The Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn will hold a vocations dinner on May 1, 2015. For more information contact Fr Emil Milat on 0414523036 or via email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Alex Osborne, Will Burdett, Namora Anderson and Joshua Scott are four ordinary young men who have their sights set on an extraordinary vocation - priesthood. The seminarians spoke to Matthew Biddle about their unique journeys and the highs and lows of life in the seminary...
THEY were once mechanics, lapsed Catholics, and even agnostics, but they are now the future of the Catholic Church in Canberra and Goulburn.
Seminarians Joshua Scott, Namora Anderson (both fifth year), Alex Osborne and Will Burdett (both fourth year) are based at the Seminary of the Good Shepherd in Homebush, NSW, and are all past the halfway mark of their seminary studies.
Before they become priests, they will be ordained deacons, following the path of current deacons Dominic Byrne, who will be ordained on November 21, and Trenton van Reesch, whose ordination will occur next year.
For the quartet of seminarians, who come from various parts of the Archdiocese, the seminary experience has been unique, due in part to their very different, personal journeys of discernment.
At 22, Alex is the youngest of the group, having joined the seminary after finishing high school as an 18-year-old.
Growing up in England, Alex and his family moved to Canberra in 2004, becoming part of St Thomas Aquinas Parish in Charnwood, where Alex says he discovered his vocation.
“I became very interested in the Church and in the faith, and this was largely due to my parish priest (Fr Neville Drinkwater) who is a wonderful homilist,” he says. “Every night I used to read from the lives of the saints. I began to look at my own life in terms of what’s God’s purpose was for me.
“Gradually, I came to the realisation that I love to learn about the faith, and I got such a buzz out of trying to share the faith.”
After finishing school, Alex decided to give the seminary a go.
“I was pretty sure that I wanted to become a priest,” he says. “Coming to the seminary for the first year program gave me the best way of engaging in my vocation.”
An art and history enthusiast, Alex says the study load at the seminary hasn’t been a problem for him, but there have been other challenges.
“The hardest thing I found was adapting to the routine of waking up early every morning and going to bed at a responsible time,” he says.
Now, with almost four years of seminary experience under his belt, Alex says priesthood appears much closer than it did initially.
“Now that I’m halfway, I wake up in the morning and I think ‘I’m going to be a priest in three years, I better get ready, really quickly’,” he says.
The next phase in Alex’s journey towards priesthood will be a six-month pastoral placement at Young, starting on December 1, which he says he’s looking forward to greatly.
Fellow fourth-year seminarian Will Burdett will also commence his pastoral placement at the Temora Mission in December.
The 25-year-old is a product of Corpus Christi Parish – the home of Deacon Trenton and recently ordained Fr Paul Nulley.
The youngest in a family of five, Will says his faith took some time to develop.
“As a young child, we went to Mass every week… but through most of my teenage years we were Christmas and Easter Catholics,” he says.
“I started taking more of an interest in religion and faith in the top end of high school, and started getting more involved, largely through school, in little ways.”
The idea of becoming a priest had first presented itself when Will was 16, and it started to become stronger when he began working in youth ministry in 2009.
“Travelling around the Archdiocese like we did, I got to know a number of the priests a lot better and got a much more developed idea of what priesthood is, and that encouraged me in a lot of ways to make that decision,” he says.
He admits the “novelty” of the seminary has worn off, and says the rigorous studies can take their toll after a few years.
“It’s just so long, it just keeps going, so keeping motivated with the studies can be a challenge,” he says.
“There are challenges of community life as well. People have habits that annoy you… and if you have other stresses, those things can really aggravate you. But as annoying as it can be, it doesn’t measure up to all the positives of community life.”
Among those positives is the sense of brotherhood that exists among the seminarians, as well as the opportunity to experience pastoral work.
But for Will, the most enjoyable part of seminary life is seeing fellow seminarians receive the gift of ordination.
“For Fr Luke Verrell’s ordination I was book-bearer,” he says proudly. “During the consecration I was kneeling on the step, literally shoulder-to-shoulder with him… and that was really special.
