Rev Robert Riedling often wanders medieval monastic ruins in the idyllic Yorkshire countryside.
But Fr Robert is no English Country Parson; he is a priest of the Diocese of Parramatta, studying theology at Durham University’s eminent theological faculty.
Fr Robert is partway through a MA/PhD program and soon to commence his doctoral component.
The thesis topic is not set in stone but is potentially on “the meaning of baptism and the transmission of faith in a more secular world,” Fr Robert told Catholic Outlook.
Before further study, Fr Robert gained significant pastoral experience as Pastoral Director of the Seminary of the Holy Spirit, Parramatta, Parish Priest of Padre Pio Parish, Glenmore Park, the former parish of St Michael, Blacktown South, and as Assistant Priest at Our Lady Queen of Peace, Greystanes.
Fr Robert continues parish ministry as priest-in-charge at St Patrick’s Catholic Church, Langley Moor.
“It’s a very different dynamic compared to Parramatta Diocese,” he said.
“Everyone goes to the one Mass and knows each other.”
Penrith born and Blacktown raised, Fr Robert is an eloquent homilist, who studied education at the University of Sydney before converting to the Faith from Anglicanism via Presbyterianism.
“I feel the Spirit works in us most noticeably when we believe ourselves to be furthest from God,” the newly ordained Fr Robert told Catholic Outlook in 2005.
“One day, not long after leaving university, quite unexpectedly, I felt God’s loving presence and knew that God was a reality.”
“This happened without any prompting on my part and I knelt in prayer for the first time.”
Fr Robert was baptised, confirmed and made his first Holy Communion at the Easter Vigil in 1997.
This study sabbatical is a homecoming of sorts for Fr Robert as the son of British migrants.
Fr Robert is a big fan of Durham, a university town similar to pristine Cambridge. Fr Robert is also a big fan of Twitter and regularly tweets under the handle @RobertRiedling.
“I’m very grateful for the opportunity,” Fr Robert said.
“It’s surrounded by beautiful English countryside and has the largest Norman Cathedral in England, some say the most beautiful in England.”
“Though I do miss that Aussie sunshine,” Fr Robert said.
Afternoons wandering the Catholic ruins of England give Fr Robert pause to meditate on the Church’s history.
“It shows just how young the Church in Australia is,” he said.
Whitby Abbey is one such ruin, an afternoon’s drive from Durham.
The grand ruins continue to overlook the North Sea, 1400 years after its foundation.
Whitby was a thriving Abbey from 600 AD, and was ruined during the anti-Catholic rampages known as the ‘Dissolution of the Monasteries’, under King Henry VIII, approximately 500 years ago.
In contrast, the Diocese of Parramatta is growing and building new parishes.
“I’m excited by the growth of this Diocese. What were fields not that long ago are becoming suburbs,” he said.
Fr Robert’s studies will serve the growing mission of the Diocese into the future, passing on the faith in some of the newest places in Australia.