Conversation: From pastoral life to priest’s mentor - Fr Julian Porteous, seminary rector
No one was more surprised than Fr Julian Porteous when he was chosen for a new role which would take him away from his parish. Chris Hook reports
In the two-and-a-half years Fr Julian Porteus (pictured) has been at Dulwich Hill’s St Paul of the Cross, he has been a very busy man.
Fr Julian has helped re-design the church, fix the parish hall, build a car park and had artist friend Terry O’Donnell paint a new series of the Stations of the Cross (CW 25/3) and is currently completing a prayer and reflection area in the church grounds.
The energetic and affable Fr Julian assumed he’d be in the parish for at least six years and so kicked off the projects, but recently discovered he’s needed elsewhere.
Next year, Fr Julian takes up the position of rector of the Good Shepherd Seminary, Homebush.
“It was a surprise, yes, but more a shock. It was very unexpected,” Fr Julian recalls.
And equally a surprise to his parishioners; but a visit from Archbishop Pell has helped assuage their sense of loss.
“The archbishop graciously came out to the parish and spoke to the community at one of the Masses, and explained that he wanted me to become rector of the seminary,” Fr Julian says.
“I think it was very helpful for the community to know that their archbishop was aware that he was taking a priest from their community and respected the fact that it was going to affect their lives, too. It does affect the parish greatly, so I was grateful he came out.
“I didn’t want it to seem like it was just that I was going off to another job. I think it’s important for people to appreciate the fact that I really did want to remain here but the archbishop has asked me to take on this other role.”
Fr Julian’s desire to remain at Dulwich Hill is evidence of his deft pastoral touch. Quite possibly why he’s the man for the rector’s role.
The rector is responsible for the formation of the men for the Sydney Archdiocese, as well as other dioceses across NSW. He is responsible to the archbishop for the formation of candidates in the spiritual, pastoral and human areas as well as their intellectual and theological development.
It’s a big job, and the process of the formation of candidates for the priesthood evolves as society changes.
“It’s an ongoing development,” Fr Julian explains. “Needs are changing as the cultural background the seminarians come from, and will be going to, is changing so all these factors certainly bear on the way priests are formed today.
“There’s probably more emphasis given these days in the area of pastoral formation, and also the human formation area.
“A lot more attention is given to that than possibly in the past. “I suppose any rector of a seminary is conscious that we need to be looking to form priests for the needs of the Church today.
“I suppose in one sense there could be a certain advantage for me coming directly out of a parish situation, in the sense that I have an awareness of a lot of issues and realities of parish life, and people’s lives because I’m involved with them very directly.
“So I suppose I would be bringing that awareness to my role as rector.
“I think the other area I’m interested in and concerned about is the question of the spiritual life of the priest, because I think that’s something that’s vital for a priest to be able to sustain in his work.”
Fr Julian notes the importance of spiritual life because of the demands placed upon priests in their day to day parish work. He believes that coming in from the “frontline” of parish work might help in his new role but says that the downside is that he hasn’t had a close association with theological thought, over that time.
Immersed in daily life with bright, eager and impassioned young men means he might have to “bone up” in this area, Fr Julian says.
“Because I’m taking on the job straight away, I don’t have the luxury of doing some courses in serious preparation for the role.
“I’ll be going in with the awareness that I’ve got a lot to learn, and a willingness to learn, to listen and to seek to come to grips with the challenges. I’m certainly not going in there thinking I have all the answers.”
Fr Julian is a native Sydneysider, ordained for the Archdiocese of Sydney in 1974.
Since then he has enjoyed parish postings across the greater Sydney area, but reflects that his new role might give him the chance for a certain kind of renewal.
“I think parish life is really about people, and that’s what I enjoy doing.
“But you also have to get your GST organised, the public tells you there are no toilet rolls in the toilets, the roof’s leaking, the drains are blocked,” Fr Julian chuckles.
“I do enjoy those kinds of things, but certainly (the new role) will be a chance to go back to the heart and centre of who I am as a priest and what the role of a priest is.
“So, hopefully, this role will also be an opportunity for me to revisit what my own life involves as a priest.
“I think it will be stimulating to move with young men who have very high ideals and great vision, and I think that in itself will be a very enriching experience for me to be involved with young men who come with freshness and idealism.
“I think this seminary experience will provide an opportunity for me to be able devote more attention to prayer, to spiritual life, to theological reflection, because it’s all part of being a rector, and I think it will be a great opportunity for me to be refreshed in my own vision and hopefully enriched in my own priesthood.”
But Fr Julian’s heart still lies firmly with the parish life.
“I hope with the good wishes of the Archbishop, I’ll eventually be able to return to the parish after this little sojourn. I see that I’ve been called to this role and I want to do it and do it as best I can, but I’m hoping the Archbishop in his mercy will allow me to return to the parish in due course.”