​Australia’s last surviving centenarian priests, the Revd Laurence Eyers and the Revd Elizabeth Alfred, have died within weeks of each other in Melbourne.

Fr Eyers, 102, died on 24 January, while Ms Alfred, the first woman to be ordained a priest in Melbourne in 1992, died on 2 February, little more than three weeks after her 101st birthday.

Fr Eyers’ funeral was held at St Peter’s Eastern Hill on 29 January. He had been in Holy Orders for 75 years.

Bishop Barbara Darling, the first woman to be consecrated to the episcopate in Melbourne, is to celebrate the Requiem Eucharist for Ms Alfred at St James’ Dandenong, where Ms Alfred served as deaconess, deacon and priest, on Tuesday 10 February at 10.30am.

Born in the Melbourne suburb of Canterbury on 11 October 1912, Frederick Thomas Eyers is believed to have been the last surviving priest ordained by Archbishop Frederick Head, who led the Church in Melbourne from 1929-41. Ordained a deacon in 1939 and priested in 1940, Fr Eyers was curate at Christ Church South Yarra before enlisting as a chaplain to the 2nd Australian Imperial Force during World War II. He joined the Society of Sacred Mission (SSM) in 1950 and took the name Laurence, working in the UK, Adelaide, Perth, Canberra and as Prior of Diggers Rest until he retired to Broughton Hall Camberwell in 2006..

The Revd Thomas Brown delivered the eulogy for Fr Eyers, saying he was “utterly reliable and loyal, and of impeccable integrity”.

“He was always courteous, kind, considerate and wise,” Fr Brown said. “He always had time for people, and would talk to them helpfully and encouragingly.

“It has been a privilege for all of us to have known Laurence, as a friend, as a brother in community, as a faithful religious and priest. We thank God for him.”

Ms Alfred – who perhaps was the first priest to preside at Holy Communion on her 100th birthday, at St James’ on 10 January last year – became a deaconess in 1944 and was in the first group of women in Australia to be ordained a deacon in 1986. On 13 December 1992, Archbishop Keith Rayner kept his promise to ordain her as a priest, even though, at 78, she was past retirement age.

Bishop Paul White will join Bishop Darling, a former Vicar of St James’ at Ms Alfred’s funeral, while another former vicar of the parish, the Revd Alan Baker, will give the address. The incumbent, the Revd Jeffrey Parker, has been working with Ms Alfred’s great-nephew in arranging the service.

The passings of Fr Eyers and Ms Alfred come less than a year after the death in Melbourne of the Revd George Ramsbotham on 12 March 2014, two months short of his 101st birthday.

Mr Colin Reilly, Lay Canon at St Paul’s Cathedral and Anglican statistician, wrote last year that Ms Alfred, Fr Eyers and Mr Ramsbotham were among only 13 Anglican clergy to have reached their hundredth birthdays (TMA, February 2014).
 

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