A hundred and eighty three years to the day after the first Catholic priest was ordained in Australia, a house of vocational discernment named in his honour was officially opened and blessed in Sydney.
Sumner House in Lidcombe, a residential home for young men discerning their vocation, is named after Fr Bede Sumner, the first Catholic priest ordained in Australia.
Fr Sumner, a professed Benedictine from England, was ordained by Archbishop Bede Polding in Sydney on 12 May 1836.
Young men in Sydney seeking to discern their vocation will now be albe live for around 12-18 months in the home named for the pioneering priest. Sumner House accommodates up to ten and is situated next door to St Joachim’s Catholic Parish in Lidcombe.
Appropriately, the opening took place on World Day of Prayer for Vocations—12 May.
It was only discovered after the opening date had been set, and name of the house had been chosen, that 12 May was the exact date of Fr Sumner’s ordination to the priesthood.
Bishop Tony Randazzo, who officially opened and blessed the house, said the coincidence was “a wonderful little sign of divine providence.”
He said Fr Sumner was an example of someone who had struggles in life but still gave himself to the mission of the Church.
“He was quite a remarkable fellow in the pioneer period. He was held up by bushrangers, travelled quite extensively on horseback and was very close to the people.”
The establishment of Sumner House reflects the priority given by Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP to encouraging and supporting vocations in the Sydney Archdiocese, he said.
“The novelty of this is that it’s a new style of approach with regards to discernment,” Bishop Randazzo told The Catholic Weekly.
“It’s much more comprehensive. It begins with the call to holiness that comes through baptism and it helps young men to see who they are as men, who they are as men before God, who they are as men before others.
“This house gives us an opportunity to have some young men spend some serious time in discernment, in contemplation, while also being active in the world, and hopefully at the end of the day when they’ve engaged in the process of living there they’ll be able to say, I have a clear sense that God is calling me to be a priest to serve the Church, or God is calling me to be a married man.”
St Joseph has been named as the patron of Sumner House because he is patron of the universal Church and a great role model for men, Bishop Randazzo said.
The building, originally a Marist monastery, has undergone extensive renovations; it features private bed rooms, a chapel and communal kitchen, dining, study and lounge areas.
Residents will receive pastoral and spiritual support from two directors—a lay man and a priest.
Chris Lee from Sydney Catholic Youth told The Catholic Weekly a place of discernment like Sumner House is needed more than ever to help young men hear God’s call.
“In this day and age it’s hard for young people to be able to hear where God is calling them to. So a place like this house is needed which can help them develop as men and help answer those three important questions—who am I as a man? Who am I as a man before God? Who am I as a man before others?”
Mr Lee said the house was set up to allow a lifestyle conducive to growing in faith as well as learnilng life skills such as budgeting, cooking and regular physical exercise.
“It’s more than just a share house. It’s an investment in your personal and spiritual growth,” he said.
Those staying at Sumner House will benefit from being next to St Joachim’s Church which has perpetual adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.
Several young men who were present at the opening told The Catholic Weekly they were considering submitting an application to live in the house.
Twenty-three year-old Phil who works as a builder said he was excited by the opportunity the house would provide.
“It’s going to be able to provide a place of community and also a place of brotherhood. But especially a solid place to check out discernment in life, whether it be priesthood, married or single life, whatever it may be.”
University student Dan, said he was also impressed by the house.
“It looks like an amazing way to take action on that call to discernment and start the journey on the path to holiness, just taking that extra step.”
Meanwhile, Andrew, who works as an engineer, said the house was “pretty cool” and would provide a good opportunity to pursue holiness.
“I think the brotherhood would be an awesome, to have a bunch of guys who can support one another in that call to holiness and also to keep each other accountable. Having perpetual adoration available is an awesome thing as well.”
Applications to live at Sumner House are now being accepted and the first residents will move in on 1 July this year.
For more information about Sumner House contact: Sydney Catholic Youth on 02 9307 8152 or the Vocations Centre on 02 9307 8433 or go to www.sydneycatholic.org/sumnerhouse