Bradley’s youth ministry journey has allowed him to witness countless expressions of faith.
Though he is one of the newest recruits to the Mount St Joseph Milperra’s teaching staff, Bradley Vergano (Brad) is no novice in a classroom. With over six years of youth ministry under his belt, standing up in front of a group of teenagers and sharing thought-provoking ideas is something he’s well versed in. As he explores his vocation teaching Art and Religious Education, he shares what he is learning about living and expressing faith.
“Before I started teaching, I had a mindset that I might be a certain kind of teacher or certain kind of person to young people,” Brad says.
“But while there are similarities between youth ministry and teaching, there are many differences as well. How you’re called to express and present yourself is different.”
For Brad this sometimes means being open to playing a different role to one he’s previously been accustomed to as youth minister. “Part of that means being that ‘accountability person’ for my students, someone who can call them out on wrong behaviour, and follow through with discipline in order for them to grow. What I’m learning through this is that there isn’t just one way to express faith.”
Brad’s experience in ministry has involved going to Fiji with the Australian Pacific School of Evangelisation, spending a year in Port Macquarie in a team of five youth ministers looking after schools and parishes in the Diocese of Lismore, another year visiting schools as part of the NET mission team, and more recently, serving as the Youth Minister at Christ the King Parish, North Rocks. He has also assisted with Catholic Youth Parramatta events.
“I think what can often happen in youth ministry is you get this idea that it’s the core of faith expression,” Brad says. “But now being a teacher I’m seeing that there are so many endless ways to proclaim God’s word.”
Brad grew up in a Catholic home and was first introduced to his faith through his parents and his maternal grandmother. “She read the books about the saints and would give me prayer cards, which ended up really good for my young formation,” he says.
But it wasn’t until he was in senior high school that he started thinking more about what these Catholic practices and prayers meant to him personally. “Up until then faith was very much a ‘family thing’,” he says.
“Even my Catholic friends who were practicing didn’t really talk about that stuff at school. But in year 11 and 12 we had retreats in school that opened up my mind to the idea of owning my own faith because there was a dialogue and discussion about it.”
Brad’s positive experience at school retreats prompted him to join the youth events at his local parish, St Bernadette’s Parish, Castle Hill, where he continued dialogue about faith with other young people. As one of the older people in the group, he was approached to become a leader, which opened doors to opportunities to learn more about the Catholic Church and share his faith with more young people.
“One of the key things I took away from my initial experience in that youth group was that building relationships intentionally is such an important part of ministry,” Brad says.
“Being the ‘people person’ that I am, I was drawn to that side of it. This began the process of realising I wanted to become a teacher because I enjoyed the richness of community and being part of the lives of young people and being a witness of faith, of helping people figure out themselves.”
While his faith formation started at an early age through his family and parish community, Brad understands not all people come to find Jesus in this way. “If you are coming into the faith and you don’t understand everything yet, the most important thing to do is to actually just pray and ask Jesus to help you to know who he is and to know that he loves you.”
Much of Brad’s time is now devoted to allowing his teaching career to flourish, but he continues to look for ways to explore and grow his faith, “Going to retreats as a participant instead of running things is great,” he says with a chuckle.
“I also want to experience the fullness of what the Catholic faith has to offer, so I go to different covenantal groups and lay organisations because everyone has different charisms. I think exposing yourself to the diversity of faith expression allows you to get a more holistic sense of what it means to be a Catholic. I know there are so many ways to live out our Catholic faith.”
For Brad, pursuing his relationship with Jesus through different events and retreats was key to strengthening his faith and having the confidence to share it with others.
“Having that personal relationship and that encounter with God inspires you to freely look at the Catholic faith with hopeful eyes, with eyes that are not looking at the faith system as something that is a convoluted and twisted way to get at God, but rather as a way to live out most authentically that relationship which you’ve just discovered,” he says.
“I don’t think it is hard and impossible at all for any person to encounter Jesus. All you have to do is keep asking. Even if you feel like it’s not happening, it actually is happening; you just haven’t realised it yet, so you’ve just got to keep going.”