With love from Slovakia

18 Jun 2008

By The Record

Perth has a new priest, and he’s already a hit with its youth.


Archbishop Barry Hickey embraces Fr Pavoi Herda in a sign of peace during his ordination Mass. Photo: Anthony Barich



By Anthony Barich
Archbishop Barry Hickey has ordained a new priest for the Archdiocese of Perth.
Fr Pavol Herda, 29, moved to Australia from Slovakia in 2003 on the invitation of Mgr Sean O’Shea, who visited the seminary in Bratislava where Pavol studied philosophy and psychology for three years.
He was ordained at St Joseph’s Church in Subiaco on June 6, with over 800 attending a thanksgiving Mass the following night at Thornlie church. The Archbishop will accompany Father Pavol for another thanksgiving Mass at his home village of Cierne Klacany on June 28.
Fr Pavol comes from a country where there are so many seminary applicants that some are being turned away.
He initially said no to the invitation but eventually felt drawn to Australia, and Mgr O’Shea became a mentor to him during many visits to Rottnest Island, where the Monsignor is based.
A self-confessed sports fanatic, Fr Pavol recently held a soccer tournament where hundreds turned out, and through this he invites youth to Holy Hour and Bible study that he has started at Sacred Heart parish in Thornlie where he was based as a deacon.
Mgr O’Shea revealed to The Record the “incredible” story of how Divine Providence brought young Pavol to Perth, leaving his family behind.
In 1998 when based at Mosman Park parish, Mgr O’Shea approached a seemingly troubled young Slovakian girl here on a study visa who regularly attended Saturday Mass.
She revealed that she must return to Slovakia as her roommate had completed her studies and would leave the unit they shared and she could not afford the rent on her own.
Mgr O’Shea offered her the unit attached to his presbytery if she simply did some upkeep work on his property, and she worked as a waitress to supplement her income.
Months later she agreed, they struck up a friendship and she told him that her mother, who worked as the Bratislava seminary’s book-keeper, had expressed her sadness at so many seminarians being turned away.
Mgr O’Shea told Erika to tell her mother “we’ll gladly have them in Perth”. Her parents invited him back to Bratislava and he visited the seminary, and the Rector told his students of Perth’s need for priests.
The rest is history.
Now married and living in Mandurah, Erika attended Pavol’s ordination.
Mgr O’Shea says Fr Pavol will be a “real asset to the Archdiocese”, having made such a sacrifice moving here that “we can’t take for granted”. “He’ll be a solid man. He’s quite intelligent, knows what’s ahead of him, and has absorbed the local culture very well,” Mgr O’Shea said. “His English is quite good even though he couldn’t speak any when he first came here.”
Archbishop Hickey said Father Pavol has entered a job with an “awesome responsibility” as one who stands in the footsteps Christ to free people of their troubles, and to lead people to love God and one another.
“The world needs priests, needs to know them so they can teach them the joy of entering God’s kingdom.”
The Archbishop and his Auxiliary Bishop Donald Sproxton kneeling for a blessing from the newly ordained priest stunned many of the congregation at the ordination. 
St Charles Seminary students from overseas later told The Record that it is actually a common practice in countries for the bishop to receive the first blessing by the new priest.
Fr Pavol told The Record that when the bishops kissed his hands, they kissed the hands of he who stands as the person of Christ as a priest, not Pavol Herda the person.


New priest Father Pavol Herda embraces his mother after his ordination at St Joseph’s Church in Subiaco. Photo: Anthony Barich