Me in my punk days at 21
I came from an assimilated Australian family of Anglo-Jewish and Anglo-Celtic ancestry. I am one of seven children. My brothers are Perry, Dean, Regan, Adam and Nathan. I have one sister Tamara. My grandparents were not religious but my parents became devout Evangelical Anglicans. I was born in Subiaco (a suburb of Perth) in Western Australia in 1963. When I was a baby my family moved to a small north-eastern wheat-belt town of Morowa where my parents took up wheat and sheep farming for a couple of years. Both my parents were from another small south-eastern wheat belt town in Western Australia called Dumbleyung.
Like all my brothers, I was circumcised on the eighth day after birth. My mother told me that her parents insisted that all their grandsons should be circumcised on the eighth day. My mother in turn was very upset when some of her own grandsons were not circumcised. After a couple of years in Morawa we returned to live at my parents house (on three acres) in the hills of Perth. We had chooks, a milking cow and calf, sheep, goats and even a horse at one stage and of course cats and dogs. My mother's sister Faye lived next door to us with my 6 cousins (5 girls and one boy). It was an exciting childhood with many adventures to be had. Many of my holidays throughout my life I was to spend in Dumbleyung at my father's sister Shirley's house, my mother's sister Una's house, my mother's sister Faye's house, at the farm where my sister Tamara lived or my mother's little house in town. It was a place I often went to renew my energy for life while walking and praying around the shores of Lake Dumbleyung. My three younger brothers Regan, Adam and Nathan all spent time living in Dumbleyung and attending some of their schooling at the Dumbleyung School where my parents had been educated. My sister and her husband still live on the farm near Dumbleyung to this day as do many other relatives.
Lake Dumbleyung in rural Western Australia
At the age of seven I was baptised in the Anglican Church (St Luke's) with my father (a former atheist) and brothers. Sadly when I was nine my sixteen year old brother Dean died in a car accident in Tasmania. This sad event affected me greatly and it would take a lot of inner healing over many years to fully recover from this tragic event. Fortunately my family was like a huge clan and I had many wonderful cousins who are a treasured part of my life. Over the years people have complimented me on my eclectic knowledge and intelligence, however I would have to say that both my mother and my brother Regan were much more naturally intelligent than me. My father was a master storyteller and jack of all trades and he could do anything if he set his mind to it.
Me with parents and siblings in chinese dressing gowns
My brothers and sister have been the bedrock of my life and the best of friends too. All my family were gifted and champions at every sport known to man except for me, even though I was good at athletics and swimming when I was young. My father and brothers were all brilliant footballers (Aussie Rules) which I also played until I was 14 at which I was mediocre (on a good day), which caused me great anguish as a child and teenage boy. I honestly believed nobody actually liked me (except maybe my mother and sister) but that they tolerated me. I was the only one of my siblings that was shortsighted which meant I was pretty useless at ball sports of all description. This combined with the trauma of the death of my brother Dean caused me to have a death wish until I received deep inner healing. This probably drew me to escaping into myself by reading which didn't make one the most popular of boys in a bogan school. It was only later that I realised my family did care for me and love me (with all my shortcomings) and I became very close to my father during his last ten years of life.
Me at 18
Me aged 14
Me aged 17 at my high School Graduation
My mother and her sister Faye also belonged to a Jewish Christian group ('Jewish Evangelical Witness' founded by Lawrence Duff-Forbes) as well as the Anglican Church. She and her sister Faye had become Evangelicals through the preaching of Billy Graham when he came to Perth in 1959. Many of my mother's cousins were becoming Jehovah's Witnesses in those times. My eldest brother in the 1970's married a daughter of one of these Jehovah's Witness cousins and he is to this day a devout JW.
