The Ordination to the Diaconate of Andrew Rooney will take place at Our Lady, Queen of Peace Parish, Greystanes on 12 December 2020.
Andrew spoke to Catholic Outlook about his upcoming ordination, the faithful people he turns to and his vocational story.
Catholic Outlook: Why did you decide to become a priest? What called you to the priesthood?
Andrew Rooney: This is a fairly complex question, as I believe I have been unravelling this calling throughout most of my life, if not all my life. It was not until after I was finishing high school, however, that I began a more intense and informed discernment about my priestly vocation or my vocation generally. This would first lead to me to begin a Bachelor of Music and then to almost accepting a place to study a business degree.
Christ, however, had other plans and placed the seed of a burning love and desire to serve His bride, the Church and her people, which has only continued to be reinforced in me and ground me through my seminary formation.
Fr Warren [Edwards], the vocations director at the time, alongside some friends and family, assisted me in discerning this calling. After attending the iWitness youth retreat in 2012, and through the intercession of St Dominic Savio and our Blessed Mother, I was blessed with the confidence (or nerve) to take the leap and, with great nervousness and eagerness, approach the Bishop to apply for the seminary.
CO: What role does God the Father play in your life?
AR: Fortunately, whether I like it or not, God plays the primary role in my life. He has proved to be my wisest counsellor and Father, knocking me into shape and guiding me to see myself and others through His eyes in order that I may see the innate dignity of His people as His sons and daughters, calling me to serve them in His charity. Despite what may vainly seem to be His sometimes frustrating humour, He always seeks to reveal and offer Himself to me in my prayer, my work, and in the people I meet. It is God who offers me consolation, guidance, and peace and His Son in the sacraments.
CO: What role does Mother Mary play in your life?
AR: My Blessed Mother, imaged through my own mother, brought me to the faith and has since nurtured it. She, the Morning Star, has guided my course ever since, providing solace and wisdom. It is in her company each day that I meditate on the life of Her Son, the true high priest, in the rosary, and honour each night at the end of Night Prayer.
CO: Are there any saints you have a devotion to?
AR: I could fill a small book with the litany of saints who have inspired me and interceded for me throughout my life and thus, I could not mention them all here. After our Blessed Mother and St Joseph, her spouse, I must make mention of the youngest and beloved apostle, St John the Evangelist, who was the only apostle to remain by Christ’s side at the crucifixion. It was St John, the priest, who was charged with one of the greatest privileges: to honour and care for the Blessed Virgin, archetype of the Church, which I am sure formed the pattern of his evangelical ministry, continuing today through his intercession.
I also must mention those saints who have mentored me and guided me through most of my formation, intellectually, spiritually and pastorally: St Augustine; St Thomas Aquinas; St Teresa; our Patroness St Mary of the Cross; and fittingly, as with almost all millennial Catholics, Pope St John Paul II.
CO: How important will the day of your ordination to the diaconate be for you, your family and friends?
AR: The path of seminary formation is a long one. I have almost completed eight years of seminary formation. As with any significant aspect of life, it comes with its highs and lows, and with an enormous number of experiences. It has been a great blessing for me to have had literally hundreds of people, much wiser than myself, prayerfully support me, teach me, and guide me. Ordination is no ‘achievement’ as it is mercifully imparted by God through His Church as a gift. For me, it will be of the gravest importance, as diaconal ordination will reorient my whole life and work to the service of the Church from which I have been called, and which has formed and nourished me.
It has been very humbling to see the great joy elicited from my family and friends when informing them that I have been accepted for Orders. Though ordination is always a joyous event for the Church, as it is a sign of God’s continuing work on earth, it is particularly special for those who have made such a significant contribution in preparing and accompanying the candidate, as they get to witness the fruits of their labours. This is more so true for someone like me who probably required more labour than most to ensure I was adequately formed and disposed to receive this gift.
CO: Pope Francis has urged priests to reach out to the poor and those on the margins of our society and church community. How do you envisage doing this in your priestly ministry?
AR: I don’t want to get ahead of myself and will first enjoy service in my diaconal ministry. To answer the question, however, we must first acknowledge that our Church generally in modern culture finds itself on the margins of contemporary culture, often rendering the faithful to feel disenfranchised, doubtful, or unsure.
As a Catholic man of the St JPII generation, I hope to engage with the work of the Church, under the guidance of our Bishops, to engage in the new evangelisation, restoring the Catholic identity as a priestly people to bring God to mankind and mankind to God. Unfortunately, there is no magical top-down solution that I am aware, and I hope that, through grace, I am able to bring witness to this through my individual encounters.
CO: Are there any aspects of diaconate life that you are looking forward to?
