There are important lessons to be learned by a young Aussie seminarian in Rome.
Sydney seminarian, Deacon Matthew Meagher, who is currently completing his fourth year of study at the Gregorian University in Rome, says that while there is much to like about the laid-back Roman culture, there are also significant spiritual lessons to be learned in the ancient city of saints and sinners.
Born and bred on Sydney’s North Shore, and raised in a family of nine children, Deacon Meagher started thinking about the priesthood in his early twenties.
“It sort of comes up from behind a little bit and catches you off-guard,” he said.
He completed a Business degree at UTS and worked for Corrective Services before entering the Homebush seminary at the age of 25.
After studying at the Homebush seminary for three years he was sent to Rome to complete a Masters degree in theology at the Gregorian University, while living at the North American College.
He was ordained to the diaconate in Rome in September 2017. “It was a beautiful day. It really was. It’s the moment you give your life over,” he said.
Deacon Meagher says he settled easily into Roman life and enjoys much of what it has to offer.
There is the food, the coffee, and of course, that wonderful Italian tradition of siesta every afternoon.
“It doesn’t take much to adapt to it. It’s mainly the food and the coffee. You don’t want to eat too much pasta for lunch or you won’t get much done in the afternoon. But overall it’s very nice.”
But there are other aspects of Rome that inevitably speak of its history, which is inextricably linked to the story of Christianity and the Catholic Church.
Anyone who visits Rome for the first time is usually overwhelmed by the multitude of churches containing the tombs and relics of saints—famous saints, such as St Monica, St Catherine of Siena and St Ignatius of Loyola.
“Having all the saints around is just a regular, gentle reminder to strive for that holiness,” Deacon Meagher said. “So many of the saints here were martyrs. There are modern-day martyrs as well.”
“It’s a reminder to give your whole life to what you’re doing. There’s not much point in becoming a priest if you’re not really going to give your life to it.”
His favourite spot to spend some time in prayer is at the tomb of St Ignatius, founder of the Jesuits, at the Church of the Gesu, a typically beautiful and highly-ornate Roman church. He walks past the church every day on his way to university. “It’s lovely to visit these places. You develop a bit of a devotion to these saints.”
Living and studying so close to the Holy Father and the Vatican also serves to remind seminarians of the importance of preaching, according to Deacon Meagher.
“With the Pope and the Vatican so close it makes you very aware of your responsibility to preach and to preach well. If you want to preach you have to study well. So it really makes you want to study well, to know the faith well, to teach it clearly.”
It’s not just formal preaching during homilies that Deacon Meagher feels inspired to do well.
“You preach in what you say in your homily on a Sunday. You preach when you speak to people at the bus stop of a morning. You preach in the way you live.”
While the surrounding Roman culture may be laid-back, the life of a seminarian is anything but easy.
A typical day means a 5.30am start with Morning Prayer, followed by Mass at 6.15am. The rest of the morning is taken up with attending lectures and classes, and the afternoon is set aside for pastoral work, which may take place in parishes, prisons or hospitals.
“Weekends are when you try to catch up on a bit of sleep, go out and see friends.”
Saturdays are free and on Sundays the seminarians play touch-rugby, which was introduced to the North American College by the handful of Aussies living there.
“It’s all good things though. I enjoy the study. I enjoy the pastoral work and obviously I enjoy prayer.”
One thing that has deeply impressed Deacon Meagher about the Roman culture is the focus on family above all else.
“There’s a lot to like and there’s lots of things in the culture that we just don’t get in Australia. This deep focus on the importance of family. Family comes before almost anything else. Before business, before work.”
He said there is also the greater appreciation of leisure time derived from the notion that life should be about much more than just work.
“The focus on knowing how to rest well. Weekends are weekends here. People generally take them off here. They’re not as hurried as us, not as frantic,” Deacon Meagher said.
Siesta time can have its pit-falls however.
“The trick is not to lie down for too long. It can get away from you. Twenty minutes then you’ve got to get up. If you lie down longer than twenty minutes you’re not going to be getting up for a while.”
All going according to plan, Deacon Meagher hopes to be ordained to the priesthood for the Sydney Archdiocese in 2018.
“That will be nice to have it in Sydney. I want to be a priest but I also want to be a priest in Sydney.”
For the time being however, he is making the most of his Roman experience.
“Rome is Rome. The cobblestones can annoy you.”
“But I enjoy it. It’s a different view of the world. It’s a different view of the Church.”