I first remember being aware of my Jewish ancestry when I heard my mother discussing her strict Anglo-Jewish great-grandmother Matilda West at one of the Jewish Evangelical Meetings (also called the David House Fellowship) when I was about 8 or 9. Matilda's brother Simeon Levi West (who we called Uncle Levi) had been a devout crypto-Jewish Rabbi in rural New South Wales who was famous for his racehorse "Tradition" who came second in both the 1888 Melbourne and Caulfield Cups. Recently one of my mother's elderly cousins told me that his and my mother's great-uncle James Lewis (a nephew of Uncle Levi) had also been a crypto-Rabbi in Queensland. When I was about 13 I started to wear a gold Magen David that belonged to my mother. Today I still wear a gold Magen David under my habit in memory of my mother. I was also a co-owner of a race horse with my brothers Regan, Adam and Nathan. He was born a day after my mother's death and we named it Law Rain in her honour. When he came 1st in a 50,000 dollar race at Ascot in Perth it was a very exciting time!
Law Rain my racehorse winning at Ascot
In my teens I became very interested in religion and politics. I became involved with right-wing conservative groups such as the Australian League of Rights which were often anti-semitic and I believed that there was a worldwide Jewish conspiracy and that Jewish bankers were controlling the world. I even started to doubt the extent of the Holocaust after reading David Irving and I became friends with mad Jack Van Tongeren who later blew up Asian restaurants. Of course I never told Jack about my Jewish ancestry as he was very anti-Jewish and adored Hitler. It can be difficult to convince people caught up in these anti-Jewish ideas as it can become like an obsessive compulsion, but I am proof that prayer, conversion of heart and discussion can change such thinking.
My mother and aunt and their mother were supporters of the British Empire Loyalist movement and the Australian League of Rights and other right -wing organisations even though they did not agree with the anti-Semitic elements or Holocaust revisionism. They also supported the Free China Association and Australian Rhodesian Society. They were traditional conservatives as was my father (who did not like the Australian League of Rights) who were pro-God, Queen, country, family and the English Common Law. Both my parents did not like the ideas of Jack van Tongeren and were concerned at my friendship with him.
Looking back I am amazed at how my mother and aunt could ignore the elements they didn't like in these organisations but support them because of their defence of the Queen, Empire and other conservative values. I remember as a teen coming across a huge pile of old copies of "Candour" the League of Empire Loyalists newsletter in my mothers wardrobe and read them secretly and avidly and came to admire their efforts to save the British Empire in the days before I was born and just after. Most of the people in these groups were kind, respectable, cultured and intelligent middle and upper middle class people who abhorred violence or any breaking of the law. It troubles me now when people demonise either right or left wing people and exaggerate their ideas. There are sincere, caring and wonderful people on all sides of religion and politics even if I think them mistaken. And unfortunately also corrupt ones on all sides too.
At fourteen years of age I read a British Israelite book belonging to my mother called "Christians Awake" by Gilbert Saddler and I became interested in the Bible and a supporter of the British Israel World Federation. I later found out that my great grandparents Leonard and Hannah Lewis and many of my grandmother's siblings had been believers in the British Israel Identity which was popular before World War Two. This earlier form of British Israelism was pro-Jewish and pro-Zionist but later forms became anti-Jewish and anti-Zionist which also influenced me in a negative way.
At this time I was also starting to get interested in the occult and reincarnation. I shared this interest with my Russian Orthodox step-grandmother Madame Nadine (Nana Wuffa) who was a co-founder and past president of the Western Australian Ballet Company and a choreographer. We would discuss together the world religions among many other subjects and I became fascinated with the books of Edgar Cayce and Paul Brunton among others. Since I was a child I have had a passion for reading and for history. At this time I was anti-Judaism and anti-Catholicism.
I also went through many fashion phases such as punk, goth and Prince (in his purple phase) and Billy Idol. I spent a lot of time with friends wildly dancing at night clubs. Even though I did learn ballroom dancing, I belong more to the Isadora Duncan style of dancing. All of my family love to dance. Due to my grandmother and mother's influence I still love attending the Ballet to this day especially with my second cousin Gaye who reared as a Jehovah's Witness was the first after me to become a Catholic - she now considers herself and her six children as Hebrew Catholics and each year keeps the traditional Jewish Pesach. One of the last lovely times with my mother before she died was when Gaye, her daughter Sophia, my mother and I attended the Ballet together. It was a wonderful night and I ended up spontaneously going back to my mother's place and staying a couple of days.
