Fr Chris Warnock – or just Chris to us his family, was the second child of Heather and David, soon to be joined by a tribe of other kids.
Chris had religious aspirations from a young age. Mum loved telling the story about Chris at age 4 when he got lost in Eudunda Farmers (our local grocery store, back in the day). Someone known to the family found Chris and was trying to console this little boy who’d lost his mum. They asked Chris ‘what to you want to be when you grow up …. a truckie … like your Dad!’ to which Chris replied ‘No, I gunna be a Pope’ … we know that didn’t happened because the Vatican wasn’t unionised!! Well, he made it to being a Priest so he was part of the way there!
One of our family tragedy’s is the loss of Little John. Johnny drowned in the shallow irrigation channel that ran along the front of our home on Bookmark Avenue. It happened on Anne’s 7th birthday so Chris was about 5 years old, somehow Chris felt the loss of Little John was his fault and he carried that burden throughout his life.
As a child Chris suffered badly from asthma and eczema. He was allergic to the blossoms and pollen that are so predominant in the Riverland. His condition was so bad that when he was about 9 years old the doctors recommended he be sent to the Red Cross Home in Adelaide and he was there for about 6 months. The rules at the time were archaic, parents were not allowed to visit their children. It was thought this would unsettle the children too much. So Mum and Dad would only be allowed to watch Chris play in grounds … watching unbeknown to Chris … from beyond the fence in a borrowed car (so Chris wouldn’t recognize them).
After that, Chris started at Salesian College from Grade 6. I was very young but can remember his eczema flaring up when he came home for school holidays. Mum told me once that she and Dad thought Chris might be destined for a religious vocation and Salesian’s would nurture that. It must have been tough for him, being away from family from such a young age, and because of the strict rules in Boarding Houses at that time. Tough for Mum and Dad too, I don’t think the College saw too much in the way of Boarding / School fees, but I do know many, many boxes of oranges were sent by truck, car and bus to the College (and later to the Seminary).
His older sister Anne feels she influenced the direction Chris took in life. In Grade 4 Chris wanted to be an altar boy, he was too young, not the required age, but the Priest made a concession and allowed Chris to serve on the Altar for Saturday early morning Mass. So Anne accompanied Chris; and they rode bikes from Bookmark Avenue into Church and back again, about an 8 km round trip on wonky bikes in the winter months. Chris graduated from that to serving at other services. Anne also helped Chris to settle on his vocation …. during a critical time in his seminarian studies he holidayed with Anne in Western Australia when her three children all under 3 years of age, after that visit he couldn’t wait to get back to life in the Seminary.
Chris was an apprentice Fitter and Turner for a year or so before going into St Francis Savier Seminary in 1974 and was ordained in Renmark on 7 February 1981. During his time at the Seminary, he brought home many seminarian’s for holidays and breaks. As kids we grew up with these young visitors who were always welcome in our home, Jimmy Monaghan, Pete Sharry, John Gummar, and dear Brother Reg. I don’t think any Seminarian’s were left behind in Adelaide at holiday time because they would always be looked after by ‘Warnock’. Mum would make up ‘huge’ bowls of rice salad – big enough for everyone and it would last the whole weekend.
In 1990’s Chris studied a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Australian Political History with Deakin University. This was at a time when Distance Learning meant just that …. all assignments were sent and submitted by snail mail. I can’t imagine how difficult this would have been and how proud we were of Chris at his Graduation Ceremony. Needless to say, Chris had a brilliant intellect and in many ways Parkinson’s stole this from Chris.
After his ordination Chris started as Assistant Priest in St Mary’s Parish in Port Lincoln, he was also Parish Priest at Cummins, Whyalla, George Town, Gladstone and Renmark. Chris married both Sue and Rick, and myself and Ken, and baptized our children. I guess these were the perks of having a Priest in the family!
In later years Chris was the Editor of the Witness, a responsibility he took very seriously, until his Parkinson’s symptoms forced him to relinquish this service. He was a common sight around Pirie, on his gopher wearing his West Adelaide Footy Beanie with Rustus, his loyal companion.
Chris had a wicked and dry sense of humour, one example being sending Mum postcards of the ‘Iron Knob train’ regardless of where he was in the country (you might have noticed the train postcards amongst the photo presentation)! And as I’m sure you’ll understand … some of our family stories need to stay inhouse.
Needless to say … Chris had his ups and downs in life but in the face of everything he always courageous.