Father Cummins (74) is a man of contradictions ” a Roman Catholic priest who has been happily married for 48 years, devoted man of God who objects to ‘Bible bashing’ and, perhaps most shocking of all, an Irishman who loves the Australian heat.
Working as a Latin and Spanish teacher, then 26-year-old Father Cummins was holidaying in Mykonos in Greece when he met his Athenian wife Roula.
‘It was a beautiful summer’s day and I was swimming in the Aegean Sea,’ he said.
‘We looked over at each other, our eyes met and that was it ” we were married four months later. My family thought I was crazy, but it was all very romantic.’
Father Cummins said 98 per cent of Roman Catholic priests could not marry, however he was fortunate to belong to the Greek Catholic Church that reserves its own traditions.
After a working week at Graylands Hospital, he and Roula lead mass at the modest hospital chapel every Sunday and visit the wards to give communion.
‘There are some patients who are very hyper and want to sing loudly and move about, which is quite common with their medication,’ he said.
‘Roula is quite wonderful, she is very patient and takes their hand and calms them. I am very grateful to my wife.’
As chaplain for more than six years, Father Cummins said he was responsible for the spiritual welfare of patients.
‘My job is very often simply listening and trying to comfort people the best I can,’ he said.
‘There is certainly evil in this world, but I do not believe the people who come in here have evil inside them or devils on their tongues.
‘I don’t have all the answers, I never say to them ‘tomorrow you will be well again’. Though I do say, because I firmly believe it, that Christ is with them and present in spite of all their terrible suffering. ‘When are we being healed?’ they ask, and I tell them ‘you are being healed now’.’
Father Cummins said the perception that Graylands Hospital was an outdated mental asylum only served to encourage a damaging stigma of mental illness.
‘It would be so valuable if more people visited and saw what a beautiful, open and welcoming campus we have here,’ he said.
‘Many of our problems stem from lack of education ” this is just a hospital like any other hospital. In all honesty, I do not believe the negative media attention is the true reality. There are improvements needed, of course, but a lot of good work goes on here.’
Father Cummins said his work had given back much more than he had given.
‘I have witnessed a greater humanity within these walls,’ he said.
‘It is a great gift I have been given to share in these people’s intimate lives.’