Cuppa With A Priest: Fr John Paul Escarlan – St Paul the Apostle Parish, Winston Hills

By Antony Lawes, 8 January 2024
Fr John Paul Escarlan, Parish Priest of St Paul the Apostle Parish, Winston Hills. Image: Diocese of Parramatta


Fr John Paul Escarlan took up his first posting as Parish Priest at St Paul the Apostle Parish, Winston Hills, only six months ago, but by then he was already a familiar face to many in the Diocese.

Since his ordination in 2013, Fr John Paul has served in several parishes – including as Assistant Priest at St Madeleine Sophie Barat Parish, Kenthurst, at the Parish of Richmond and at St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta; a member of the Team Ministry at Mary, Queen of the Family Parish, Blacktown; and Parish Administrator at St Bernadette’s Parish, Lalor Park –and is currently the Filipino Chaplain Coordinator.

But his connection with the Diocese started even earlier, in 2006, when he arrived from the Philippines to complete his studies at the Holy Spirit Seminary (then called the Holy Spirit Formation Centre), where he spent five years.

Called to serve the poor

Fr John Paul’s journey to the priesthood began in his final year of school on a small island in the Philippines after a discussion with his father, who encouraged him to look for his “purpose” in life.

The third of four children, he remembers growing up in a family where service was part of life, helping the poor who would regularly come by his parents’ house.

So when it came to deciding what to do after school, he says he discerned that service – serving God – was his “purpose”, and that by becoming a priest he could help the poor in his local community.

However, this plan hit a snag after a few years in Australia, when he realised that if he stayed here after he finished his studies he would not be fulfilling that original plan.

It was when he was taking a youth group from the Diocese of Parramatta to the Philippines that he saw that he didn’t need to be in the Philippines to help the poor.

“I realised that I can still work for the poor by becoming a bridge,” he says. “A bridge for people here, especially young people, who maybe have taken for granted the beautiful country we have here, but want to help the poor.

“Once you surrender to God, God can find a way that can still work with what you’re thinking.”

Welcomed by a parish who said ‘thank you’

Fr John Paul has hit the ground running in his first six months at St Paul the Apostle.

As one of the larger parishes in the Diocese, he regularly gets up to 200 in the congregation at each of his four weekend Masses – and this is before all the other meetings, outreach and events he has in the parish, and the wider work he does with the Filipino community.

Fr John Paul Escarlan (bottom row centre) with friends and parishioners during his recent 40th birthday celebrations at the parish. Image: Eugene Menguito Photography/Supplied

In his spare time, he plays basketball and tries to get to the beach for a swim when he can.

He says one thing he noticed when he started was that as well as a warm welcome, many parishioners would come up to him to say, “thank you for coming, for being with us, thank you for joining our community”.

One reason many in the parish are so active and so grateful, he believes, is because of the strong bonds they had with their previous parish priests, Fr David Scott and Fr Ranillo Creta, the only two the parish has had in its 53-year history.

A place of pilgrimage

The location of the church, high on a hill with views over Parramatta and the city, makes it special for parishioners, according to Fr John Paul, as a place of reflection and pilgrimage.

The parish is in the process of setting up a men’s ministry which, as one of its first tasks, will be to plant a grove of olive trees on the church grounds to make it a “modern Garden of Gethsemane”, Fr John Paul says.

“So people can make this a place, not just for the view of the world, but make it a spiritual place as well, a place of pilgrimage.”

Another important focus for the parish is to re-establish a youth ministry, for primary age through to young adults which will be run by a parish youth council. Fr John Paul hopes this could also include a Faith In Action Team of young adults who will go out visiting other parishioners who are in need.

As the first step, Fr John Paul has set up a synodal process of listening with the young people of the parish, and hopes to have the youth council running by early next year.

It’s a process he hopes will be a feature of his time in the parish.

“Listening, having conversations, and spending time with people, it really helps.”

This article was originally published in the 2023 Advent and Christmas | Summer edition of the Catholic Outlook Magazine. You can read the digital version here or pick up a copy in your local parish.


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