by JENNY McPHEE
Three hundred Catholics converged on Addington Metropolitan Raceway in Christchurch in November for an evening of race celebrities, dining, and the inaugural John Paul II Centre for Life, “Parish Priest Punter of the Year”.

From left to right: Fr Anthony-Mary Prendergast, Kate Watkins, Andrew Watkins, Joan Watkins, Judith O’Sullivan, Kate Reid and Fr Antoine Thomas.

Sponsored races such as the J. Butler & Co & Mairehau Catholic Parish Pace, and John Paul II Centre for Life Handicap Trot, created an evangelistic atmosphere for the meeting.
The evening brought parishioners together, and raised awareness of and funds for the John Paul II Centre for Life.
Fairy money of $100 a race was allocated for each priest’s betting. As competition intensified, Fr Paulo Filoali-i hurried down the stairs, past the birdcage, and onto the track. He was seen racing down the course in the mobile barrier starter truck, no doubt to gain a closer assessment of racing form, tinged with a taste for speed.
This same ploy was used by Fr Anthony Prendergast, from St Theresa’s parish, Riccarton. Race six saw Fr Bill Middleton’s horse, Donaldson, cheered on with great fervour. Faces pushed up to the glass window of the Silks Lounge. All eyes were on Donaldson as the horses raced for the finish line. Well, almost all. It is said Fr Dan Doyle, parish priest of Ferrymead-Lyttelton, had his fairy money on Dr Hook, who
won by a nose.
Fr Doyle’s smile grew with every race and by race 10 the evidence was clear. He became the first John Paul II Centre for Life “Parish Priest Punter of the Year”, receiving the trophy, a beautiful bronze harness horse in a glass case.
The initiator of the evening, diocese programme director Phil Gourdie, has had more than 40 winners in harness racing.
MC Jack O’Donnell spent 30 years as race commentator in the Wairarapa, Nelson-Marlborough area and on the
West Coast. He was president of the Greymouth Jockey Club and the New Zealand Racing Conference.
He raced gallopers and harness horses.
Bishop Barry Jones spoke of the centre’s work as being close to his heart, supporting the Gospel of Life so powerfully preached by St John Paul II, who knew the culture of death threatens society in many
ways.
The centre, which is available to the whole community, he said, puts time, effort and resources into honouring the dignity of persons when they are under threat.
Bishop Jones, who is patron of the centre, established a trust in 2011.
In one year the centre fielded 1217 phone calls, 75 pregnancy consultations and 59 after hours calls. It distributed 95 packets of nappies, 11 high chairs, 12 bassinets, 25 cots and 14 prams.
One hundred and fifty five donations of baby clothes were given out, and 127 layettes. The centre facilitated the Catholic family camp, with a theme of raising kids Catholic, giving them roots and wings.

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