It shouldn’t be happening. With the reputation of Catholic priests and the Church at an all-time low, both of the Archdiocese of Sydney’s seminaries are booming.
Rather than turning away from the possibility of the priesthood, young men are choosing to enter seminary formation because they believe Christ may be calling them to a life as priests. The interesting question is why?
The Seminary of the Good Shepherd in Homebush, which produces priests for service in archdiocesan parishes, is experiencing a renaissance of interest with 51 seminarians from ten dioceses in formation—the largest number the seminary has had in over a decade.
“I believe there was a similar number about ten years ago,” Fr Danny Meagher, Rector of the seminary, told The Catholic Weekly.
This year eight new seminarians entered the Homebush Seminary. There will also be two ordinations to the priesthood and seven to the diaconate in 2018.
The seminarians range in age from 21 to 41, and while most were born and bred in Australia, many are from diverse ethnic backgrounds including Vietnamese, Filipino, Iraqi, Ugandan, Nigerian and Italian.
There are also three Sydney seminarians currently undertaking studies in Rome.
“We try to help them come to know themselves better,” Fr Meagher said. “To come to know God better, understand the Church, so they can freely choose to give themselves to God and the Church. And to grow in maturity, goodness and holiness in order to become good compassionate priests.”
Through the formation process he said the seminarians “learn to relate better to others” and to have “a clearer more mature understanding of themselves and others.” They also “develop a deeper awareness of who God is and a deeper love of God. Greater freedom and peace.”
Meanwhile, the Redemptoris Mater Archdiocesan Missionary Seminary in Chester Hill—run under the auspices of the Neocatechumenal Way in Australia—has 22 young men from all parts of the world studying for the priesthood.
Founded in Spain in 1964, the Neocatechumenal Way is one of the newest and fastest growing movements in the Church.
While priests ordained from Redemptoris Mater always belong, once ordained, to the Archdiocese of Sydney they can be released to serve in missionary roles all over the world.
Rector Fr Eric Skruzny said they are expecting another two new-starters to join them this year. The seminarians undertake their studies at the Catholic Institute of Sydney and Notre Dame University.
“The aim is to prepare them to be missionary priests in a changing world,” Fr Skruzny said.
“To prepare them to be ready to confront the challenges of a modern and changing society. To confront the challenges of moral confusion and ignorance. To be merciful and understand the difficulties and pressures for people living in the modern world.”
Fr Skruzny says he sees the seminarians grow in their self-awareness and their faith throughout the formation process.
“I see a growth in their humanity. I see them become more aware of their own weaknesses which makes them more patient towards other people. In terms of spiritual growth, they become more and more conscious of the immense love God has for them despite their weaknesses and their poverties.”
Jonathan Vala, Rome:
Currently studying in Rome is 22 year-old Jonathan Vala who has found the Eternal City to be the perfect place to nourish his faith.
“Spiritually it’s extremely rich. We have the opportunity to see the Holy Father every week at his Angelus and Audiences and we witness the Church universal first-hand by living with priests, religious, seminarians and pilgrims from every country in the world.”
“The opportunity to be formed in Rome is an incredible one, that I’m extraordinarily grateful for.”
Jonathan, who entered the seminary straight after completing secondary school at Redfield College, grew up in Sydney’s northern suburbs in a family of six children.
“My family and my school are the two most influential factors in my vocational discernment. My parents always had a remarkable trust in God, and in a quiet and natural way were always models to me of gratefulness to God for all His blessings.”
John Jang, Rome:
“I’m attracted to the priesthood because it is a sharing in the priesthood of Jesus Christ,” says 31 year-old John Jang who was born in Korea but grew up in the Hills District in Sydney’s north-west.
After working as a medical intern in Westmead and Blacktown, John entered the seminary and is currently in his sixth year of seminary formation, and his third year of study in Rome.
“Christ wants to be a part of our lives and help us to live according to the truth in good times and bad,” he told The Catholic Weekly.
Matthew Lukaszewicz, Homebush:
After experiencing WYD in Poland and completing a degree in philosophy, Matthew Lukaszewicz felt drawn towards the priesthood.
