Local boy Blake Bano grew up in Western Sydney with just his parents and grandparents.
Now, he has an additional family to love and support him in his journey of faith.
Blake, 18, is the youngest of the four first year seminarians at the Diocese of Parramatta’s Holy Spirit Seminary, Harris Park.
“The biggest difference for me in the seminary would be the daily routine and living in a place shared with 16 other men,” Blake told Catholic Outlook.
“I came from an environment where it was just my parents and I. Now, I’m spending most of my day with the other seminarians doing things communally. This has been great.
“All the seminarians have been really welcoming, which has made this new chapter in my life much smoother.”
Blake was born in Westmead and grew up in Blacktown with his parents and grandparents. He explains that he has extended family in Albania, Italy and Greece.
“As a child, the faith wasn’t something that was regularly practiced within my household. It was really at school where I was able to discover the faith and learn about it in more depth.
“Though the faith wasn’t practiced, my parents were very supportive in my upbringing and offered me every opportunity to grow and develop as a young man. Who I am today is greatly influenced by them.”
Blake’s early involvement in the Church started when he began altar service at weekday and Sunday Masses at St Michael’s, Blacktown South, part of Mary, Queen of the Family Parish.
From there, he participated in various ministries including Eucharistic Ministry, Ministry to the Sick and Homebound, helped with the multimedia and technology for Masses and the parish’s youth ministry team.
Blake felt his first call to a priestly vocation in high school, with the Australian Catholic Youth Festival in Sydney in 2017 acting as a step in the right direction.
“I wanted to do something that would provide clarity in continuing to discern a priestly vocation.
“I would say that it was at that time I felt a calling. I never thought this was something I was going to pursue.
“It then came a point in time where the idea of the priesthood was something that I then started to think about and discern more seriously.
“I realised that the more time I spent in prayer and in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, the more clearer my discernment became.”
In an interview with Catholic Outlook, ahead of his then departure to World Youth Day 2019 in Panama, Blake said he believed World Youth Day will be a “life-changing experience”.
“I believe that World Youth Day in Panama will be a life changing experience for all those that are attending. Having the ability to be connected with hundreds of thousands of young Catholics from all around the world is something that will blow me away. World Youth Day brings to life the youth of the Church and unites them in Christ as one body,” Blake said in 2019.
“The attraction and calling to the priesthood was something that made me sincerely consider attending this World Youth Day, so that I could discern this calling. I wanted to immerse myself in a pilgrimage of prayer, of discernment and of servantship.
“The theme of World Youth Day was something that really attracted me – ‘I am a servant of the Lord. May it be it done unto me according to your word’ (Lk 1:38) – we are all called to be servants and like Mary, we are asked to say yes to God’s calling.”
Looking back, Blake credits the pilgrimage with his definitive “yes” to his vocation.
“World Youth Day 2019 in Panama was a real turning point for me. I felt that it truly provided clarity with my discernment. It just felt right.
“Like Mary, I truly said ‘yes’ to Christ and opened myself up to his plans for my life.
“There was a bit of mixed emotions [when I told my family and friends]. Some were very excited for me, whilst [for] others, it took a bit of time for them to come around.
“For my parents, it took some time for them to realise that this was genuinely something I wanted to pursue. Regardless, they were both very supportive every step of the discernment process.”
Although Blake entered the seminary after his final year at high school, he undertook tertiary studies including a Certificate III in Health Services Assistance (Assistant in Nursing) with Western Sydney Local Health District and studies in mental health at TAFE.
After a few months of life in the seminary, Blake enjoys the ability to form friendships with the other seminarians.
“Having such friendships enabled me to settle in much quicker and get into the seminary routine much [more] smoothly.
“Everyone’s willing to help out, especially with assignments and other tasks. We are all practically brothers here.
“I really enjoy the atmosphere here, it’s a mixture of prayer, study and communal recreation.”
Blake’s advice for men discerning their vocation is to pray and to find someone to accompany them on their journey.
“The world needs priests because the world needs Jesus Christ.
“To those discerning the priesthood, my best advice would be to ‘cast out into deep water’ and continue to pray.
“Find someone who can walk with you on this journey and remember that it is God who call you, place all your trust in Him.”
To find out more about a vocation to priesthood in the Diocese of Parramatta, visit www.parracatholic.org/vocations, contact the Holy Spirit Seminary or Director of Priestly Vocations, Fr John Paul Escarlan – firstname.lastname@example.org.