Perry, Me (the little blonde boy), Regan (baby), Tamara and Dean
Me aged 19
At 18 I had an experience of the Holy Spirit which instantly revealed to me that the occult direction was a false path. I felt loved for the first time and I started to speak in a strange language which I later found out was called the gift of tongues. I also lost my anti-Judaism and anti-Catholic prejudices. I started to attend the Jewish Society meetings at the University of Western Australia and I attended Jewish camps on Jewish identity. I completed a Bachelor of Arts at UWA majoring in History and minoring in Ancient History, English and Music. I had previously learnt the piano for six years. In 1984 I had my first full-time job as a teacher in New South Wales where I taught English, History, Drama and Physical Education at a private Protestant College. Strangely it was in the very town where my ancestral Uncle Levi had lived for many years.
After I moved to Melbourne and was studying there in 1985 I was introduced to the Jewish chaplain at Melbourne University, Rabbi Michael Katz, who started to teach me the Hebrew alphabet. I became friends with Benjamin Hurwitz a young orthodox Jewish student who took me to the East Melbourne Synagogue and I would sometimes attend the service of this very Anglo-Jewish Shul and I also attended their community Passover celebrations. Rabbi Katz introduced me to some Rabbis at the Beth ha Talmud Kollel who were from Lakewood , New Jersey. At first I couldn't understand the Rabbis at all and Rabbi Katz had to translate for me. I asked him what language they were speaking and I was shocked when he said "English". This seemed like a very different world to the more English-style Anglo-Judaism of the East Melbourne synagogue and very different to my very Anglo-Australian upbringing but I loved it.
After my first encounter with the Lakewood Rabbis in Balaclava, I started to attend their Orthodox Jewish Synagogue and joined the Kollel with these ten Litvak Rabbi's from Lakewood New Jersey as well as studying with Lubavitch (Chabad) Rabbis. I spent every weekend at the home of my "adopted" orthodox Jewish family. I started to become an observant Jew at this stage even though I was still very alternative in my dress which must have tested the tolerance of the Rabbis. Though they may have liked the challenge of this strange young man who wore stud-arm bands to synagogue. I loved the orthodox Jewish community and everyone was so kind to me especially the Rabbis. They told me not to reject Jesus but to have a little talk with him and tell him I was not rejecting him but that I was going to be concentrating on his Father for awhile. However I went through real inner turmoil as I wanted to be fully orthodox Jewish but I still loved Jesus and believed as my parents had taught me that he was the Jewish Messiah.
Strangely enough my parents were more upset at me becoming a Catholic than when I had joined the orthodox Jewish community. In fact my mother forbade me to become a Catholic. However over the years they softened and would attend Mass with me on occasions. By the time of her sudden death my mother was almost a Catholic in belief without formally joining the Catholic Church. Not long before my mother's death in 2005 she was very happy when one of my sister-in-laws (Regan's wife) with her two teenage sons were baptised in the Catholic Church along with the two year old son of my brother Nathan and my cousin Gaye's youngest son Levi (who was a baby). What a happy day that was! My mother was most amused when one of her newly baptised grandsons (he was 15) asked her cheekily why she wasn't a Catholic as the Catholic Church was the original one. She responded, "He has only been a Catholic an hour and he is already a bigoted one". My brother Nathan has had all three of his children baptised as Catholics even though he and his wife are not Catholics at this stage. In 2011 my Aunty Faye who was in her eighties with her eldest daughter, one of her granddaughters and her four great grandchildren all became Catholics and at the same time her daughter's marriage was blessed and her son-in-law received the sacraments after a 40 year break.
Another Punk picture of Me
Me in my 30's
One day after studying at the Beth ha Talmud Kollel in Melbourne and out of curiosity I went into the Catholic Church opposite where I felt the Divine Presence in the empty Church. I was puzzled as I had felt His Presence in the worship of both synagogue and Protestant church but when the synagogue or church had no service it just felt like an empty building. Why did the empty Catholic Church have this Presence? This began my journey into the Catholic Church. Just before my entry into the Catholic Church I attended some Messianic Jewish meetings where a Messianic Jewish lady (Betty Baruch) told me about a Hebrew Catholic group led by a holocaust survivor Andrew Sholl [cofounder of the Association of Hebrew Catholics]. So right from the start of my Catholic journey I was able to meet with other Hebrew Catholics regularly. This was in 1987 when I was 24 years old. I also had studied with a Rabbi at the Chabad Yeshiva in Melbourne and I sometimes attended the Chasidic services.
