Brisbane, invited Mike to come and work for the archdiocese in 1997 “to help him prepare for a three-year project on the Year of Great Jubilee (of 2000)”.
“And thus began my 24 years working for the archdiocese,” Mike said.
By that stage, Mike had had four years at the Oblates seminary in Melbourne after leaving school in Brisbane.
He’d returned to Brisbane, married his wife of 41 years, Lisa, welcomed the birth of three daughters, and worked for a combined 15 years at Lourdes Hill and St Rita’s colleges in Brisbane.
He was assistant principal for religious education (APRE) when he left Lourdes Hill in 1990, and then was APRE at St Rita’s until 1997.
He could not have imagined what accepting Bishop Putney’s invitation would mean for him.
“I had no idea that this is where it would lead,” he said.
“I thought it was a three-year project trying to help people to engage with that Year of Great Jubilee, what it might mean and thinking of strategies and ways we could do it.”
It was an exciting challenge.
“I had known Bishop Michael; he’d actually been the celebrant at our wedding, and (I’d known him) through Emmanuel Community, that I’ve been a member of for 45 years,” Mike said.
“I had known him well and had also undertaken a few courses with him as well so he was like a colleague and a friend as well as my director.”
At the time Bishop Putney was leading an Australian Catholic bishops’ committee for the Year of Great Jubilee celebrations.
“I was part of a national committee that was co-ordinating efforts across the country but obviously my principal role was here in the archdiocese to help people to understand what this milestone in the life of the Church was and how could we prepare for it,” Mike said.
He was also part of a Brisbane team developing, planning and implementing the Hearts on Fire national evangelisation conference at the University of Queensland in July 1999.
He said that was where Archbishop John Bathersby got “the fire in his belly about evangelisation”.
“And you could also say that it was at the World Youth Day 2000 where he fell in love with Jesus in a very deep, personal way that had been developed,” he said.
“Then that led to a whole range of different evangelisation initiatives across the diocese (with) Hearts on Fire followed by the (archdiocesan) Synod in 2003 and more preparation for that.
“We had prayer campaigns, like the Come Holy Spirit prayer campaign in the diocese.
“(Archbishop Bathersby) brought a number of international speakers, particularly to promote his Jesus Communion Mission vision.
“I was part of organising a lot of those tours around the archdiocese with both himself and speakers like Bishop Tom Wright, the famous Scripture theologian, and (United Kingdom theologian) Monsignor Paul McPartlan, particularly about the Eucharist and the importance of it …”
Mike said it had been “an amazing, amazing time”.
He quickly learned that “one of the things that (Archbishop Bathersby) was very strong on was that spirituality and prayer had to underpin anything that we did”.
“Ultimately that led to Pray 2010, that massive conference of 2500 people focusing on the different forms of prayer,” Mike said.
“But right the way through he was really adamant that, if we were to undertake any form of evangelisation, it had to be underpinned … and I think I had a part in reviving the role of the prayer card.
“Over the last 25 years I think I’ve created probably about 30 or 40 different prayer cards, and I’ve calculated that I’ve printed over two million of them.
“Some of them were part of national events like the Year of Grace prayer card when I was part of a national committee in developing 1.5 million of those.
“The Year of Great Jubilee prayer card that I worked on with Bishop Michael (was another), and I think there were about a half a million of those, and then there were Come Holy Spirit prayer cards and a whole range of others.
“That was I suppose an attempt to try and put in people’s hands a very simple but easy way to connect with these initiatives and really it was all about, as Archbishop John would say, ‘falling in love with Jesus’.
“Pope Francis now talks about our encounter with Christ leading to a deep friendship and relationship but Archbishop John kept it very simple, calling it ‘falling in love with Jesus’.
“And I hope that, if anything, in my 24 years that’s what I’ve helped people to do – to come to encounter Jesus, to find Him, and hopefully to fall in love and to get to know Jesus a little better.”
There have been encouraging signs along the way.
Mike remembers that Pope John Paul II gave a medallion to the bishops around the world who were leading preparations for the Year of Great Jubilee celebrations in appreciation of their efforts.
“Bishop Michael gave his to me, and he said, ‘You’ve brought the Jubilee alive in ways that I could never even dreamed of happening …’,” he said.
“And he said, ‘So this belongs to you’.
“That was a great tribute but it’s always been a great team working for the archdiocese and particularly for this agency.
“One of the things that I also remembered from the Hearts on Fire conference, I met an 80-odd-year-old gentleman who came up at the end of this conference and said, ‘I’ve been waiting all my life for something like this to bring my faith alive and it has been everything I could’ve dreamed of and hoped for …’
“Those sorts of expressions tell you that you’ve been part of something that God has used to speak to people and to help them on their journey of faith.”
Mike credits his experience with Charismatic Renewal for his passion for mission.
“My faith came alive through the Charismatic Renewal, and that happened just before I went to the seminary,” he said.
“In 1974 at Bardon, there I experienced the power of the Holy Spirit alive in my heart and life, and it was nurtured in a much quieter way through my seminary studies and obviously my discernment of priestly vocation but then, when that door closed I came back and embraced Charismatic Renewal.
“By that point Emmanuel Community had formed and I joined that community and have been a part of that ever since.
“And, for me and my personality, I think through that sense of lively worship and openness to the action of the Holy Spirit my life has been nurtured and strengthened.
“That was part of my teaching, and a part of my family life and a part of my whole journey has been this openness to the Holy Spirit, and through that encountering Jesus in a dynamic way.
“I think that’s really where my energy and passion for this mission has come from and been sustained by …
“It’s been a life-long adventure with the Holy Spirit, leading us to some amazing places.
“It’s been a wild journey but very rich, rewarding and challenging, but with great opportunities to try and share that and involve others with that.”
And as he set off from Evangelisation Brisbane, Mike had no plans.
“My personality is I clean the slate; I let go of things – very grateful for what has been – and leave a space for new things to come in,” he said.
“So, rather than having a program or a project or a lifestyle thing, I want to remain open to where God, and the Holy Spirit, will lead me.
“Sure, there’ll be a bit more time for family (now including six grandchildren), there’ll be a bit more for self in terms of praying and reading and doing some fun things – a little travel, not a great deal, maybe around Australia …
“But I also believe that God has other things for me to do and I’m open to discover those.
“We will see what emerges.”