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Super Seventeen enter Sydney Seminary

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Seminarians chat during a break at Good Shepherd Seminary in Homebush on 17 February. Photo: Alphonsus Fok
Seminarians chat during a break at Good Shepherd Seminary in Homebush on 17 February. Photo: Alphonsus Fok

Sydney’s Seminary of the Good Shepherd is becoming a powerhouse for the Church in Australia.

Seventeen men entered this year, the largest number in the history of the Homebush seminary, confirming that despite the challenges to faith in Australia today, men are answering the call to the Church and its ministry.

It’s almost 40 years since 17 entered Good Shepherd’s predecessor seminary, St Patrick’s College at Manly.

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Meanwhile, with more than 25 men turning out separately at last weekend’s Seminary Open Day, current trends suggest extra accommodation will need to be considered. It’s a good problem to have.

Among the 2023 intake, five have come from overseas.

“Sydney’s Archbishop, Anthony Fisher OP, said the willingness of young men to consider entering Holy Orders is a sign that there is much hope in the future of the Church in Australia.”

While the admission of overseas seminarians is not unprecedented, the proportion of those who were born in Australia – baptised either as Roman or Eastern Catholics – is.

Another first is the number of new seminarians from the Australia’s Eastern eparchies.

Good Shepherd has never seen five signing up to undertake priestly formation from the Maronite Catholic Eparchy, the Chaldean Catholic Eparchy and the Syro Malabar Eparchy.

Sydney’s Archbishop, Anthony Fisher OP, said the willingness of young men to consider entering Holy Orders is a sign that there is much hope in the future of the Church in Australia.

He said the late Cardinal George Pell had had a significant impact on the numbers now entering the seminary due to the courage he exhibited as a formidable pastoral leader amidst a society that has become increasingly hostile to Christ and his Church.

“We are very excited to have the 11 First years and six who have received some prior formation elsewhere, making a total of 17 new admissions this year,” he said.

Seventeen men entered this year, the largest number in the history of the Homebush seminary, confirming that despite the challenges to faith in Australia today, men are answering the call to the Church and its ministry. Photo: Alphonsus Fok
Seventeen men entered this year, the largest number in the history of the Homebush seminary, confirming that despite the challenges to faith in Australia today, men are answering the call to the Church and its ministry. Photo: Alphonsus Fok

“This bumper crop is in fact the largest admission of new seminarians in the history of Good Shepherd Seminary.

“This year’s intake is a source of great joy but also of consolation.

“As such a great friend of seminarians and young priests, and especially of this seminary, I dare say that these vocations are in part the fruit of the Cardinal’s intercession.”

Aged between 22 and 41, the new seminarians are from the dioceses of Sydney, Wollongong, Canberra-Goulburn, Armidale and Hobart, as well as two from Uganda.

And if the quantity of new seminarians is a sign of hope for the church, the quality of candidates underscores that hope, with strong brotherhood and the desire to undertake the church’s mission through teaching, sanctifying and providing pastoral care clearly evident.

Among the group is a doctor, engineer, optometrist, philosophy and theology graduate and a teacher.

“Seminary Rector Fr Michael de Stoop said it’s been a blessing to see 17 new workers for the vineyard of the Lord and His Church.”

While they all have very different backgrounds, the common thread is that all are seeking their purpose and truth while discerning if God is calling them to priesthood.

Often regarded as a restrictive way of life, seminarians and clergy alike say that answering God’s call and dedicating their lives to the work of the church offers a true sense of freedom and a strong sense of inner peace.

Seminary Rector Fr Michael de Stoop said it’s been a blessing to see 17 new workers for the vineyard of the Lord and His Church.

He said the fruits of the harvest are evident in the large intake this year, and if the trend continues the seminary’s facilities will “burst at the seams”!

He attributed the current record-breaking crop to seven major factors:

Rector Fr Michael de Stoop talks with some of this year’s record intake. Photo: Alphonsus Fok
Rector Fr Michael de Stoop talks with some of this year’s record intake. Photo: Alphonsus Fok

1. George Cardinal Pell

The increase in priestly vocations is among the fruits of George Cardinal Pell’s legacy, which Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP affirmed during the Cardinal’s Requiem Mass. Aspirants for the priesthood look for strong leadership in a society that is becoming less sympathetic to the Gospel. Cardinal Pell continued to play a significant role in supporting priestly vocations during his retirement, as he attended our community meals in the dining room and joined us for prayer in the Chapel.

2. Eastern Eparchies’ Efficacy

Five men have been admitted from the Maronite, Chaldean, and Syro Malabar Catholic Eparchies. This attests to the strength of faith that has been growing among these various faith-communities in the last few decades. Many families who are in the Eastern rites have been in Australia for long enough now to be assimilated to the Australian culture. Thus, we are now seeing the fruits of what is happening within the grass roots of our national identity.

3. Praying to the Lord of the Harvest

The key question asked during the Plenary Council was: “What is God saying to the Church in Australia?” In addition to the responding to our need for priests, praying for priestly vocations affirms what God is doing in the Church in Australia, which is evident in this bumper crop.

Always focused on God: Cardinal George Pell leads seminarians in prayer in 2021. Photo: Supplied
Always focused on God: Cardinal George Pell leads seminarians in prayer in 2021. Photo: Supplied

4. The “COVID Effect”

During the pandemic lockdown, we all had more time to reflect on the present moment, which is the quintessential place where God’s grace can be found.

5. University Chaplaincies, Schools, and World Youth Day

Catholic schools have been steadily investing in their staff by forming them as faith-leaders. Likewise, the CCD has trained many catechist teachers. We are now seeing the fruits of the inspiration that these faith-leaders are providing.

The university chaplaincies have become more active in Catholic and secular universities such that many tertiary students have become more enlivened in their faith.

Both the university chaplains and Catholic schools have also shown the impact and importance of WYD by developing the faith-life of the young people who attended these ecclesial international gatherings.

6. Culture of Discernment

For over ten years now, Catholics have become more interested in how discernment can help them to follow Christ more faithfully by being more attentive to the interior movements of the Holy Spirit.

7. Growing Number of Young Priests

As the newly ordained clergy are young, young Catholics can see something more of themselves in them, as they share more age-related similarities.

Additionally, young Catholics realise that the newly ordained priests have had to contend with the similar challenges that our contemporary culture has presented to them.

Consequently, young Catholics tend to relate more easily to young priests and be inspired by their sincere gift of self in response to God’s call.

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