I was ordained a priest on the 30 June, 1984, 32 years ago. I began my journey as a Salesian in January 1975. Many events have happened in my vocation journey that it is a challenge to shrink them into an article. As I look back I would say God drew me to priesthood through my life story rather than through an event or any divine revelation.
I grew up in North Manly, loving sport and life in general. In primary school I would think about what brings joy and what causes pain. I saw struggles in my family and in others and these made me reflect. I saw God as integral to joy and a support through pain.
I lived in an Augustinian parish and went to the local Catholic primary school, run by the Good Samaritans, then the Christian Brothers at Manly. My dad was an Old Boy from North Sydney Boys High, so I was sent there for Years 7-9. My family moved to Melbourne when I was 15, and I went to a Salesian School for Years 10-12.
There I met priests and brothers and people with a special way of responding to God. I was thinking of trying to be a Salesian at the end of Year 12, in 1973, but I lacked confidence and it was a time of many people leaving the priesthood and religious life and this made me feel even less confident.
I decided to put that path on hold and began a B.Sc at university, majoring in Chemistry and Maths. I stayed connected to Salesians and growth in my faith through uni groups.
During my second year at uni I knew I needed to explore the path of being a Salesian. I did not have the confidence to be a priest and so began by asking to be a Salesian Brother.
I loved working for youth and responding to help build God’s Kingdom.
I explored a few other orders. However, the Salesians were the group where I felt most comfortable.
I sometimes describe it like finding a brand of shoes that fit your feet. Other brands can be excellent, however Salesians fitted my personality and heart most comfortably.
I believe God was inviting me through those experiences and people.
In the year before I was to make my final vows a friend in my year who was by far the most talented (he went on to have his own TV show in America and has been on Oprah a number of times) pulled out. He said: “I can do this for five years or maybe 10, but I cannot be sure I can do this for life!”
That was a huge challenge for me. How could I say ‘yes’ for life?
I came to the point where I could say yes for life, if I said ‘yes’ to God every day. I have struggled but I have tried to live that each day of my life from then on. My vocation is a daily invitation from God and a daily response from me.
People ask how has the reality of priesthood been? Was I prepared? Yes and no.
Can one ever be prepared for our future? I discovered a need for the personal nurturing of my heart that in many ways I had sublimated to the big picture of serving God and the Kingdom.
I had many challenges in my priesthood as I learnt to integrate my personal needs with my universal vision. Another challenge has been wrestling with my failures around my ideals, and the failures of other priests and Salesians.
To hold the ideals as ‘stars’ by which to steer my life continues to be a challenge that with God’s grace I will live till I die.
Two months ago I had quintuple heart bypass surgery. That was a shake to my life. I am still recovering but back in the parish. It was the love, prayers and support of the community that were expressions of God’s love and support, that carried me through that experience, and continues to do so.
My vocation, my calling, continues every day and I pray I can continue to say ‘yes’ to God every day.