Prayers, praise and perfect skies marked the beginning of the priestly journey for five men who will now serve the faithful in the Archdiocese of Sydney
As the banners processed down the central aisle of St Mary’s Cathedral, with bishops, priests, deacons, seminarians, and the five ordinands following behind, it was clear this would be an ordination of a sort Sydney had not seen for some years.
The Cathedral began filling at least an hour beforehand. By the time the sacristy bell rang there was only standing room left for the conclusion of the priestly journey of Frs Benjamin Saliba, Benjamin Gandy, Bijoy Joseph, Adrian Simmons and Mark Anderson.
Sydney turned out its most glorious weather for the ordination, celebrated on 6 August, the Feast of the Transfiguration, and the St Mary’s Cathedral Choir and organist did their utmost to match the splendour of the day.
“After suffering years of lockdowns and church closures, and with the responsibility of hosting the recent Plenary Council now fulfilled, the ordination of five priests felt like coming home for the Archdiocese of Sydney.”
The music, selected in consultation with Conservatorium-trained Fr Gandy, included JS Bach, Renaissance composers Thomas Tallis, Thomas Crecquillon and John Sheppard, and traditional Gregorian chant.
After suffering years of lockdowns and church closures, and with the responsibility of hosting the recent Plenary Council now fulfilled, the ordination of five priests felt like coming home for the Archdiocese of Sydney.
At least 120 priests gathered at the Cathedral to welcome the five ordinands: friends from seminary years, mentors from pastoral placements, lecturers and spiritual fathers.
The clergy of the Archdiocese welcomed their new brothers with joy and gratitude during the three-hour service.
Indeed the whole ordination abundantly overflowed with gifts: five young new priests, the long lines for first blessings, the beautiful vestments and music, the smiles and laughter of the congregation.
And in a time of increasing political and cultural division over faith, the congregation was palpably aware that the Lord had prepared a rich table for the Church, in the presence of those who afflict it.
“Sydney Airport has been overrun and we had to limit Deacons Bijoy Joseph and Ben Saliba to a thousand of their closest relatives and friends each, but all are very welcome!”
In his homily, Archbishop Anthony Fisher paid tribute to the diverse careers and backgrounds of the ordinands, making special mention of the large numbers of Indian and Lebanese Catholics in attendance.
“Sydney Airport has been overrun and we had to limit Deacons Bijoy Joseph and Ben Saliba to a thousand of their closest relatives and friends each, but all are very welcome!” he joked, adding that “for all their diversity these, your sons and brothers, all speak of a powerful call to serve the Lord and His Church”.
Cardinal George Pell attended the ordination, and was warmly acknowledged by Archbishop Fisher, receiving a spontaneous round of applause from the congregation.
On behalf of the five newly-ordained priests, Fr Gandy paid tribute to their families, formators and others who accompanied them along the way, but gave thanks above all to the Lord Jesus Christ.
“We thank God today for what he has done in us, and what he will do through us. Thanks be to God!” he said.
After Fr Gandy’s thanksgiving, Archbishop Fisher spoke of the recently-departed Fr Kevin O’Grady, a Sydney priest of 63 years’ service who described his 1959 ordination as the happiest day of his life and served under eight Popes, six Archbishops and 21 Prime Ministers.
“Auxiliary Bishop Danny Meagher told The Catholic Weekly after the service that he felt immense joy in seeing the young men complete their journeys to priesthood.”
“That in the very month we commended him to God we have five new priests to replace him is surely in part due to his intercession,” he said.
Auxiliary Bishop Danny Meagher, who welcomed Frs Gandy and Simmons in his first year as Rector of the Seminary of the Good Shepherd in 2015, and Frs Joseph, Saliba and Anderson the following year, told The Catholic Weekly after the service that he felt immense joy in seeing the young men complete their journeys to priesthood.
When asked for a word of advice for the newly-ordained priests, Bishop Meagher said they needed to “stay in love with God. Keep praying – that’s the only thing.”