“Nothing’s as exciting as when we have the news that someone’s been approved for orders or has a date for ordination.”
Representing the NSW part of the Canberra and Goulburn Archdiocese, Joshua Scott and Namora Anderson are part of a unique group of seminarians in their fifth year at Good Shepherd. The class consists of an experimental physicist, a former bodybuilder, an investment banker, an electrician, a tourism officer and a mechanic.
The diverse range of personalities has become a close-knit group, but Namora – the resident mechanic – says it wasn’t always that way.
“We didn’t get along,” he says. “Every person was so different, that at the start we pretty much hated each other… the arguments were pretty intense.”
Born and raised in Queanbeyan, Namora never aspired to the priesthood, and says his faith was rather shallow.
“We always went to Mass, even though, like most teenagers, we didn’t really care about it… you just go because you’re told to go, but there’s no real desire for God,” he says.
After finishing high school, Namora became an apprentice mechanic but says he had no clear plan of what he wanted to do in life.
Incredibly, it was through his association with “some really bad people”, that he came to discover God’s plan for his life.
“My mates had everything the world says you should want, but they were really hurting inside,” he says. “One guy even cried on my shoulder… and that moment broke my understanding of everything.
“Then I really started thinking, if the world is really wrong, then who is right? There must be some truth somewhere. I realised that Jesus is the one with all the answers.”
Some time later, Namora says the idea of joining the seminary came to him in prayer.
“It just kept slowly emerging like a gentle wind, it kept bringing back the idea, and it was just so peaceful and fulfilling that I decided to give it a shot,” he says.
One of the seminary’s practical jokers, Namora believes it is important to retain a sense of fun despite the rigours of seminary life. “I love joking and mucking around, sometimes I do a lot of pranks in the seminary to lighten the atmosphere, but I realise the seriousness and the importance of it all,” he says.
A keen European soccer follower, the 25-year-old admits he’s neither fond of studying nor reading, preferring a more active lifestyle.
As such, he chose to complete a pastoral placement of 12 months, rather than six, at Moruya Parish, which will finish in December.
“Moruya, like most country parishes, has got a great community, and it’s such a great place to grow,” he says. “It’s been such a learning experience.”
While Namora, Will and Alex were all raised Catholic, their fellow seminarian Joshua Scott only became Catholic at the age of 16.
Hailing from Young in NSW, Joshua says his parents had no religious background at all, making his journey from what he describes as agnosticism to Catholicism even more remarkable.
“When I was 16, my sister was diagnosed with an acute form of leukemia and she was quite ill for some time,” he recalls.
“During those times I had a lot of really faith-filled people who were Catholics show concern for me and my family, which was very comforting.
“So I explored the question of ‘Who is God?’ and ‘Who is this person that wants to know me?’ It was by exploring these questions that I made a decision to become a Catholic. In March 2005, I was baptised along with my two sisters. It was a day that I will never forget.”
Joshua says after discovering God, he began to “get to know him” through daily Mass, Adoration and Confession.
“I started to fall in love with the Lord,” he says. “As I kept journeying along in life and just doing what normal blokes do… I came to the conclusion that I may be called to priesthood, and so I seriously discerned it.”
Joshua says despite the obvious difficulties of being so far from home, he has felt comfortable in the seminary since day one.
“As soon as I walked in [to the seminary], I felt, ‘This is it, this is where I’m meant to be’ and I haven’t looked back,” he says.
The 25-year-old is quick to stress that, like other young men, he enjoys recreational time with friends whenever he can.
“Some people think we just sit around and pray all day like monks, or are floating around the ceiling in ecstasy,” he says. “We do actually get out and we enjoy ourselves. I hang out with my mates a lot and just do what the majority of normal blokes do, play Xbox and that sort of thing.
“There are a lot of misconceptions people have about seminarians. I feel that we’re simply ordinary men pursuing the extraordinary.”
Joshua says he simply desires to “bring the heart of Jesus to the world” through priesthood.
“To bring the love of God to all parts of people’s lives, the good and the bad, that’s why I want to be a priest,” he says.