My former gothic/alternative girlfriend Yasmina attended my reception into the Catholic Church at St Patrick's Cathedral in Melbourne in 1987 in all her gothic splendour. We had broken up not long before as I was still considering a calling to religious life. She was a nominal Catholic whose father was Muslim and her mother was a Catholic and her maternal grandmother Jewish and Yasmina was a terrific actress. She was my first serious girlfriend since I had left Parkes in 1984 where I was dating two girls- one a Baptist and the other a Catholic. I was more serious about the Catholic one and we continued to write for some time after I left Parkes. When I was in Israel in 2002/3 I met and became close to Amy who was a young orthodox Jewish woman from Texas-we were very keen on each other but we realised that my being a Catholic would be a problem for her so that was that. In 2007 I dated in Israel two Hebrew Catholic women- one an Israeli Professor and the other an orthodox Jewish woman who was secretly Catholic (who I met through a friend who was an orthodox Jewish rabbi but secretly interested in the Catholic faith). But God had other plans for me than the married life.
I also joined a Charismatic Catholic lay community in 1987 that worked with street kids, prostitutes and drug addicts for many years. I had been working among the poor in Melbourne since 1985 before I became a Catholic in 1987. It was in 1984 that I felt a call to work with the poor and to be a religious brother. However in 1985 I first attended Synagogue and started to gradually live as an orthodox Jew in Melbourne. In 1986 I had trained and worked as an actor in an International Theatre Company in Sydney where I also attended Synagogue and learnt with some Chasidic seminarians in Bondi. In 1986 I met one of my closest and dearest friends Patrick who is now a priest promoting Perpetual Eucharistic Adoration all over the world. He is such an inspiration to me. He and I were also in the Street Kid community together and later in the Philippines where I was to meet Father Doug. Patrick and I also spent time together promoting adoration in Thailand. He also was my sponsor/ godfather in 1987 when I became a Catholic.
In 1988 I visited the UK, Europe and Singapore with my mother. I also lived in the Philippines for three years (1993-1996) as a seminarian for a community that promoted Perpetual Adoration. I completed a number of studies in Philosophy and Theology there. Before going to the Philippines I had studied at the Australian Catholic University in 1990 and 1993- completing my Graduate Diploma of Education. My father died on February 4, 1994 of a brain tumour when I was in the Philippines. This was a very difficult time for me. It was in the Philippines as a fruit of my Adoration that I started to write from a more mystical perspective on the Jewish roots of the Catholic Faith. I was also invited by a group of upper middle- class Filipino ladies led by June Keithley (who later I found out was a famous personality in Manila) to teach them about the Jewish roots of the Catholic Faith. After leaving the seminary in 1996 and my return to Australia I became engaged to Miriam an Australian girl that I had met when I lived in Melbourne but we broke up due to her desire to consider being a nun (which she later did).
After teaching Law (among other subjects) at a Catholic College in Western Australia to Years 9-12 I applied and was accepted to study Law but at the last minute felt that was the wrong decision and ended up going to Thailand as a teacher where I taught off and on for many years. In Thailand I was very involved with my Bishop and some priests since 1997 in giving talks promoting Perpetual Eucharistic Adoration, and the Marian and Charismatic movements. In this time I prayed over thousands of people for healing with the permission and direction of the Bishop and my parish priest. My last teaching stint in Thailand was in 2008 and I last visited Thailand for a month in 2011 (when I was already a consecrated brother) to see the Bishop who was sick and he died soon after. During my time in Thailand I had over the years attended the Synagogue in Bangkok for Shabbas and Pesach and other festivals on occasion.
