BA(ANU) BTheol(CD) GradDipRE(SACAE)
Frank, who is actually Francis Xavier, was ordained a Roman Catholic priest in 1976. After his ordination, Frank taught at Daramalan College, Canberra, for three years. In late 1979, he was asked to spend a few months in Darwin where he worked for the Bishop of the Northern Territory. It was in Darwin that Frank met CamHa, a Vietnamese boat person who had only just survived a perilous journey where she was at sea for a month, her group having been attacked twice by Thai pirates.
Marrying CamHa meant that Frank had to leave the Roman Catholic Church. “However, I never stopped feeling that I was a priest and so I approached the Anglican Church to see whether I might be able to find a place within this community,” Frank said. “I am happy and grateful that I was made welcome.”
Frank then taught theology and early church history at St John’s Theological College in Morpeth (near Newcastle NSW) before he and his family moved to Singleton in the Hunter Valley where they spent almost three years in a busy parish. “It was such a vibrant and loving community. We have wonderful memories of that time.”
Christ Church was the next stop. “I have been here for almost 24 years and have enjoyed every day,” Frank said. “The boys are wonderful. So are the parents. I respect my fellow staff members and am proud to work with them in this very worthwhile enterprise of education in a fantastic school. Why wouldn’t you feel good about being part of Christ Church? Teaching is a vocation – a calling. So too is priesthood.”
In 1996 Frank established the Centre for Ethics, which brings to the school a whole variety of speakers. From time to time, artists, authors, educators and religious leaders spend a few days with the boys. “Years ago I invited Michael Leunig to be ‘Mystic in Residence’,” Frank said. “Michael’s new prayer books had just emerged. He was here for two weeks. It was magical. I was delighted when Jose Ramos Horta came for a couple of days. Tim Winton, Helen Garner, Les Murray, Robert Dessaix are some of the Australian writers to be with us. Annie Proulx, Louis de Beniers and David Suzuki are international figures who have been our guests. I feel that the School community is enriched by this. It is such a pleasure to engage with these people and their ideas. The Centre for Ethics tries to promote this engagement.”
As Chaplain, Frank said he was in a very privileged position to be able to “go on telling the stories to keep alive the rumour of God”. He said he tried to draw on current issues and his own experience to address spirituality and reflect on some of the lessons of life. “In a busy, noisy world I think it’s important to remind people of the importance of stillness, reflection and the inner life,” Frank said. “Tim Winton about a decade ago said: ‘We seem to have lost the language of the soul.’ I think a chaplain’s role is to find the words and the silences to reaffirm that we do have souls… to capture the great mystery at the heart of things.”
Frank teaches Religous Education in the Prep School and to Year 8 boys. He talks at the Prep School Chapel Service every Wednesday and the Senior School Chapel Assembly every Thursday. He particularly enjoys his contact with the boarders. In 2009 he gave the first “Canon Frank Sheehan Oration” on the subject of ‘Obama and God’. The Oration is to become a permanent feature in the School calendar and is a tribute to the esteem in which Frank is held.
Frank was a broadcaster with ABC Radio National for a decade and a producer with ABC television. He still appears regularly on radio as a social and religious affairs commentator. After 9/11 Frank spent four hours on air at the invitation of the ABC in an effort to spread some calm.
Frank is well known for his book reviews for the Lane Bookshop and for his talks about literature, ethics and spirituality. He has given lectures at all universities in Perth and is a fixture within the programme of UWA Extension. Each year, he chairs gatherings at the Perth International Writers Festival.
In 1981, the eminent historian Professor Manning Clark named Frank as one of his ten great Australians “for helping keep alive the image of Christ in this country.”
Frank conducts numerous weddings, funerals and baptisms. He takes an open approach to those seeking contact in this way. “I guess I am a liberal in regard to theology and spirituality. I feel a strong and deep connection with this part of the Anglican Communion.” He conducts services in the School Chapel for the wider community on the first and third Sundays of each month.