As Pope Benedict prepares to launch a special Year for Priests in June, Cardinal George Pell ordains four for the Archdiocese of Sydney.
By Anthony Barich
Cardinal George Pell ordained four Australians to the priesthood at St Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney on April 30, telling them that a love of the Mass, of prayer and of the Virgin Mary should master their life as a priest.
The ordained, Fathers Julian Belich, 35, Andrew Benton, 37, Christopher Higgins, 43 and James McCarthy, 27, were all present as ordained deacons assisting at the dedication of St Mary’s Cathedral’s new altar by Pope Benedict XVI during World Youth Day 2008.
Fr Julian felt the calling at age 17 but was told by Cardinal Edward Clancy, then Archbishop of Sydney, to wait ten years for the maturity to make such a decision.
He began a degree in accounting and business law and worked in the securities industry dealing with equities and bonds, but ten year later he had not changed his mind.
Father Andrew also felt the call early, aged 20, entering St Patrick’s Seminary at Manly but decided he was not ready and worked instead in group insurance before the experience of being at World Youth Day in Paris in 1997 triggered a two-year trip across Europe, the US and Asia. Back in Australia he still felt a strong calling to the priesthood.
Father Christopher was a lapsed Catholic in his former lives as a Commonwealth Bank teller and an RAAF stores depot clerk before a journey around Australia working as a deckhand on Thursday Island, a steel fixer in Darwin, a rigger and “basic jack of all trades”.
He returned with his faith rejuvenated and visited the Seminary of the Good Shepherd while working for a freight company.
Father James also felt the call at age 19 but was told to go and obtain a degree first. But he continued training as a priest while studying an arts degree at the University of Sydney, and entered the seminary of the Good Shepherd aged 20.
After completing a degree in Medieval studies he was sent to the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome where he obtained a degree in theology and was ordained a deacon at St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican. Seminary of the Good Shepherd Rector Fr Anthony Percy said times have changed since these men first felt the call; seminaries are now more confident in forming young men in the four pillars (the human, pastoral, spiritual and theological) spelt out in Pope John Paul II’s 1992 post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation Pastores Dabo Vobis (“I shall give you shepherds”) on the Formation of Priests.
He told The Record the ordination evening was edifying for both the Church in Sydney and across Australia, as it showed the Church’s ecclesial nature in “the called” – whether by baptism or by the Sacrament of Holy Orders – gathering together in unity.
Fr Percy said he understands why prelates and formators advised young men to come back with more life experience in years gone by, but “today, we’d take a 17-year-old as we’re better equipped to give them all four areas of formation inside the seminary”.
“You’ve got to look at each person separately and make a judgement of whether they’ll deal with seminary formation and life, but if we did decide a young man needs to wait longer, we wouldn’t just send him away, we’d keep in contact with him and help form him during that extra discernment period,” Fr Percy said.
He said the four ‘pillars’ laid out in Pastores Dabo Vobis is now guiding all seminaries which have “a better structure in which to think the formation through which wasn’t available to many seminaries prior to that”.
Cardinal Pell told the new priests they have a life of hard work ahead, but said that if they give themselves over to the service of the priesthood completely, Christ’s promise will be fulfilled and they will be enriched as human beings “one-hundred fold”.