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The following article was written as part of the Parramatta Catholic Foundations’ Good Shepherd Appeal, which raises funds for the Diocese’s Holy Spirit Seminary in Harris Park.
This article was originally published on 24 June 2022.
In 2022, our Holy Spirit Seminary at Harris Park entered a new chapter and welcomed a new leadership team: Fr Paul Marshall and Fr John Frauenfelder.
Fr Paul, the new Rector, has served as a priest of the Diocese of Parramatta for over 30 years in a number of parishes including Luddenham-Warragamba, Toongabbie and Greystanes.
Vice-Rector Fr John is a priest originally from the Diocese of Wagga Wagga with over 50 years of experience in parish ministry, chaplaincy and education. Most recently, he was teaching at the Broken Bay Institute – The Australian Institute of Theological Education.
Coming together to guide and mentor the young men who are called to the priesthood, Fr Paul and Fr John describe one another as great companions and supports as they travel this journey in leadership together.
Fr John believes that modelling an effective collaborative relationship and the shared vision that he and Fr Paul hold is an essential lesson for the seminarians.
“This, I believe, is a little glimpse of the brotherhood of the priesthood at work in our lives together,” he said. “I hope that this carries over or inspires or engages the men to think twice about what we are doing and why.”
As the 14 men currently in formation at the seminary undertake academic learning, Fr Paul and Fr John see their roles as working with the human dimension of their formation.
“The Holy Spirit Seminary is important as we are forming these men as human beings and helping them grow to authenticity,” Fr Paul explained.
“We educate the men in areas of theology, philosophy and scripture, and help them come to a better understanding of who Christ is for them today, who is God and how does God play a part in this universe. And part of that role would be to help the young guys come to an understanding of what is their human experience of God.
“Our role is to help them come to a deeper understanding of themselves as people and also providing them with a sense of history of their own faith background.
“We try to bring out the uniqueness of each person – they’re not cookie-cutter.
“We want to cultivate the gifts of the guys in their own specific ways. We want to help them to understand who God is for them, and come to a true understanding and authenticity. They will need to impart that to others with an openness to society and an openness to hearing what’s happening in people’s lives.”
Fr John added, “My pastoral experience of sharing how to deal with people and administer the sacraments helps them understand that we are not the focus of everything – we are part of, but not the whole of their formation.
“It is important to know the people you are called to serve. It’s how my story, my life, fits in to the Gospel story that we are proclaiming and how the two intersect and encompass one another.
“We help give the academic learning a human face and bring it from the head to the heart, otherwise it just stays in the head and doesn’t mean anything to people.”
As part of their vision for the future of the seminary, Fr Paul hopes that the seminarians are challenged in new ways and are open to hearing what is God’s call for them. He has a list of qualities he would like to see the men develop.
“I would like the seminarians to go out of themselves and be consciously free for God and free for other people. To do that, we will put in some solid foundations for that here in the seminary, so that by the time they get to ordination, they have a sense of their own freedom in themselves, with others and with God.
“We’re aiming for each seminarian to develop their relational capacity with people, a capacity for presence and a willingness to engage with others. To me, that involves more than just being able to talk and articulate it, it means being able to listen deeply in a contemplative way to what people are needing in their lives, which shapes them to be true shepherds.
“I would also like to see that each seminarian is set on a path of lifegiving and creative celibacy. I know that celibacy has come under a lot of attack in the media, but I think lived in a really good sense, it’s a total dedication of the person to the community. When it’s lived in its fullness, with a sense of real purpose of modelling themselves on Christ Himself who had that lifestyle, I think it bring a lot of blessings and fruitfulness in the lives of other people.
“We are encouraging the seminarians to appreciate and bridge the gulf between the lived struggles of people and the faith language of the church. I think we need to close that gap. It needs a lot of work, and in many ways Pope Francis has tried to do that with this idea of synodality, walking with others, not talking down to, over or above others, but really walking with and trying to understand the struggles of people today in a very real way.
“My wish is for the seminarians to enter the story of the people and to be versatile in approaching diverse groups in the community, because our own Diocese of Parramatta is very multi-ethnic and we need to be able to communicate in a meaningful way to the various cultural groups.”
In sharing his advice for the seminarians as part of their life-long journey, Fr John hopes they come to know themselves.
“Knowing yourself has to begin with knowing who God is, with a personal relationship with God. We discourage focusing on the end point that comes for most, which is ordination. There are steps that need to come before then, in order to be able to make that real, in order for us to be able to serve in the most appropriate way.
“I want to stress the importance of prayer, rather than saying prayers. We can easily get into a routine of saying prayers, but what does it mean and do we ever take time to stop, slow down and think ‘what am I doing and why’? Prayer is essential.
“If our faith is to be realised in people, and indeed ourselves, we need to take the very heart of what we say we believe in and make it come alive and be meaningful in a whole new situation. If we can do that, I think our Church will have relevance.
“The men that we walk with at Holy Spirit Seminary have the potential to dream, and to make those dreams a reality. In doing so, they will share their gifts with the people in our parish communities.
“Paul and I often say to the seminarians, we’re here for you. We’ll walk with you, and we’ll be part of the experiences with you. There’ll be times when, because of our roles, we’ll need to step aside, but we are one with you, companions on the journey.”