Seminarian for diocese the size of France and Belgium

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Hugo Chis is a first year seminarian for an outback Australian diocese the size of France and Belgium put together. Photo: Keturah de Klerk
Hugo Chis is a first year seminarian for an outback Australian diocese the size of France and Belgium put together. Photo: Keturah de Klerk

When people ask me, “What diocese do you study for?” and I answer Wilcannia-Forbes, I can sense their slight shock. Slight shock because, well, why would a 24-year-old want to serve a remote country diocese that is the size of France and Belgium put together?

That story began in 1952 after the Second World War. My grandmother, then 16, and her family made the journey from war-torn Malta to Australia, landing in the mining town of Broken Hill.

This is really the opening of a story that has led me back to serve the diocese of Wilcannia-Forbes.

While growing up, we were your average Catholic family. We went to Mass on Sundays and were involved in the parishes we belonged to. Being Catholic to us was as natural as breathing. Our faith was an essential part of our daily living.

I was educated in Adelaide at Cabra Dominican College. It was during this time I began to ask myself the big questions about the future.

In 2008 I travelled to Sydney to World Youth Day and it was there I knew I had to answer a call to the priesthood. Surrounded by so many Catholics, priests, seminarians and religious I saw the joy in the proclamation of the Gospel and I wanted to have that same joy.

On arriving home, I began the tough task of seeking what God wanted of me and where he was calling me.

After completing Year 12 I worked in youth ministry, and throughout this period in my life I was certain that the Lord called me and I was ready to serve him. My family was overjoyed at my decision and very reassuring. My mates were somewhat surprised but supportive.

But the question remains, why Wilcannia-Forbes? My heart has always been in the bush; no matter how long I have been in the city I have always felt the call to serve the people of God in the places that seem barren and isolated. So why not serve the diocese that gave the spiritual guidance and support to the people that have made me what I am today?

Sadly, in 2013 I lost my mother after a battle with cancer. She was just 49. Personally I thought my mother’s passing would rock my vocation, but it did the opposite and made it stronger. It gave me time to reflect and realise that I needed to go back to where it all began. However, the diocese of Wilcannia-Forbes was without a Bishop and was about to be suppressed. How could I go back?

God, in his humour and providence, fixed that with a simple phone call from a relative who said: “Guess what? We’re here to stay.”

The diocese was saved and a bishop was appointed. My family and I made the journey back to Broken Hill to witness the installation of Bishop Columba Macbeth Green.

To see our cathedral packed once again with the smiles of faith-filled people, I knew this was all in the plan of God. I knew it was time to go back.

For 12 months I had the amazing opportunity before seminary training to begin my formation in the parish of Forbes. I travelled across the diocese, meeting the people of Wilcannia-Forbes, seeing their strengths and areas that needed to be built upon.

Despite a tumultuous seven years the people of the diocese were stronger than ever. It is this strength and faith that makes me so excited for what the future holds for us as a diocese and, please God, me as a priest. The bush may be dry, vast and empty but the faith of these people are the springs of living water that brings life in a dry, red and dusty picture and I would never trade it in for anything.

This year I began my formal training at Vianney College, Wagga. I have settled in well and seminary life is great. It has its challenges but it has been an amazing experience in which I am enriched each day through prayer, study and community. I can safely say I am a proud Vianney boy!

If I was to give advice to a young guy considering the call to priesthood I would tell them to reflect on a favourite quote of mine from Pope St John Paul II, who is one of my heroes and someone to whom I look for guidance every day.

“Do not abandon yourselves to despair, we are the Easter people and Alleluia is our song.”