What is it that drives a young man to want to be ordained in 2019 and commit to a life of celibacy and obedience?
In the wake of years of sexual abuse scandals, along with long hours, modest wages, loneliness and a retirement age of 75, it’s not what you think the average 20-year-old guy would go for.
Yet despite the challenges, there are now more seminarians in formation than in the history of the Good Shepherd Seminary at Homebush and if the current trend continues, extra accommodation will need to be built – a good problem to have.
People often see the priesthood as a very restrictive way of life, but in actual fact answering God’s call and dedicating their lives to the work of the Church offers a true sense of freedom.
After years of discerning and wrestling with the idea of entering the seminary, finally making the decision offers an enormous sense of inner peace.
This year, 11 “first years” entered the seminary and while all have different backstories, the common thread through their vocation is the power of silence.
Particularly challenging in our loud, distracted media-saturated world, all agree it’s necessary in order to listen and understand one’s own heart.
Rector of the seminary Fr Danny Meagher believes “If you are appreciating the silence, you are allowing God to work in your life”.
“Much of our normal commercial communication generally takes away energy to be with God, to be ourselves and to be reflective,” he said.
“Silence is somewhat imposed on first year seminarians – no internet access, no phone, no TV/radio which allows the spirit to begin to breathe”.
Fr Danny said there are two major questions he asks of someone thinking of entering the priesthood – their love and desire for a vocation. “It’s just impossible to be a good priest without love. So, firstly I ask whether he loves God. I ask whether he prays often and with pleasure, for we always spend time with those we love,” he said.
“Secondly I ask about his desire for the priesthood. Does it bring a sense of happiness? Has it been with him for quite a while – recurring with some regularity.
“It is not necessary to understand the love or the desire, just to be aware of them.”
So why did the class of 2019 enter the seminary? Here are some of their stories.
Shayne D’Cunha, 23,
Cherrybrook, Professional soccer player
I was your typical lukewarm Catholic. I went to Mass on Sundays more out of habit than anything else and only really prayed when I needed something. I went to a public school so faith wasn’t something I talked about as a teenager.
Soccer was my religion, I played from a very early age and worked my way up to represent Australia in the U19’s Asian Football Championship, the qualifier for the World Cup. We didn’t win but I did score a contract with the Western Sydney Wanderers.
I played professionally for a year, however an injury to my ACL (knee) left me on the sidelines.
I was determined to come back but having more time off the field made me realise something more than soccer was missing in my life.
A friend was discerning so I began attending weekday Mass and Confession with him and I started to feel an overwhelming call to the priesthood.
I went on a silent retreat in August 2017, and the feeling of entering the seminary continued but I buried it as I was a little fearful … a wife and kids had always been part of my life’s plan.
A couple of months later I felt the same call. But this time I welcomed it and for the first time in a long time I felt complete peace.
I visited the seminary and seeing so many young men so joyful was really helpful. After speaking to Vocations Director Fr Epeli, I had the courage to apply.
My family found my decision difficult at first but soon understood how happy I was. I had truly found the beauty of silence and that a dialogue with God means not just asking but hearing.
For anybody thinking about a vocation I would encourage them to talk to someone they trust, maybe a priest or Vocations Director, visit the seminary and ask the Lord to show you the way.”
Bradley Le Guier, 21
Perth, Studying primary school teaching
Even though I’m only 21 and the youngest in the seminary, I have been discerning for about four years. I’m here simply because I believe I was called by God; I can’t give any other reason.
Moving to Sydney has been tough, it’s such a busy place, especially compared to Perth. Prior to moving here I decided to defer my studies to travel to the US for five months to discern last year and while it prepared me a little for Sydney it has been hard going.
It’s such a clichéd thing to say, but I came back a different person. When you get thrown into something like that, it’s hard not to grow and be different at the end of it. I’ve had a number of people tell me they can see the difference, that something had changed quite deeply and seriously.
Towards the end of my time there, God put a call on my heart to enter the seminary. It was a ‘quiet calling’ – I didn’t hear voices or see words in the sky or anything. It came in silence, in prayer and reflection, but it was there. God was asking me to be faithful to it because this was a decent 180-degree turnaround from what I had been thinking earlier in the year, and I didn’t have all of the answers (in fact I had precious few answers) but when I prayed through it, I knew it was right.
My decision hasn’t been easy and I’ve definitely wrestled with it. At times I’ve had a real sense that it’s right and then at others I’ve been trying to do the ‘Jonah manoeuvre’ and get away ASAP.
I think at many of those points I had the total wrong idea of what the priesthood is, and even what the Christian life is. God had to do some serious work to fix things there, and through it I gained more of a sense of what the priesthood really is, and understand more the calling that’s on my heart.
At the end of the day, the number one thing I needed to realise is that this is an invitation, not a demand. God calls because He wants our free response in love.
He calls so that we can choose Him. If we didn’t really freely choose it, it wouldn’t be love. Personally, I had to realise, on a deep and vulnerable level, that I can say ‘no’. Ironically, I wasn’t able to truly say ‘yes’, until I knew I could say ‘no.’
I’m two months into the first year of seminary and I can say right now that I’m different to who I was on Day One of seminary. It’s not a bad difference, I’m not changing who I am, but more that I’ve become more aware of who I am really, and especially who I am in the eyes of God.”
Anthony Boutoubia, 22
Merrylands, Student of International Studies
My home burning down a couple of years ago was a real blessing in disguise. Growing up in quite a wealthy family, I was accustomed to having the best things in life.
And then one day an electrical shortage led to a fire in my home and we moved to a two bedroom unit while it was rebuilt. Due to the cramped living conditions we all actually spent time together as a family rather than coming home and each disappearing to different parts of the house.
I realised how much joy I got from being with my family and not needing all the mod-cons I was used to.
Throughout school I wouldn’t call myself a practising Catholic. I wanted to become a foreign diplomat. Oddly people would say “Gee you’d make a great priest” and I’d laugh it off and say “don’t be silly I want a wife and kids.
But, eventually, studies started to leave me a little disillusioned and I thought perhaps I could become a religion teacher. The more I thought about Christ the more I wanted it.
I started to block out the noise of the world and listen. During yet another sleepless night I remember lying in bed at 4am googling the Archdiocesesan vocations website.
I sent off an email not really thinking too much of it, but I couldn’t get it out of my mind. I followed it up with the Vocations office and for the first time in a long time I found inner peace.
I went along to Adoration one night and was invited back to the seminary for pizza. I finally had answers for the many questions that had plagued me and then and there decided to enter.
Yes, I was nervous, and still question my faith, but I think that’s healthy. The Church is made up of humans. We aren’t perfect and a lot of the trust that’s been built up over the years has been taken away, but during my discernment I have listened and now have a deep relationship with Christ.
While a little extreme, going through my home burning down has shown me I really don’t need anything but the love of Christ and spreading that love.”