Fr Josip Kesina OFM, Rector of the Croatian Catholic Centre, Blacktown, was born in Canberra during the late 1970s, the eldest of 11 children in a Croatian Catholic family.
“Age eight to eighteen was a time of discernment,” Fr Josip said.
The family prayed the Rosary each night.
“Dad talked a lot about the Faith,” Fr Josip says with palpable admiration for his father, Martin Kesina. Mr Kesina gave short catechetical talks at the end of the Rosary.
“He was and still is very interested in the Faith.”
Then young Josip also saw the example of good priests, such as Fr Drinkwater, a “legend,” Fr Josip said.
Fr Drinkwater is still parish priest at St Thomas Aquinas Charnwood, which was designed by Aldo Giurgola, the architect of St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta and Parliament House, Canberra.
The spiritual fervour of the Kesina children strengthened when a sibling visited a Missionaries of God’s Love youth event. This encouraged Fr Josip’s discernment.
When he reached Year 12 in 1992, Fr Josip asked the Lord and priests and nuns about God’s will in his life.
“I would like to serve you,” Fr Josip said to God in prayer. “Where would you have me go to?
God took him to Croatia, to spend time praying with the Croatian Franciscans, who he joined. Fr Josip continued to ask God that same question throughout his training, “Where would you have me go to?”
Fr Josip’s discernment and training were at a unique time for Croatia and her Catholic identity. Croatia won its independence in the Homeland War against Yugoslavia in 1995.
The struggle for independence brought a surge in national and Catholic pride. Symbols of Croatian independence included Blessed Aloysius Stepinac, the Cardinal Archbishop of Zagreb, and Croatian soldiers’ rosary beads.
Fr Josip entered the monastery on 16 March 1995, seven months before Operation Storm, the decisive battle in the Homeland War.
The suffering of his people is close to his heart. 664 bishops, priests, seminarians, minor seminarians, religious brothers and sisters were murdered after the 1945 imposition of communist rule in Croatia.
Fr Josip studied at the University of Zagreb in his priestly formation, which was founded in 1699 and lead by the Jesuit Order for a century. Theological study in Zagreb dates back more than 700 years to Stjepan II Babonić, the Bishop of Zagreb in the 13th century.
Fr Josip was ordained 15 January 2006 in the Church and Monastery of St Francis in Zagreb by Bishop Vlado Kosic, who was the then Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Zagreb. Fr Josip’s mother, Neda, made the journey to be present at his ordination to the priesthood, as did other relatives.
According to tradition, St Francis himself visited Zagreb, staying in the location of the current Church and Monastery, which was then the house of a wealthy widow. The Franciscan charism has been present in Croatia since the 13th century, the same century that St Francis founded his order.
The Church and Monastery of St Francis in Zagreb serve as headquarters for the Croatian Franciscan Province of the Ss Cyril and Methodius, which is the home province of the Sydney and Newcastle Croatian Franciscan Friars.
Today, God has placed Fr Josip at Blacktown, where he is Rector of the Croatian Catholic Centre of Our Lady of the Grand Covenant. The Centre has a full schedule of Masses, devotions, and Croatian cultural events, such as traditional meals, language and sport. Click here to read more about the community at the Croatian Catholic Centre, Blacktown.
Fr Josip is focused on serving Croatian Catholics and evangelising non-practicing Catholics. “We need to get our Catholic Anglo brethren back into the Church and their faith,” Fr Josip said.