In 2009, Father Bob Maguire, known affectionately as Father Bob, announced that after 50 years of service to the Roman Catholic Church, Archbishop Denis J. Hart had ‘invited’ him to retire as priest of the Saints Peter and Paul Parish in South Melbourne, Victoria.
Father Bob, who was preparing to celebrate his 75th birthday, declined the invitation. Hart, however, insisted. Lynn-Marie Milburn’s superb feature-length documentary, In Bob We Trust, chronicles what happened when Father Bob, with the support of the local community, fought a gritty David and Goliath-type battle that ended when Father Bob held his last official service as parish priest at Saints Peter and Paul on January 29, 2012. It was standing room only that day, with an estimated 1000 people in attendance. In Bob We Trust follows the emotional journey of Father Bob’s eventual eviction from the place he called home for almost 40 years. Guided by his compelling first person narration – and, as Milburn (writer, director) observed in a recent interview, his willingness “and courage to speak up”, we are privy to the many religious and ethical conflicts he must face about the Church he has served for most of his life. “I came here with the intention of staying here till death do us part,” he says doggedly of the Saints Peter and Paul parish, and later: “I don’t understand the Catholics. On the one hand they say, let’s all be like Mary MacKillop and John Vianney [the patron saint of parish priests], and on the other hand, as soon as you do it, you’re under arrest! “All the saints were rebels.” In Bob We Trust, the latest release from Ghost Pictures, is a collaboration between its three creative principals – Milburn (Autoluminescent: Rowland S Howard), Andrew de Groot (Ben Lee: Catch My Disease, Bastardy) and Richard Lowenstein (Dogs In Space, We’re Livin’ On Dog Food). Filmed over three-and-a-half years, and cut from 500 hours of footage, it is set against a backdrop of great historical relevance – from the creation of the Catholic Church, and the failure, in Father Bob’s eyes, of Vatican II, to the alleged cover-up by the church of sexual abuse by priests. Masterfully edited and presented, its footage – shot between 2009 and 2012 using, for the most part, hand-held cameras – is spliced together with a series of black and white ‘illumination’ scenes, which pay homage to Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal. With John Safran cast as the black robed “Angel of Death”, these interludes offer what Bergman had also intended for his protagonists: the opportunity to seek answers to the greater questions of life. “Who are you?” asks Father Bob in the very first ‘illumination’ scene. “I hear you’ve been having some troubles, Father,” says the Angel of Death moments later. “Just treachery and betrayal,” says Father Bob, holding the scroll containing a list of his misdemeanors. And then: “The play’s the thing,” Father Bob says paraphrasing Shakespeare’s Hamlet, “Wherein we’ll catch the conscience of the king.” And so begins In Bob We Trust, with optimism and, to truly set the scene, a five-minute montage showing the history of the Roman Catholic Church in streaming imagery with Father Bob’s witty wordplay (“all roads lead to Rome, Rome, Rome, Rome”) a real treat. “Those of us who have been involved with the parish… with Bob for a long time,” says Frank O’Connor, a Member of Parish Council, “would see it as a waste of a very active, articulate, successful priest. He has a great understanding of what disadvantage is – a heartfelt understanding of those things, [of] disadvantage and [of] being excluded from normal society. I think that’s shaped his life to a large extent.” Born Robert John “Bob” Maguire in Thornbury, Victoria in 1934, Father Bob is known for his work as a Catholic priest, community worker and media identity. Describing himself as part Billy Connolly, part angry Old Testament prophet and part compassionate Mother Teresa, he is a fearless advocate for the poor and disenfranchised, dedicating In Bob We Trust to the “unloved & the unlovely” of the Melbourne streets, especially those who died during the drug wars of the 1980s. The film is also dedicated to dear friends, Costas Vasiliou and Henri Ser, constants in Father Bob’s life for many years, both passing, unexpectedly, during the making of this film. In Bob We Trust received assistance from the Australian Government, Screen Australia, Film Victoria and the State Government of Victoria, and was produced with the financial assistance of The Melbourne International Film Festival Premiere Fund. The film also received support from 325 crowd funders. A powerful documentary that observes and comments upon the complex conditions of human life, In Bob We Trust is yet another important piece of social history recovered by the Ghost Pictures team. Father Bob, now 79, has re-established himself and his ‘church without borders’ – The Father Bob Maguire Foundation, and his various initiatives, striving for “a socially cohesive community”. Father Bob: always the one we trust. In Bob We Trust opens on Tuesday, November 19 at The Mercury Cinema