The Medieval Franciscans of Dundas Valley

By Jordan Grantham, 24 August 2017
Fr Christopher Sharah FSF, Superior of the Friars of St Francis, Dundas Valley. Photo: Jordan Grantham/Diocese of Parramatta

Upon meeting Fr Christopher Sharah FSF, the Superior of the Friars of St Francis, one is struck by his resemblance to Italian Capuchin Franciscan Saint Padre Pio. “I am a fully sick Leb!” Fr Christopher insists, while laughing gregariously.

Fr Christopher, Fr Benedict and Fr Ruben are the Friars of St Francis, a religious  community in the Diocese of Parramatta. This particular branch of the Franciscans is based at St Bernadette’s Parish, Dundas Valley. It is dedicated to living out the Rule of their Holy Father St Francis of Assisi in modern Sydney. Fr Christopher started the Order in 1993, building on his former life as a Capuchin Friar.

Read more about the Friars of St Francis here.

Read more about St Bernadette’s Parish, Dundas Valley here.

“I’m very conscious that you have one life and I wanted to live my vocation the best I possibly could. That was the biggest motivation,” Fr Christopher said.

Fr Christopher had a profound sense of vocation from his earliest memories.

“Even before I could walk I knew I belonged to God. I grew up in a very devout Catholic family and even when I was a little boy I knew I was going to be a priest,” Fr Christopher said.

He has experienced many “extraordinary moments of grace” in his vocation, he said.

One such moment was in the early days of the community, when they had nothing and did not know where the next meal would come from. We were very poor when we started…we had no income, so we really lived Franciscan poverty. I think I had ten dollars and the cupboard was getting a bit bare and I was going to go and spend the last ten dollars I had to get some food. I opened the front door and there was this box of beautiful fruit and vegetables that someone just left for us. It was amazing. God has always looked after us in the most extraordinary way,” Fr Christopher said.

Today the Friary has a hospitable atmosphere and is adorned with many crucifixes and statues of saints in the Franciscan style.

Fr Benedict explained the seeds of his vocation were planted in his warm childhood home, surrounded by a large and devout Catholic family.

“Mum had taught me from a young age to pray…and I had an intimate connection with the Good Lord,” Fr Benedict said.

The youngest and newest member of the community, Fr Benedict often says Mass at Macquarie University for the Catholic Students Society.

He fits this in with the Friars of St Francis’ significant routine of prayer – meeting close to five times daily to chant the beautiful prayers of the Divine Office, which is the official prayer of the Church and an obligation for members of religious orders, commonly celebrated as Morning and Evening Prayer by Diocesan priests.

The Friars also pray the rosary, the Angelus and perform spiritual reading (Lectio Divina).

Silence is an important part of life, observed from 12.45pm until 2pm and then from 8.30pm until the morning.

Read more about the Friars of St Francis here.

Read more about St Bernadette’s Parish, Dundas Valley here.

“The Middle Ages was when orders like the Dominicans and Franciscans were born,” Fr Christopher said.

“I’m very biased towards the Medieval Church, I love it.”

“Our tradition, being Franciscans, is from that time, and obviously our Holy Father St Francis,” he said.

“There is such life and vibrancy in the order,” he said.

It is clear Fr Christopher finds great joy and satisfaction in the religious life. The life of prayer and ministry is founded on Christ himself, the font of all joy.

The “very roots of our Franciscan order nourish the Order’s spirit. This is one of the things we very much try to recapture,” he said.

“We’re very faithful to the magisterium, we chant the Divine Office, wear the habit.”

Fr Ruben’s apostolate involves working as an assistant priest in the parish, filling in for other priests throughout the Diocese of Parramatta, RCIA, and he is also undertaking post-graduate studies in historical and Franciscan theology.

“There is never a dull moment in our way of life,” Fr Ruben said.

Fr Christopher’s apostolate includes ministry each Friday at the BAC Systems factory, where he says Mass in their Chapel. Fr Christopher is the factory’s chaplain and is very grateful for the opportunity to preach the Gospel of Christ directly to people in their workplace.

Read more about the BAC Systems factory

“We’re very much a community, even though we might have different apostolates.”

“We’re always here together, we pray together and sometimes we go off together to different things,” Fr Christopher said.

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