Six Sydney priests offer heartfelt advice to ordinands

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Pope Francis ordains one of 16 new priests in St Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican in April 2018. Photo: CNS/Tony Gentile, Reuters
Pope Francis ordains one of 16 new priests in St Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican in April 2018.
Photo: CNS/Tony Gentile, Reuters

In two week’s time, on Saturday 3 August, Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP will ordain seven young men to the priesthood at St Mary’s Cathedral at 10.30am.

We asked seven Sydney priests for their best advice to their soon-to-be brother priests.

Fr Daniele Russo, Holy Family Parish, Menai

Our first work is prayer. There is so much that can be done in the average day of a priest. Work, work, and more work.

It shouldn’t be surprising, then, that a priest is regularly tempted to delay, or forgo, prayer for the sake of work.

However pressing our next appointment, or important our Sunday homily, we can never forget that our first work is prayer.

Our apostolate receives its fervour from the intimate relationship we share with Our Lord in prayer and our work will only ever be as fruitful as the quality of that relationship.

Fr Daniele Russo, Holy Family Parish, Menai
Fr Daniele Russo, Holy Family Parish, Menai

Behind every bad idea is almost always a good person. To choose to become a priest these days is radically counter-cultural.

As much as a vocation is a “yes” to God, it is increasingly also a “no” to the world and all its bad ideas. A Catholic priest must no doubt say “no” to secularism, the culture of death, moral relativism, and a seemingly endless list of the bad ideas that have worked their way into our culture and our parishes.

Often the origin of a bad idea is simply ignorance, a poor formation, or plain old human frailty. The great majority of people are genuinely interested in what is true, good, and beautiful.

Speak to the “good” in a person, not the “bad” of their ideas. Preach the Gospel constantly, and if necessary use words.

This spiritual aphorism, famously attributed to Saint Francis of Assisi, remains as true today as in the 13th Century.

Preaching and teaching the propositional content of our faith is the necessary precursor to a loving relationship with God.

Fr Michael Whelan SM, St Pat’s Church Hill

Fr Michael Whelan SM, St Pat’s Church Hill
Fr Michael Whelan SM, St Pat’s Church Hill

“Who are you? One made in the image and likeness of the infinitely self-emptying God: “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son” (John 3:16). So, “let this mind be in you … he emptied himself” (Philippians 2:7).

Who are you? Your true life is in Him: “When you were baptised into Christ Jesus, you were baptised into his death” (Romans 6:3).

Who are you? One called to be a place where Jesus Christ becomes real for people.
Diakonos means servant. You have the immense privilege of being one who is called to be a servant of God’s people.

In this way, your story – your very human story, with all its peculiar limits, possibilities and special needs, its memories and expectations, its doubts and anxieties – becomes a special instance of the Incarnation. May God bless you!”

Fr Darryl Mackie, Mission Integration Manager, St Vincent’s Private Hospital

My fellow brothers in Christ, soon you will be ordained into the priesthood. It is one of God’s greatest gifts to the Church this ministry that is entrusted to you.

This year marks my 24th year of ordination. Remembering those days prior to my ordination, it was the gift of a conversation I had with an elderly priest.

There were three things that he said that have stood out for me….I now pass them on to you.

Visit the sick. I was advised to always clear a few days from my diary each month, to ensure that I take time to visit the sick – in their homes, in the hospital, in aged care. If we forget this ministry we forget who we are.

Fr Darryl Mackie, Mission Integration Manager, St Vincent’s Private Hospital
Fr Darryl Mackie, Mission Integration Manager, St Vincent’s Private Hospital

As Pope Francis constantly reminds us that we must have the smell of the sheep on us…this ministry I have come to love as a hospital chaplain knowing that our presence makes such a difference and an uplifting presence in the lives of so many patients, families and staff.

Prayer must be always at the centre of your life. Prayer around your Divine Office, with sick people by their bedside and the centre of day, Mass.

Always remembering that your ministry is prayer in action. Your ministry derives from the altar. Take your people’s prayers and concerns to the altar and minster to them from the altar.

Prayer will sustain you when times are sometimes tough and sometimes you will need to say yes to your vocation. Always remember there are many praying for us. We do not minister alone!

Be yourself. From when God created you he has loved you! When you were brought into the Church to be Baptised you began your path.

As you come to know Jesus through prayer, through the Church and through His people you will come to know more deeply the ministry to which we are called.

In my prayers and Masses I offer these words and be the model of Jesus the Carpenter of Nazareth to our world.

Fr Josh Miechels, Our Lady of the Rosary Parish, Fairfield

Pray every day or you’re stuffed. Obviously this is true for all Christians.

Priests, given the challenges we face, our own weakness, and the way we are hated by Satan, even more so.

Fr Josh Miechels, Our Lady of the Rosary Parish, Fairfield
Fr Josh Miechels, Our Lady of the Rosary Parish, Fairfield

Have planned in your diary how, when and for how long you will spend at least half an hour with the Lord, no matter what happens in the day. Build relationships with everyone. Every human being aches for the love of God.

If a priest is a channel of anything, it is Divine love. Never underestimate the simple fact of your love for everyone you meet – it simplifies so many things.

Deliberately ‘waste’ (spend) time with families, school students and staff. The Gospel will almost naturally be proclaimed to them in doing so.

Spend time with brother priests. A weekly confessor and monthly spiritual director who you are an open book to is invaluable and will do a lot to prevent you going off the rails. And free time with priests, especially a few you gel well with, is an invaluable support through the dry and challenging times.

Very Rev Dr Gerald Gleeson, Vicar General, Sydney Archdiocese

Very Rev Dr Gerald Gleeson, Vicar General, Sydney Archdiocese
Very Rev Dr Gerald Gleeson, Vicar General, Sydney Archdiocese

“Be open to whatever your Archbishop ask you to do. Often you will find that an appointment which at first seems unattractive, becomes a very rich experience of grace and ministry.

Secondly, try to be a unifying presence in the parish. The motto of the old seminary at Manly was “omnia omnibus” – be like St Paul, “all things to all people” (sometimes translated as all things to all buses).

It is a ridiculous ideal, really, but it does remind us that as diocesan priests we are to be like the bishop we represent, that is, pastors who unify the disparate elements in our community.

Finally, I have always liked von Balthasar’s remark, that a priest should be as ordinary and nourishing as a good loaf of bread.”

Fr Don Richardson STB MA, Dean of St Mary’s Cathedral

Fr Don Richardson STB MA, Dean of St Mary’s Cathedral
Fr Don Richardson STB MA, Dean of St Mary’s Cathedral

“I’ve had the privilege recently of helping prepare these seven men to celebrate the Mass, so they’ve already had my advice on that aspect of priestly ministry.

Beyond the appropriate celebration of the liturgy, I would also advise the new priests: Love the Church as it is, not only as you’d like it to be; love the people whom you serve as they are, not only as you’d like them to be. Also as a “steward” in God’s household, be sure to bring out treasures both old and new.

That means being in touch with the history of the whole Church and the history of the people where you are, as well as keeping an eye on developments in the world-wide Church.

Remember you can learn a lot from the older priests, even if they’re a bit ‘flaky’ on this or that. Finally, try to remember that it’s all about Christ. Renew your relationship with him every morning at prayer.”