When Fr Vincy D’Costa OFM Cap, Parish Priest of The Good Shepherd, Plumpton, was growing up in Goa, India, all he knew about Australia was its national cricket team. Meanwhile, he had plenty of time to observe the local Capuchin Franciscan Friars who were based close to his home, and was drawn into their simple, welcoming and dignified approach to life and faith.
It was not until a few weeks before his ordination to the Capuchins that he would make any connection between the two. Having been told he would be sent to Australia from his homeland where he loved the natural beauty including mountains and beaches, he slept little that evening.
“I had nightmares,” he said. “I didn’t know anything about Australia. They had a cricket team that was going through its ‘golden era’,” he says, but that was about it.
On arriving in Australia, one of the first events he was taken to was ‘Theology on Tap’, a talk on faith held in a pub in Parramatta, a completely new experience, he admits.
Since then, he’s discovered a lot he likes about Australia. Starting as Assistant Priest under Fr Gerard O’Dempsey OFM Cap at The Good Shepherd, he became Parish Priest only four years later when Fr Gerard was elected Provincial of the Capuchins. “I never expected it,” he says of his appointment which, at 34, made him the youngest Parish Priest in the Diocese. “I expected my hair would turn grey,” he laughs, “but five years later, I’m still ok.”
There are a few secrets to his success in ministering a parish of around 13,000 that sees some Masses attended by around 600 people, he says.
“The parish community has supported me from the very beginning,” he says. “They respect how I run the parish, allowing them (lay parishioners) to lead and I support and guide them.”
When asked what this means to parishioners, he reflects. “They feel it is their parish, they belong. They are doing things for themselves.”
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He is delighted how this plays out in practice as he tries to follow the example of St Francis of Assisi. St Francis set the example of ‘poverty of spirit’ meaning, he explains, letting go of pride and allowing guidance by the Holy Spirit. While following this example himself, he also sees it in the Good Shepherd parishioners. “They come to me with humility,” he says. “If I see something, I can approach them and talk to them about it,” he says. “I feel this is how Christ would have wanted the Church to be,” he says. “Christ asked us to serve.”
This gentle approach saw the parish stay together during the pandemic, when there were limitations on how many people could attend Mass. Along with livestreaming, they prayed the Rosary of an evening, allowing everyone to participate and feel like they belonged, he says.
Fr Vincy’s lifelong love of nature sees him bushwalking whenever he can in the Blue Mountains. And it has seen him enthusiastically support the parishioners who were keen to turn around the Good Shepherd’s ecological footprint. They have purchased solar panels and LED lights and are already seeing big savings. “It’s Pope Francis’ ecological economics in action,” says Fr Vincy. He recalls that even in his homeland of Goa, the words of Pope Francis “the cry of the earth” resonated with him. “I could sense Mother Earth weeping,” he says.
He is thrilled the parish is surrounded by nature, and that children love to come and discover insects and wildlife in the parish grounds. At the same time, they heed “Cry of the Poor” and he is overwhelmed by the generosity of his parishioners in their support of the House of Welcome and St Vincent de Paul.
Fr Vincy wants to keep growing the parish and extending that sense of welcome the Capuchins extended to him.
“Regardless of where they come from,” he says “All people are welcome. We always want to be a welcoming parish.”
This article was originally published in the 2022 Season of Creation | Spring 2022 edition of the Catholic Outlook Magazine. You can pick up your copy of the magazine in parishes, schools and offices across the Diocese of Parramatta now or you can read the digital version here.