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By Fr John Hogan, Rector, Holy Spirit Seminary
One thing we see across the ages is that there will always be a need for spirituality, there’s always a need for union with God. And as long as we’re providing that above all things, whether that’s through the sacramental life of the church, the worship of the church or the social engagement of the church, whatever kind of ministry you’re talking about, in the end, it’s always providing God for his people, they are a holy people.
That’s something we continually try to impress on the seminarians. Everybody is made in the image of God and treated accordingly, while at the same time recognising the amount of deficit each of us has which we need to overcome.
There will always be a need for Jesus Christ.
And the priest fulfils that need in the fallen world, that we act in the person of Christ with respect to divine love, divine mercy, divine compassion, divine everything, and the priest is the person who is the channel between the people and God, and God and the people. How that takes its form will differ from generation to generation.
I think what people do see in the priest is something definite. They don’t have to go looking for books and all the rest of it, there is a person that they can go to, there’s a knowingness. That’s part of the physical creation, the knowingness that someone’s there and totally dedicated to God and also dedicated to them too. A kind of go-between who is Jesus Christ and this priesthood we share.
As Rector of Holy Spirit Seminary, this is my twelfth year. I was also Rector for four years in England before I arrived in Australia.
Holy Spirit Seminary used to be in St Marys near Penrith where there was definitely not enough room in the main house and we have to end up putting seminarians in two other houses nearby.
So we find ourselves here [in Harris Park] with accommodation for 20. The largest number we ever had was 16 and that was last year, but five of them were out and about in parishes waiting for ordination. The fuller we are, the better.
Part of the uniqueness of our seminary is that it is not too big, but all the seminarians are for the Diocese of Parramatta. In many parts of the world, seminaries can have 200 to 300 students. Our smaller number enables the seminarians to be fellow journeymen and become interdependent with one another.
The important aspect isn’t the building, as much as you might like it, but it’s the people in it.
They make up the brotherhood or the community.
There are people here from different nations or cultural backgrounds, we can learn from one another. It also stops us from being stuck in our own culture, because Western Sydney and the Blue Mountains is changing almost day by day.
One of the things that myself and the faculty initiated this year is concentrating on the growth of community, because that’s one of the major dimensions now according to the new priestly formation document. So we’re taking that very seriously and bit by bit each year.
One of the important aspects with respect to the new document is that living together enables people to become less and less selfish. And self-centredness is unfortunately one of the downfalls of fallen humanity.
But looking out for others rather than looking out for self as one grows together over a seven-year period is a beautiful thing to see.
That’s what’s so important in community living. All the work we do here in human formation is basically the ground rock in which our lives are built. Without human formation the rest of religion collapses. Grace builds on human nature.
So, we do all of that in the first year, a very firm foundation. It’s all about human flourishing and human flourishing is all about virtue. So, growing in self-awareness to pick up on one’s flaws and failings and overcome them. And what better place than to do that in community. So, if there’s one thing that’s very sure is that we cannot develop on our own, it’s not possible to do in a vacuum. The community aspect is an essential, as well as grace. That’s why we pay such close attention to it.
Earlier in the seminary formation the pastoral work is specialised ministries. They only really go into parish ministry much later on – in the sixth year. It gives them a massive variety in seeing all the aspects of the work that is done in the diocese.
The church is continually discerning what needs there are and how we can meet them.
One of the things we do here is make sure that the seminary becomes very accustomed to flexibility and to communication, especially with respect to other people. We can’t just provide something that we think will be a good thing to provide and it’s the wrong thing, so we have to be very careful about that discernment and seek out where people really do need help.
Please give generously to the Bishop’s Good Shepherds Appeal to support our seminarians on their journey to the priesthood, so they can prepare for a life of service to our community.
To donate to the Parramatta Catholic Foundation Bishop’s Good Shepherds Appeal, visit yourcatholicfoundation.org.au/appeal.