Me at 21 or 22 at University of Western Australia
Me in Thailand with Bishop Manat and Greek orthodox visionary Vassula Ryden
Me teaching in Thailand
My Jewish journey also continued and later I was blessed to have lived in Israel three different times where I helped found 'Catholics For Israel' group in 2007 with my friends and neighbours Ariel ben Ami and Countess Marie (in Nachlaot in Jerusalem). I also was involved in starting Perpetual Eucharistic Adoration in the Old City of Jerusalem at the Armenian Catholic Church in the Muslim quarter in 2002 as well as studying Hebrew in Ulpan and did Jewish studies in an Orthodox Jewish Yeshivah (I also studied there in 2007 and 2008). Tragically my nephew committed suicide at 23 years of age while I was in Israel just before the wedding of my youngest brother Nathan. I received the news when I was in Haifa just after visiting the Cave of Elijah at the Stella Maris Monastery where Father Elias Friedman (founder of the Association of Hebrew Catholics) had lived. I later also spent fruitful time in America four times with David and Kathleen Moss of the Association of Hebrew Catholics (in 2005,2007,2008 and 2009).
Me and friends[Jeff Ryan, Sister Briana and Mary Hills] in San Diego giving talks on Jewish and Catholic mysticism in 2008
Me with my mother in the 1990's
At the time of deciding to become a Catholic I read the book "Communion in the Messiah" of Father Lev Gillet a Russian Orthodox priest who was influenced by the Hebrew Christian Anglican priest Paul Levertoff. It was their vision of a Hasidic Jewish branch of the Catholic Church that helped make my leap into the Catholic Church. As my step-father and step-grandmother had been Russian Orthodox I at first considered becoming Russian Orthodox as I loved their spiritual tradition and as a ultra-monarchist I had a devotion to the Czars of Russia.
After becoming a Latin-rite Catholic I discovered that there was a Byzantine Russian Catholic Church in Melbourne and I attended it on a few occasions. I treasure all the spiritual journeys I was led on and till this day appreciate the richness of the Litvak Jewish, Chasidic Jewish, Messianic Jewish, Anglican, and Russian Orthodox spiritualities which complement my Hebrew Catholicism rather than substract from it.
About 20 or more years ago I became fascinated by my ancestor Rebbe Nachman of Breslov and his teachings. However I only met Breslovers in person for the first time when I went to Israel in 2002. I had a spiritually significant experience talking with a young Breslover in King David's Tomb (in the room below the Cenacle of the Last Supper) where I often went to pray. In 2007 I was to attend an orthodox Jewish Passover Seder there. I consider myself as a Catholic Breslov Hasid and Ushpizin is my favourite movie. David and Kathleen Moss introduced me to the Isrraeli movie "Ushpizin" when I was staying with them at the Hebrew Catholic center in St Louis in 2007- I watched it about 6 times. Strangely when I was living in Israel later that year- my neighbours decided to watch "Ushpizin" and we suddenly realised that our street - Rama Street in Nachlaot - was in the film. I later also realised that the Yeshiva used in the film was one near my place in Nachlaot where I studied Talmud with some Breslovers.
My mother Laurie with her brother Garry
My mother Laurie
My parents Gil and Laurie
After my return to Australia from Jerusalem in 2003 I first learnt of the Divine Will movement. When I was teaching at a Seventh Day Adventist School in Thailand I was given the "Hours of the Passion" and started to use these wonderful meditations in my prayer life. When I then returned to Australia I was invited by Jenny and Michele of the Casa de Luisa Piccarreta to give a talk on the Jewish Roots of the Catholic Faith. Since then I have become very involved in the Divine Will movement and given numerous talks (many of them sold on DVD) on Jewish and Catholic Mysticism both throughout Australia and overseas. In 2005 I gave a very successful talk to the Hebrew Catholic connections group in Jacksonville Florida. Sadly my mother died later in 2005 about a month after my return from America. She died in my sister Tamara and my arms while I recited the Divine Mercy chaplet over her. She received the Sacrament of Anointing from a Catholic priest friend of mine the day before her death. Her funeral had Anglican, Catholic and Jewish elements. My mother was a very spiritual and mystical person who had a deep impact on my own faith journey and her death left a great hole in my life. For the next few years I kept busy traveling the world ( I think I was in shock) and in 2009-10 the loss of my mother struck me deeply and was one of the worst times of my life.
