An ‘extraordinary bond’ still exists between the religious and lay former students of St Columba’s College, Springwood, who recently gathered to celebrate 50 years since their ordination.
On Tuesday 16 November, Bishop Vincent Long OFM Conv, Bishop of Parramatta, celebrated Mass for the students of the former seminary of the ordination classes of 1970 and 1971 at St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta.
Diocese of Parramatta priests Fr Arthur Cook, Fr Christopher Dixon and Monsignor John Boyle concelebrated Mass alongside priests from across NSW and even Victoria and were joined by their brothers in the congregation who begun their journey of formation but later married.
“I welcome these men to mark this joyous occasion,” Bishop Vincent said in his opening remarks.
“Not only the service they have rendered, but who they are, the gift of themselves, and they embody the values of the Gospel, even here in the shadow of life.
“We give thanks and we pray that they continue to be the vehicles of the Gospel for the People of God.”
In his homily, Fr Peter Lynch, a retired priest of the Archdiocese of Sydney, acknowledged the extraordinary bond that developed among the men, whether they treaded the path to ordination or made the decision to choose another career and vocation.
“On an occasion like today, as I join with my fellow priests and you, our brothers, who began the journey with us a half a century ago, along with your loved ones, is a day for celebration and joy.
“Thank you so much for coming, thank you for your support over all those years.”
Fr Peter spoke of the challenges that the priesthood faces in modern society, but called on the day’s Gospel of John to use Christ the Good Shepherd as a model.
“The priesthood…remains an ongoing task, never completed.
“I am sure like all of us here today celebrating our Golden Jubilee, I have had my dark times. But nevertheless, for me, it has been a rewarding and overall happy life.
“Like most priests, I have experienced over and over again the joy of having an impact on peoples’ lives, individually and communally, in a way that is unique to religious ministry.
“Christ is the Good Shepherd who cares for the sheep in his life, a model for all of us priests to avoid the temptations of self-centredness and clericalism.
“To borrow that well known imagery of Pope Francis, to be ‘shepherds with the smell of sheep’.”
Monsignor John Boyle, a member of the class of 1971, told Catholic Outlook that for him and for many of the men who joined the seminary, and who were later ordained, service was a large motivation throughout their studies.
“Yes, evangelisation, spreading the Good News, was part of the package, and very much alive in our minds, but the ideal of serving the people of God was prominent,” he explained.
“I think I have tried to live that ideal for most of my ministry.
“In practical terms this to me means listening attentively to people, being available, even down to practical things like answering the parish office phone when it rings.
“I think you become a priest not to be served, but to serve.”
Monsignor John added that it was a disappointment that some priests and ex-seminarians and their wives were unable to attend, but he was grateful for the sharing of stories and commonality of those present, even if there was not enough time to speak with everyone.
Fr Arthur Cook, a member of the class of 1970 and one of the organisers of the event, told Catholic Outlook that he was grateful the celebration was able to happen after 18 months of postponement due to the pandemic.
Fr Arthur, who retired in 2017 but is assisting the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle as a supply priest, described his 50 years of the priesthood as “very fruitful.”
“A lot of people have a personal devotion to Christ, but I find that I see Christ in other people.
“I have loved working with people and being with them during their happy times and their sad times, and at times when they need encouragement.
“[As a priest] we help them hear the Word of God, and provide an aspect of hope in their lives.
“We are doing our bit to help build the Kingdom of God.
“God is in charge and He knows what’s going on in our lives and it’s up to us to cooperate with Him and do what God wants and asks of us.
“I’m happy with how God has used my years as a priest.”