AR: Though I cannot exactly say I am “looking forward” to celebrating funerals, most surprisingly to myself, I anticipate the opportunity to engage in this corporal work of mercy. Throughout my formation, I have had the opportunity to assist priests and deacons with many funerals. Though it is one of the greatest difficulties to encounter grieving families, I have experienced the mixture of joy and grief as friends and family reminisce about their departed loved one, and I am quickly inducted into the intimacies of family life. Most importantly, it calls the minister to accompany the family in confronting the difficult realities of our Christian virtue of hope and to guide them in experiencing God’s consolation in what is often the most vulnerable times in their life. Though this work of mercy can render one to feel “practically useless”, these experiences are a reminder that the ministry of the deacon is to be an imago Dei – entirely derivative and reliant on God – and is thus directed at revealing God in the most unlikely of circumstances.
CO: How has your parish placement been? What has been a highlight of your time?
AR: I have had a very unique placement this year at Our Lady, Queen of Peace Parish, Greystanes (OLQP), coinciding with the COVID pandemic. Almost immediately after I arrived, the parish was shut down. It has been a very interesting experience to be cut-off from many of the parishioners and provided great opportunities to work collaboratively with the parish team in trying to serve the people of God in creative ways, but it has also reinforced the importance of prayer as the foundation of ministry and when we are helpless or practically useless it is our only and most effective recourse.
CO: Can you describe seminary life?
AR: The seminary is obviously a very unique place and provides a long period of self-reflection, learning and experience. Like “gold refined in a furnace,” it is a difficult yet rewarding affair, as we slowly learn at the feet of Christ.
Throughout the time one studies two degrees, with an array of pastoral work, plenty of prayer, as well as all the other bits and bobs you are learning to help prepare you for priestly life.
Though seminaries tend to hold an exaggerated reputation for a monastic lifestyle, in Holy Spirit Seminary, we are encouraged to keep active, and to create and form healthy relationships, ensuring that we are well inducted and familiar with the layout and needs of the Diocese we will serve for the rest of our lives, God willing.
CO: Has there been a highlight of seminary life?
AR: There have, of course, been many highlights during my time in the seminary. One that comes to mind, probably because it is also challenging, is the fraternity fostered in our seminary.
Finding yourself amongst a community of a number of blokes with different ages, background and experience comes with its difficulties, as with any fruitful friendships. As men who anticipate sharing in the fraternity of the priesthood, we are united in our love for Christ, His priesthood and His Church, thus calling us to have a vested interest in the formation and wellbeing of other seminarians and to develop strong bonds of brotherhood.
It has been a privilege for me to learn and developed this fellowship and I look forward to serving with them in this diocese.
CO: Have you received any great advice on your vocational journey?
AR: “God is your primary formator” is a phrase repeated ad nauseam throughout formation, though for good reason. When boldly approaching the priesthood of Christ, there is nothing one can do to make oneself or a candidate worthy or fully prepared.
Of course, there are essential things we must learn to ensure we are prepared enough and have enough knowledge to be properly disposed, allowing us to make a truly free and informed decision in accepting such a vocation, but it God who calls us and God who should be at the forefront of our life and work.
The priest is merely an instrument to reveal God to His people and to build up his kingdom. We cannot give the people of God what they deserve and what is their right if we do not have it ourselves.
CO: Who would you like to thank for helping you get to this point?
AR: I am hesitant to begin naming all those who have helped me lest I forgot one among the hundreds of people who have helped me. First and foremost, I must thank the Holy Trinity and our Blessed Mother. Moreover, I must acknowledge Bishop Vincent and the Diocese of Parramatta who have been so generous in supporting the seminary, and of course our previous bishop, the now Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP who took the leap in accepting me.
I wish to also acknowledge and thank all those who have mentored me and supported me throughout my pastoral placements, particularly my long-term placements at St Bernadette’s Parish, Castle Hill, and Our Lady, Queen of Peace Parish, Greystanes.
Special mention should, of course, be made to my brother seminarians, including those who have been ordained, my friends and my family, who have patiently accompanied during this time, ensuring I was kept grounded and level-headed.
CO: What message do you have to other young men discerning a vocation to the priesthood?
AR: I wish to really encourage other men discerning their vocation to take the leap. There is nothing worse than joining the “Order of Perpetual Discerners”. God will simply call us, He will not compromise our freedom by enforcing a vocation on you. He is calling you to participate in His life.
There will probably always be a sense of uncertainty as to why or whether you are being called. It is still a mystery to me.
I encourage those discerning to approach a trusted and wise spiritual director who can assist you in discerning your vocation and give you confidence in recognising genuine signs.
To find out more about a vocation to the priesthood in the Diocese of Parramatta, visit https://parracatholic.org/vocations/, contact the Holy Spirit Seminary or Director of Priestly Vocations, Fr John Paul Escarlan – firstname.lastname@example.org.
Andrew Rooney will be ordained to the Diaconate on 12 December 2020.