Me aged 23 in Melbourne in Jewish kippa and Tallis.
Me in Melbourne aged 21 with friends Natalie and Jane
In 2007 I was invited by a community of Carmelite hermit nuns in the USA to give a series of talks on Jewish and Catholic mysticism and I also gave a talk to the enclosed Carmelite nuns in St Louis. The next year in 2008 the Carmelite nuns in St Louis invited me to give 10 talks on the connections between Jewish mysticism and Carmelite spirituality and another Carmelite nun invited me to give a series of 10 talks in San Diego to a Divine Will group as well as speaking to her enclosed Carmelite nuns and also giving a talk to a community of active Carmelite sisters. On my trip to San Diego I was accompanied by Jeff Ryan (who I met in Jerusalem in 2007 and ran into him again at a Hebrew Catholic meeting in St Louis in 2008) a graduate of the Franciscan University of Stubenville who is an expert on Catholic mysticism and he also gave some inspirational talks. Back in St Louis Jeff and I gave a series of talks at the Hebrew Catholic Center as the foundation talks of the Bnei Miriam Kollel with the encouragement of David and Kathleen Moss. Strangely enough talking with Jeff's mother we realised that we were distant cousins through the Payne, Walsh and Montefiore families. Before this earlier in 2008 after leaving Israel I visited Ireland where I gave a talk to a Catholic group in Waterford. In Ireland I also visited Cavan and the Ring of Kerry. I have also given a series of talks in Queensland, country New South Wales, Sydney, Canberra and Tasmania in recent years including the Marian Valley Shrines in New South Wales and Queensland.
Me with my brothers Perry, Nathan and Adam in 2009 in Australia
Me with my mother in Singapore in 1988
My cousin Shaun (far left), held by my brother Dean, and Me (far right) held by my sister Tamara
I pray for the reunion of all into the one Faith expressed in many different ways. Unity but not uniformity. I thus look forward to the further development of the Anglican ordinariates and look with excitement at the fruits coming from the discussion between Messianic Jews and other Jews in the Churches that began in Finland in 2010 at the annual 'Jews in the Church of Christ' conference. I have been described as a spiritual troubador and trouble shooter. I have also realised I have the calling of a fool for Mashiach (Messiah) and I have learnt much from the teachings of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov and Luisa Piccarreta in recent years. The constants in my life have been the Hebrew Catholic apostolate and the promotion of Perpetual Eucharistic Adoration with the friendship of two priest friends Fathers Patrick Barry and Doug Harris among others.
In 2009 I was a candidate with the Franciscan Friars of the Holy Land in Washington DC which did not work out as I expected and I later returned to Australia after spending some time at the Hebrew Catholic center in St Louis. In 2010 I taught at St Clare's Catholic Girl's College in Canberra and in 2011 on Feb 4 I became a consecrated Brother as Brother Gilbert Joseph of the Divine Presence with the 'Apostles of Perpetual Adoration'. [I had been a member of the APA since it was founded in 2006.] My birth name was Athol. In 2012 I renewed my promises as a consecrated brother. On February 4 2013 I took life promises as a consecrated brother.
On May 13 2013 the consecrated contemplative-active brothers within APA took the name of 'Little Eucharistic Brothers of Divine Will'. In 2013 I completed my Master of Arts in Theological Studies at the University of Notre Dame in Fremantle. In 2014 the Brothers moved to Tasmania. I think since I became a consecrated brother I have been at my most happiest and fulfilled than at any other stage of my life. There are still the daily struggles and the ups and downs of life but I have an inner peace that I didn't have in the past. However the first couple of years as a consecrated brother were very difficult and I almost didn't continue after the first year. Coming to Tasmania has only increased that peace and the wonderful way God has cared for us and provided for us (through so many kind and lovely people) has helped me grow in faith, hope and love. At the same time I embrace the Divine Will where ever he takes me next in life.
Me celebrating Pesach with some of my Hebrew Catholic relatives
Me with Br John-Joseph in Tasmania