Victoria rejoices in the youth and vibrancy of the Catholic Church with the ordination of five priests in their 30s.
By Anthony Barich
Five newly ordained priests in Victoria have begun their new lives with awe and excitement about their unique vocation.
Frs Binh Lee, Thang Vu, Dispin John and Ahn Nguyen, ordained on September 6 at Melbourne’s St Patrick’s Cathedral, studied for the priesthood at Corpus Christi College in Carlton, from which local boy Jake Mudge was also ordained for the Diocese of Sandhurst by Bishop Joe Grech on September 26 at Bendigo’s Sacred Heart Cathedral.
Fr Lee, 32, moved to Australia from Vietnam 18 years ago before joining the seminary in 2002.
He reported to The Record of being in awe of the reality that he says “this is my body and blood” during the consecration at Mass, and that it still gives him goose bumps just talking about it.
Fr Lee says he had a job as an engineer and had a relationship in his previous life, yet felt oddly unfulfilled until priests he sought advice from suggested the priesthood.
“Since my ordination I’ve had many powerful experiences each time I administer a sacrament (as Persona Christi),” he said.
“The first time I consecrated the host I thought, ‘who am I to be able to do this?’”
He admitted it’s often hard for young men to discern a call to the priesthood in the business and noise of the modern age.
But if young men who have an inkling of the vocation just give it a shot, and if it works out it will prove fulfilling beyond their wildest expectations and “well worth while”, he said.
Fr Lee spent last week working in St John of God Hospital in Ballarat, and finds that sharing people’s lives and administering the sacraments of reconciliation and Holy Communion at their most intimate moments – like the death of a loved one – a powerful, humbling and moving experience.
“It’s very humbling, but God’s using you to be an instrument of his love for his people, and people see that. Every time I celebrate Mass it’s a thrill,” he said.
Fr Thang Vu, 35, came to Australia from Vietnam in 1990.
He found his vocation while in the youth group and choir in his local Vietnamese Catholic community in Melbourne.
“The ministry is such a wonderful gift and will be unpacked – along with the highs and lows of the job – over the next few years, but the love and mercy of God’s will uphold me.”
Dispin John, 35, who came to Australia in 2006 having completed most of his seminary studies in Tamil Nadu, southern India, finds it an “overwhelming” responsibility and privilege to be part of people’s lives.
“It’s part of my joy to bring Jesus to people who have lost their hope and to be Christ to them. I find that I don’t have to do much to make things happen… when they know you’re a young priest they immediately bloom and blossom.”
He experienced cultural difficulties, like being admitted to hospital twice with food poisoning after trying very rare steak that was still bleeding, and his Indian accent requires him to speak slowly to elderly people he ministers to.
“It’s a bit frightening as the priesthood has heavy responsibilities, but I feel I’m not alone, that Christ is there to guide me through, and the people of God respond very positively when they see a young priest.
“They see, ‘here is a young man with whom I can share my faith’.”
They feel the Church is young and alive,” he said.
Ahn Nguyen, 38, came to Australia to study for the priesthood eight and a half years ago.
He had the urge to serve the people of God and celebrate the sacraments since being an altar boy aged 10 in his local church in Vietnam.
He then worked for the bishop of the Vinh Diocese in the north of Vietnam to develop his vocation.
Melbourne Archbishop Denis Hart, who ordained the four on September 6, said that by “dying to self”, the young men will be “totally open to Christ, supported always by the grace that He alone will give.
The intimacy that they will know with Him will lead them to grow in holiness and share it with others, walking humbly in the path of Jesus Christ”.
Fr Mudge, 30, a Bendigo boy, said his ordination Mass seemed to band the community together as the large cathedral was packed.
While a distant cousin is a Marist Brother working as a missionary in New Guinea, Fr Mudge’s vocation came about simply from a “very positive experience of parish life,” and in the Catholic primary school attatched to the parish.
By year 10 he plucked up enough courage to call the local diocesan vocations director who advised him to keep reflecting and to let God lead him.
So after five years of studying osteopathy – musculoskeletal health – and a year working in New Zealand loving his profession, the call to the priesthood remained strong and he joined Corpus Christi College.
While admitting the life is a sacrifice, he sees it more as a great joy, that “the call over-rides everything” and that God will give him the strength to be all that he can be.