Brisbane turns it around

06 May 2009

By The Record

What used to be one of the worst states in Australia at attracting seminarians is turning that situation around, Anthony Barich discovered.                


Left, Brisbane Archbishop John Bathersby, standing in the middle, presides over the ordination Mass at the Cathedral of St Stephen on June 27 last year for Frs Peter Gablonski and Jason Middleton, kneeling, who now serve at the parishes of Surfers Paradise and Southport respectively, . Right, local bishops pray over the newly-ordained priests. Photos: Rene Marcel



Evangelisation plans put in place up to eight years ago by Brisbane Seminary Rector Monsignor Anthony Randazzo have resulted in a dramatic turnaround in vocations at Brisbane’s Holy Spirit Seminary.
The assertion of Cardinal George Pell’s biographer Tess Livingstone in October 2006 that Queensland was “by far the worst State in Australia at attracting new priests to its seminary” was true numerically at the time, but Monsignor Randazzo was already doing quiet work behind the scenes.
Mgr Randazzo, now 42, led the Archbishop’s Vocations Task Force that set up in the heart of Brisbane city the Canali House of Discernment in a former presbytery.
There, young men could live with the vocations director for six to nine months before entering the seminary.
He also established a school of prayer, open to the public, where young people gathered, with older people, to pray for vocations through Lectio Divina, a form of meditation focused on Scripture, during Eucharistic Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament at St Patrick’s Church in Fortitude Valley in the city.
The house of prayer rekindled scenes from his childhood of families and young people flocking to Eucharistic Adoration.
He says that today’s seminarians still show much enthusiasm for Eucharistic Adoration, and are “rushing back” for it from their academic studies at Australian Catholic University every Thursday. At Adoration they pray for vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life, concluding each session with Vespers and Benediction.
He believes the enthusiasm defies the belief of some in the Church that that the practice is no longer fashionable.
“There’s nothing old-fashioned about it; it’s embracing what’s already there in the Church, praying the Office (the prayer of the Church) morning, noon and night, participating in the Mass, then having another personal prayer life on top of that… it glues all the other stuff together,” he said.
“I remember Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament fondly from my youth, but I was amazed at the eagerness of today’s youth when we started it several years ago. They don’t need to be told how to sit and meditate; it comes naturally to them.”
He admits the process of attracting vocations was slow going at first, but that was because the archdiocese had to first deal with the fact that few youth knew the Gospel itself, let alone the Catechism – a result of the deep-set secularisation of Australian culture.
That’s why vocations work is “a vitally-important ministry – really good things are coming,” the Monsignor says.
“Up here, we’ve been working on it strongly for eight years. It’s taking a long time to sow the seeds, but we have a young generation of youth who aren’t familiar with the Church.”
When Cardinal William Levada, President of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, opened and blessed the new Holy Spirit seminary in April last year, it had eight resident students, including five Nigerians.
This year, Holy Spirit has a full house with 16 students, including nine first-years, seven of whom are from Queensland. The other two are from Nigeria as part of an arrangement with the Nigerian Diocese of Umahia. A further six Queenslanders have already enquired about entering in 2010.
Mgr Randazzo, who succeeded Fr Michael McCarthy as Rector this year, is currently negotiating with architects to construct a second building to accommodate the continued expected surge in numbers.
A lay vocations promotions officer, Mark Lysaght, promotes vocations around the State while the vocations director, who is yet to be appointed after Fr Ian Wren recently finished his term, will focus on spiritual direction.
The increase in vocations and in awareness of God shows that today’s youth are “fed up with secular nature of the world and are turning to the richness of the tradition that we have. I love it too,” Mgr Randazzo says.
“Due to the Australian secular phenomenon, we’re not just catechising people – we’re also evangelising, as some youth don’t know the Gospel let alone the Catechism.”
“Meeting youth and teaching and preaching the Gospel, bit by bit we introduce them to the Church, and in doing so they ask all kinds of questions. That’s when you start catechising them. You can’t do that overnight in a very secular society. It’s the Holy Spirit that does the work, not us.”
Mgr Randazzo has found during his time as vocations director and seminary Rector that seminarians and people asking questions about the priesthood are mostly in their mid- to late-20s, have either gone to a WYD or to Rome on pilgrimage and have returned “asking tough questions about their life”.
Once young men decide on the seminary, they enter a study environment modelled on several institutions in Rome like the Capranica, one of the oldest seminaries in the world, where students live at the seminary and travel to the theological college for their academic formation.
This system, which St Charles’ Seminary in Perth also embraces, has changed from the days Mgr Randazzo studied in the 1980s, when the seminary contained everything.
Queensland’s seminary was first established as Pius XII Seminary in 1941 to service the dioceses of Brisbane, Cairns, Rockhampton, Toowoomba and Townsville.
In 2001 it was transferred to Wavell Heights until Cardinal Levada opened and blessed the new buildings last year.