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Look to Newman and Pell: Advice for Uni Chaplains

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A group of university staff, clergy, chaplains & students with Fr Raymond at Chapter Hall on 7 February. Photo: Giovanni Portelli
A group of university staff, clergy, chaplains & students with Fr Raymond at Chapter Hall on 7 February. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

One of Canada’s leading Catholic commentators and veteran university chaplain, Fr Raymond De Souza has urged Catholic students to draw inspiration from St John Henry Newman and Cardinal George Pell as they seek to spread the Gospel message in an increasingly secular world.

Fr De Souza, who is a Senior Fellow at the leading Canadian Christian think tank, Cardus, was guest speaker at a Scholarship at the Cathedral talk at St Mary’s Cathedral’s Chapter Hall on 7 February on the topic “University Chaplaincies: Key centres of the New Evangelisation”.

Fr De Souza was visiting Sydney to attend the Funeral Mass for his close friend of 20 years, Cardinal George Pell, who had been at the forefront of reforming and nurturing university chaplaincies across Sydney during his 13 years as Archbishop of Sydney from 2001-2014.

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Under the leadership of Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP, the chaplaincies have grown their influence on university campuses across Sydney.

Fr De Souza told the gathering, that he believes university chaplaincy can be an extremely rewarding ministry.

An audience listens to Fr Raymond speak about lessons learned from 19 years as a university chaplain at Chapter Hall on 7 February. Photo: Giovanni Portelli
An audience listens to Fr Raymond speak about lessons learned from 19 years as a university chaplain at Chapter Hall on 7 February. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

“On university campuses, even if the total number of Catholics isn’t necessarily great, you’re able as a chaplain to see conversions and lives changed through your ministry and that is indeed very beautiful”, he explained.

The Canadian-born priest, who has spent around 20 years as a university chaplain in the Archdiocese of Kingston, Ontario, believes the key to success lies in personal invitation.

“Christians who want to evangelise have to be the kind of people who you want to be friends with and so on university campuses, if you provide people with opportunities to make friends, then they’ll be eager to return”.

Fr De Souza has been a key supporter of Catholic Christian Outreach, a university student movement in Canada dedicated to evangelisation. Its central goal across Canada is to share the message of Jesus and empower students through university chaplaincies to then share that message with others.

“Through Catholic Christian Outreach, we call it ‘the multiplying effect’ where through training-up our missionaries, they can in turn identify others who too have the capacity to be multipliers, which helps to nurture active Catholic communities across our campuses”, he said.

Fr Raymond De Souza speak about lessons learned from 19 years as a university chaplain at Chapter Hall on 7 February. Photo: Giovanni Portelli
Fr Raymond De Souza speak about lessons learned from 19 years as a university chaplain at Chapter Hall on 7 February.
Photo: Giovanni Portelli

Fr De Souza believes today’s university chaplaincies should draw inspiration from St John Henry Newman and Cardinal Pell who both recognised the central evangelising mission of Catholic university chaplaincies to help nurture the faith for future generations.

“St John Henry Newman is sometimes called ‘the Apostle of Friendship’ and he indeed recognised that friendship is not only the central message of the Gospel, but also the best way to convey it. Friendship is a central part of the New Evangelisation and the Christian mission on university campuses is one where friendship is very easy,” he said.

“One aspect of Cardinal Pell’s character too, which I think was generally under-emphasised, was his extraordinary gift of friendship. He had friends in the United Kingdom, Rome, across Australia, Canada and the United States, to name just a few countries”.

“When I first met Cardinal Pell, I was only a first-year seminarian and he was an Archbishop, but he made me feel equal to him. And so his gift of friendship was not just personal, but also pastoral.

It was part of his pastoral strategy that he would inspire people to do difficult things and give them a confidence that they didn’t previously have because he gave them his friendship”.

Daniel Hill introduces Fr Raymond De Souza at the Scholarship at the Cathedral on 7 February in Chapter Hall. Photo: Giovanni Portelli
Daniel Hill introduces Fr Raymond De Souza at the Scholarship at the Cathedral on 7 February in Chapter Hall. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

Fr De Souza writes frequently about the role of faith in the public sphere and has been Editor-in-Chief of the online Canadian magazine, Convivium for over a decade. He also writes regular columns for internationally respected Catholic publications including The Catholic Herald and National Catholic Register. He believes the central mission of Catholic university chaplaincies, grounded in communities of faith and friendship, is central to the whole Christian purpose of Communion.

“We share in a Communion that has its origins in the Blessed Trinity: a Communion of Life and Love and the purpose of the Christian life is to somehow be immersed in that and also to be in Communion with others”, Fr De Souza said.

“And it seems to me that friendship is what orients us towards Communion and in fact our friendships seek fulfilment in Communion”.

Scholarship at the Cathedral is an initiative of the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney, in partnership with the University of Notre Dame Australia’s Institute for Ethics and Society.

For more information visit the Scholarship at the Cathedral website: https://www.satcathedral.org/

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