IF Father Peter Dillon had any doubts about how much he is loved, a busload of reminders arrived for him as a special birthday present.
Early this year, Father Dillon became Dean of the South Coast Deanery, with its headquarters at St Mary's Catholic Church in Ipswich.
Before that, he was parish priest of Southport for eight years and yesterday, a busload of his former parishioners travelled to Ipswich.
Eddie Doherty, who is editor of the Southport parish newsletter, tipped off the QT about Father Dillon's birthday surprise.
"It's a parish bus trip, which we have two of every year and we worked this one to coincide with Peter's birthday, which is on Saturday," Mr Doherty said.
"We had to tell him so he'd come to lunch but it was meant as a surprise. Peter stayed on that theme.
There was a lot of heartache when he left.
He was there eight years and he was just loved by everybody."
It was clear the feeling is mutual as he was hugged and asked for photos before heading off for lunch at Brothers Leagues Club.
"I know everybody here; that's the lovely thing," he said, looking around the group gathered for a photo in front of the church.
"They're excellent, so it's a great honour that they've come all this way to see me."
The ladies in St Mary's parish office wanted to make sure Fr Dillon was happy to have his birthday made public before inviting the QT over but he clearly didn't mind.
"No, I'm not precious about my age; I like my age. I've loved every age I'm at," he said.
"I was visiting the primary school and one of the kids in year one said: 'Is it your birthday?'
I said: 'On Saturday. How old do you think I am?'
He said: 'Are you nearly 100?' I said: 'No, I'm a very young man' and he said: 'So how come you hair's so old'."
Asked if his current parishes were celebrating his 59th birthday tomorrow, he said: "No, they can save up for next year. It's a big one.
While Father Dillon obviously loves and is loved by his previous parish, he has enthusiastically embraced his new environment.
"It's literally been a sea change because I was down there at Southport with the water," he said.
"Here it's just got much more of a country feel about it. I like the country, particularly when I go out to Rosewood and Marburg and those sort of places.
"And everybody knows each other in Ipswich. The Gold Coast has got a lot of transient population. Here there are people who've been here for generations. There's a wonderful, ongoing tradition that's part of it all."
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