By Anthony Barich
Barely two years ago, Andrew Lotton was in Canberra working as a clerk at the South African High Commission, convinced that he was done with any notion of the priesthood.
But on August 15 at St Gerard Majella Church in Mirrabooka, Archbishop Barry Hickey ordained him to the diaconate on the way to becoming a priest.
It’s been a long journey for the former non-practising Anglican. Andrew, 44, left school after Year 12 without a clue as to what to do in life.
Living in Canberra, he followed his father into the public service until two friends from his country spur-dancing class (he laughs as he recalls it now) invited him to their Catholic Charismatic worship.
It got him thinking about his own faith, which was non-existent.
Although he was baptised Anglican, Andrew was drawn by catechists of the Neocatechumenal Way teaching at his local Anglican church.
However he decided to join the Society of the Sacred Mission – an Anglican Order that forms its students for the priesthood in a similar approach to that used by the Catholic Church.He became a lay brother, studying in Melbourne and Adelaide.
Two years there were enough to decide that the order wasn’t for him, so he returned to Canberra.
He still felt as though he didn’t have a clue about what his true calling was in life.
Attending Catholic Masses, he had developed a love for the liturgy and the Eucharist that, as an Anglican, he could not receive.
He began to contemplate becoming a Catholic, and after approximately nine months felt a call to the priesthood beginning to form in him.
Received into the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil in 1995, he tried to forget the call, but kept getting reminders until World Youth Day 1997 in Paris.
There, as is customary, Neocatechumenal leaders issued a call the day after the week-long event for men and women who felt called to priesthood and religious life to step forward.
Andrew stepped forward too.
Toto and Rita Piccolo, who are responsibles in Australia for the Way in Australia, took him under their wing as catechists.
In 1998 he stepped forward again at a national meeting, and was then sent to Redemptoris Mater Seminary in Perth in 1999. But the lure of the world was strong. After five years at the seminary, he still had doubts about whether he should be getting married or not.
He left the seminary and returned to Canberra and to the public service, working in the High Commission. He was desperate to let go of his calling. But God wouldn’t let him go.
During his two years away from the seminary, he attended another Neocatechumenal national meeting in 2006. He had no intention to step forward again, but instead found himself in a ‘constant argument’ with God, who he felt was calling him during the meeting’s teaching sessions. “That time was an important point in my life,” he says. “I came back to the seminary because I felt God was calling me back, not because it was my idea. I’d left the seminary.”
What kept him there was one of the key messages of the Neocatechumenal Way: that God meets you where you are in your life, even if you’re not perfect.
The Neocat life is a missionary life. He could be sent anywhere in the world. But “the missionary life doesn’t faze me,’ he says.
“God has looked after me and I want to share the Good News with others.”