03 May 2021

Boy from Limerick keeps his eye on the big picture

The Southern Cross | May 2021

Kevin Liston sitting sm 2.jpg

The Southern Cross  |  May 2021

Boy from Limerick keeps his eye on the big picture

Hallett Cove parishioner Kevin Liston is passionate about the role of lay Catholics and their everyday lives in shaping the future of the Church in Australia. In 2019 he started a series of forums inviting people to come and talk about their spirituality, how it developed and where it came from.

The group soon morphed into a more organised movement called SA Catholics for an Evolving Church which met via Zoom during COVID restrictions and is now a member of the Australasian Catholic Coalition for Church Reform.

For Kevin, renewal is not so much about “telling the bishops what to do” as it is about “what can we do ourselves, how can we make things happen ourselves without relying on someone else to change it for us”.

He is driven by two fundamental convictions.

“The first is that we live in a larger world than the everyday, cradle-to-grave existence,” he said.

“Life makes too much sense to say it just stops. Our living, our relationships, our engagements with one another and the whole universe are all wrapped up in a love far greater than we can imagine.

“The second is that the key to living a good, worthwhile and authentic life is to be people of integrity, honest with ourselves and others, loving one another and looking out for each other, especially the weak and troubled.”

His views are influenced by his own quite extraordinary life experiences which include three years as a seminarian in Rome, re-joining the priesthood and serving as a missionary in Africa, laicisation, marriage and parenthood, his migration to SA and 26 years with the  Australian Refugee Association.

But it all started in Limerick, Ireland, where he grew up on a mixed dairy farm with his parents and six siblings.

“It was a very, very traditional Irish Catholic family; we were fortunate it was a good size farm and we were pretty well off. It was a little bit of paradise as far as I was concerned,” he said.

By the age of 15 Kevin had decided he would be a priest and after finishing secondary school the local bishop agreed to send him to the Irish College in Rome rather than the seminary at Maynooth.

Kevin said Rome should have been a fantastic experience for a 17 year old but in reality it was a “wasted opportunity” as he drifted through his studies for three years.

“It was a stage of life when I was very immature and didn’t have a sense of my own identity or where I belonged,” he said.

“I was so innocent. I remember being in St Peter’s at Easter or Christmas, hearing 10,000 people in this huge cavernous basilica all singing the Creed in Latin with great gusto. It was the most triumphalist, self-congratulatory singing I have heard anywhere. Any football club would have been proud of it, but it frightened me, it was so overpowering.”

The opulence and commercialising of the Vatican didn’t sit well with him but in the end it was his own lack of commitment that made him decide “I wasn’t living up to what I was supposed to be doing”.

He returned to Ireland and began studying medicine but was “very unsettled”. After failing first year, his father encouraged Kevin to come back to the farm, knowing that he probably wouldn’t stay but that he needed time to find himself.

“I found my feet there in a way I didn’t think was possible,” Kevin said. “My younger brother, Aidan who was a natural farmer, really made me feel at home; he introduced me to a huge lot of people and I discovered community there for the first time.

“I got a confidence in myself and who I was.”

After a year in Limerick Kevin began to look further afield again.

“I came to the conclusion I wasn’t really cut out for a life of milking cows and feeding pigs,” he said.

“So I decided to give the priesthood another go, and I joined St Patrick’s Missionaries.”

He spent five years in the seminary which was “so lax I could basically do anything I wanted”.

“And by then I was beginning to know what I wanted. I started reading and studying stuff that wasn’t on the curriculum.”

Kevin was sent to a mission in north western Kenya where the Turkana people lived a very nomadic and primitive lifestyle: “The women wore skins and the men didn’t wear anything most of the time,” he said.

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