Having worked for many years as an engineer, the 31 year-old has finally taken the plunge and entered Sydney’s Good Shepherd Seminary in Homebush just this year.
“I sat down and thought about it and prayed about it and felt convinced I should try it. There was a sense of joy and peace,” he told The Catholic Weekly.
Originally from Adelaide, Matthew studied engineering in Sydney and then travelled to Rome and Poland to study philosophy.
In Poland he was inspired by the spiritual legacy of St John Paul II and by WYD in Krakow in 2016.
“I definitely felt God was calling me to the priesthood after WYD. I felt that was the place I would experience the most joy.”
Not only was he inspired by the life of St John Paul II, Matthew says it was the example of his parish priests over the years as he grew up that made him first think of the priesthood.
“It was seeing them devoted to their work and always being open to help others.”
He says he is enjoying seminary life immensely so far. “I find there’s a good balance here. Plenty of time for support and fraternity.
“I also find that the spirit or charism in this place is joy.
“There’s an emphasis on that and you can see it in the seminarians.”
The best part of seminary life is gaining self-knowledge, Matthew says. “It’s a continual discernment process, just getting to know yourself and growing in prayer.”
Redemptoris Mater Seminary
Twenty-five year-old Rafael Silva from Mexico owes a debt of gratitude to his Grandma for his faith in God and the Church.
As a little boy his Grandma would take Rafael and his sisters to Sunday Mass.
It was at Mass as a 7 year-old child that he first thought about the priesthood. “I was struck by the priest. He was very vocal and full of joy. That triggered this vocation.”
As a young man, following the devastating failure of his parents’ divorce, it was his uncles and aunts who brought him back to the Church. “This was a good moment in my life as a Christian and my vocation because I could understand that God was calling me to something different.
“Probably if my aunts and uncles hadn’t been going to church, I would have committed suicide or become involved with drugs or alcohol.”
Rafael entered a community of the Neocatechumenal Way and put himself forward for the priesthood. He was sent to Sydney and is currently in his 8th year of formation at Redemptoris Mater Seminary in Chester Hill.
“I was surprised by how God works. He takes you by the hand and takes you to different places.”
“God has given me the joy to be here and I feel very happy. I see God calling me.”
Born into a Protestant family in the Dominican Republic, 29 year-old Moises Tapia also feels a debt of gratitude to his Grandmother for leading him to the Catholic Church.
She would take Moises and his sister to church every week and invited him to be baptised when he was 15 years old.
Following baptism he began catechism classes with the Neocatechumenal Way. “That was something concrete for me. It raised the question, who is God for me? What am I living for? What is my purpose in life?”
Moises was particularly moved by the example of his parish priest.
“I saw him giving his life completely to the parish which was something incredible for me. I saw in him the presence of Christ.”
Now in his eighth year of formation at the Redemptoris Mater Seminary in Chester Hill, Moises says he has been enjoying the ride.
“It has been an amazing journey for me. It has been a great joy.
“First of all to know I am loved by God, and then to have a community of people who for me and my vocation. It’s amazing.”
The best thing about seminary life, says Simon Hill, is the journey of self-discovery.
“The best thing is being confronted with different people from different countries with different mentalities to mine. It mirrors who I am and I see that as a real gift—discovering who I am.”
The 21 year-old grew up in a Neocatechumenal Way mission family in Broome, WA, and he is currently in his fourth year of formation at Redemptoris Mater Seminary in Chester Hill.
He first offered himself for the priesthood when he was just 16 years old.
“I felt Christ moving me to think that my life doesn’t have to be for myself.”
When he was 18 Simon went to the annual Neocatechumenal meeting in Italy where seminarians are randomly assigned to different seminaries around the world.
Simon waited while 599 other names were called only to hear he was being sent back to Australia.
“I trust that if I’m here that’s where God wants me,” he said laughing.
What excites Simon most about the prospect of priesthood is the opportunity to give hope to others.
“I hope I will have the grace and humility to be able to speak to them, to be an instrument of God to help people,” he told The Catholic Weekly.