by GILLIAN VINE
DUNEDIN — “It’s been a long journey for Vaughan,” said Brian Rabbitt, on December 2 at the Mass of Ordination in Mosgiel for Dunedin’s newest priest.
Fr Vaughan Hook, 38, agrees with his brother-in-law’s sentiments. “Ever since I was a wee fellow, I felt the call to be a priest,” he told NZ Catholic. As a five-year-old pupil of St Mary’s School in his hometown of Mosgiel, Fr Hook set up a prayer table at home. His parish priest, Fr Kevin McCone, even gave him holy water for the table.
“I have been so fortunate in Mosgiel in having great models in all the priests,” Fr Hook said.
He is the youngest son of the late Richard and Moira Hook’s 10 children, and there is a longstanding family connection with Holy Cross, Mosgiel. His mother, he said, worked in the seminary laundry for many years, “and as a young chap I was in and out all the time”.
Leaving St Mary’s, where he was head boy in 1985, he attended The Taieri High School (now Taieri College). He excelled at rugby and progressed steadily in the classroom. In 1991 he was head boy.
Many thought he would apply for the seminary, but “Hookie” opted to train at the Dunedin College of Education, graduating as a primary-school teacher.
He thinks his decision to accept a post at Holy Cross School, Papatoetoe, was the Holy Spirit prompting him.
“It [the Spirit at work] really hit me strongly in 1994 when I started teaching there.”
Despite being appointed the school’s director of religious studies within two years, and the “amazing” influence of Msgr John Lyons, the priestly call might have appeared to have been put aside, for — after four years in Auckland — he returned south for a two-year stint at St Mary’s School, Gore. After that, guitar in hand, he was off on his OE, teaching in Tottenham (where he fell in love with soccer and still supports Tottenham Hotspur), Belfast and Liverpool.
The call to the priesthood gathered strength and in 2003 Vaughan Hook entered Holy Cross Seminary, Auckland. But his progress to ordination was interrupted in 2005.
“I came home when my mother got ill and remained home after she died,” he said.
He went back to teaching while completing a theology degree. After his mother’s death, pondering if his mission was as a priest, Fr Hook’s prayers were answered when Paul Ferris, then principal of Kavanagh College, offered him a job. “I never thought I had the skills to teach in a secondary school, but Paul and Kavanagh College were amazing. Going there was a real example of how the Spirit moves.”
He taught religious education from Years 7 to 13, coached rugby and soccer, and was involved in the school’s musical life. One of his former students, Craig Tatley, said after Fr Hook’s ordination: “He was the best teacher of religious studies I had.”
A stint as Dunedin diocesan ambassador for World Youth Day in Sydney in 2008 morphed into a role as diocesan youth coordinator. It was young people who triggered the return to the seminary.
“There were many different occasions when young people throughout the diocese said, ‘Hookie, we want you to go back and be ordained’.”
So last year it was back to Auckland to continue his studies, before a pastoral placement in Gore — which he loved — and his ordination as deacon in March.
A busload of Gore parishioners arrived for the Mass of ordination and others came by car to join the 500-strong congregation in the Bishop Verdon Memorial Chapel for what Bishop Colin Campbell described as “a joyous occasion”. Others came from Fr Hook’s old schools. Pupils of St Mary’s, Mosgiel, sang before the Mass; Kavanagh College students (including soloist Kylie Price, this year’s winner of TV One’s “Find a Star”) provided musical backup; St Mary’s school leaders Cameron Dyer and Taylor Anderson joined Jessica Bunyard and Ryan Rosevear from Taieri College in the Presentation of Gifts; while Roisin Bennett, who had taught with Fr Hook at Papatoetoe, read the first reading.
During the investiture, two aunts, Una Bell and Noreen Wightman, brought forward the stole and chasuble, then his eldest sister, Christine Rabbitt, and brother Michael, vested the new priest. Three children of another brother, Aaron, played their violins during the recessional.
Fr Hook is positive about the Church and its youth.
“I see so much hope in young people — and older ones, too,” he said. There’s only one issue with the youngsters. In schools, asked by staff to call him Deacon Hook or Deacon Vaughan, the inevitable response was: “No, no. He’s Hookie.”
“So I guess call me Fr Hookie,” he said with a typical wide grin.
by GILLIAN VINE