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It takes a church to raise a priest

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The five ordinations last weekend were a joy not only for the new priests but for the whole Church in Sydney. Photo: Alphonsus Fok
The five ordinations last weekend were a joy not only for the new priests but for the whole Church in Sydney. Photo: Alphonsus Fok

In his homily for the ordinations last weekend Archbishop Anthony Fisher encouraged young men discerning their vocation to consider priesthood for the Archdiocese of Sydney, and ensured them they would receive a first-rate formation.

The five young men who have committed their lives to God and will now serve Sydney’s Catholics are the product of that very formation, and are evidence of its success.

Serious, humane, friendly and devoted – they are the beneficiaries of a balanced program of spiritual, intellectual, pastoral and human formation at the Seminary of the Good Shepherd that follows the priorities of St John Paul II in his encyclical Pastores Dabo Vobis, “I will give you Shepherds”.

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Despite some recent commentary around seminary formation in the Plenary Council process, Sydney’s formation is world-class.

The new priests spent hours on their knees in silent adoration and at Mass. They also received extensive formation in co-responsibility, safeguarding, and the other demands of contemporary ministry.

Whether clerical, religious or married, a person who follows their vocation does so in an intensely personal way, but not in isolation. The whole Church gathers to form a new priest.

“One of the enduring features of this program was a focus on the forgotten virtue of eutrapelia: the virtue of enjoyment.”

Former rector Bishop Danny Meagher, current rector Fr Michael de Stoop, Frs Arthur Givney, Simon Kitimbo, and John Armstrong, Srs Lydia Allen RSM, Susanna Edmunds OP, and Isabell Naumann, and the inimitable Ms Della Budwee are just a few of the seminary staff who have seen them through to ordination.

But these five men, and many others, were blessed to receive formation from two priests who have since moved on from seminary formation – and whose contributions must be acknowledged and celebrated.

Fr Bernard Gordon, now Vicar-General of the Diocese of Wollongong, was for a decade the first-year formator at Good Shepherd, and led seminarians through the initial discernment year, including education on the virtues and emotional life, “affective maturity”, according to St Thomas Aquinas.

One of the enduring features of this program was a focus on the forgotten virtue of eutrapelia: the virtue of enjoyment.

Like all virtues it lies between an excess (over-indulgence) and a lack (stinginess or severeness).

Training for priesthood can be a serious business, but mature priests need to be able to enjoy being with the people of God, to relax in moderation, to share in the happiness of the marriages, baptisms and other events over which they preside.

And in a “lifestyle” city like Sydney, every priest needs to practice eutrapelia for the sake of his own survival!

The other priest whose influence should be celebrated is Fr Ed Travers MSC, the longtime spiritual director of the Seminary of the Good Shepherd.

Many Catholics around the country will be familiar with Fr Ed’s approach: practical, as only Missionaries of the Sacred Heart can be, but grounded in the spiritual science of St Ignatius of Loyola.

His whole teaching can best be summed up in a much-repeated motto: “Go gently, and keep gently going.” And at the end of Mass he sends the congregation out with the charge to “preach the Gospel by your manner of life”.

Fr Ed led these young men and many other priests through the Ignatian exercises, the intense and demanding 30-day silent retreat, during which they learned to discern the spirits and made their election to follow the Lord’s call to the altar.

This experience makes them intimately familiar with true discernment – one of the guiding themes of the new synodal moment in the Church.

“Are these five young men perfect? Far from it. But they are good men who have been trained for the Kingdom of God right here, in Sydney.”

It is an invaluable gift for any priest, and many of the young clergy of the Sydney Archdiocese to live by St Ignatius’ rules for discerning the spirits.

Over the duration of their formation they received philosophical and theological education from the Catholic Institute of Sydney and University of Notre Dame. Fr Joseph undertook his academic studies in Rome, at the National American College.

They have undertaken pastoral work in hospitals, schools, nursing homes, and in Parishes under a whole raft of mentors and formators, laypeople and clergy.

Are these five young men perfect? Far from it. But they are good men who have been trained for the Kingdom of God right here, in Sydney.

The whole community has brought them to this day. And soon they will find themselves mentoring the next generation of priests, using the tools and experiences they’ve received. Thanks be to God!

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