The year-on-year renewal of the Archdiocese of Sydney’s clergy is not merely a happy statistic, but a sign that young men remain attracted to the challenge of the celibate priesthood, Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP told faithful and clergy at the ordination of Frs Richard Sofatzis and Matthew Lukaszewicz on 9 September.
In his homily for the ordinations—preached to a packed St Mary’s Cathedral, rejoicing in the commissioning of yet more shepherds for the city’s Catholics—Archbishop Fisher vigorously proclaimed the goodness of priestly celibacy, pushing back against the view that “no normal man would commit to it.”
“Yet here in the Archdiocese of Sydney we will have four ordinations to the priesthood this year, we had five last year, six in COVID time, and six in the year before,” he said.
“A steady stream has meant the average age of the Sydney clergy has been declining for the past decade and a half.
“These younger priests are not just a happy statistic: they are men of intelligence, holiness and generosity, of evangelical zeal and pastoral solicitude.
“This year alone, we welcomed 17 new admissions to the seminary, the largest intake in nearly four decades. So much for the impossibility of attracting young men to the celibate priesthood today!”
The archbishop said that while “some priests did indeed breach their vows and trust, doing terrible harm to victims, families and the church,” today’s candidates are generally a decade more mature, more experienced and have had the benefit of psychological screening and first-rate formation.
“They strike me as very ‘normal’ psychologically, if rather counter-cultural in their idealism,” he said.
Archbishop Fisher, who serves on the Dicastery for the Eastern Churches, affirmed the value of the married priesthood in the Eastern Catholic and Orthodox churches, but reminded the congregation that bishops, who enjoy “the fulness of the priesthood,” are celibate also in the Christian East.
Frs Sofatzis and Lukaszewicz were blessed to have many family and friends in attendance on the day of their total dedication to God and his church in Sydney, including Fr Lukaszewicz’s parents Maria and Stan, and Fr Sofatzis’ father Bill.
Fr Sofatzis’ mother Gillian, a devoted Catholic, schoolteacher and mother of seven who reposed in the Lord in 2017, was “very proud” and watching from heaven, Archbishop Fisher said.
Both men have siblings in priestly and consecrated life who joined their brothers at the cathedral—Fr Sofatzis’ brother Fr Thomas Sofatzis FSSP, and Fr Lukaszewicz’s sister Olivia, a Schoenstatt novice in Germany.
Fr Sofatzis’ classmates from the Pontifical North American College in Rome watched via livestream, as did Fr Lukaszewicz relatives from Poland and across Australia.
In his thanksgiving, Fr Sofatzis gave glory to God for the gift the new priests had received and expressed the pair’s earnest desire, through God’s grace, to serve the church.
“Receiving this great gift, we earnestly desire through your grace to serve you and your people, abiding in you, to go out and bear fruit,” he said.
“We hope to pass on the gift of life we have received from you to all those who, calling us father, desire to receive life eternal.
“Our thanksgiving extends to his grace Archbishop Anthony, for welcoming each of us into the seminary, supporting us as a father every step along the way, and now ordaining us as priests for the Archdiocese of Sydney.”
He also paid tribute to the priest-formators, lecturers and other contributors to their vocational journey, and to the priests of the archdiocese, “for welcoming us as fellow co-workers in the Lord’s vineyard, brothers in the Lord.”
They also gave special thanks to their families, “most especially for their prayers, whether from heaven above or Earth below.”
Polish-Australian Fr Lukaszewicz left a promising double career as a pilot and professional tennis player to become a priest, while Fr Sofatzis, who has Greek heritage and attended a Greek Orthodox school, pursued engineering before beginning his studies at the Seminary of the Good Shepherd.