The Diocese of Parramatta is fortunate to have 15 seminarians currently discerning their vocation to the priesthood at the Holy Spirit Seminary in Harris Park.
Their new rector from 2022, Fr Paul Marshall, says this is a hopeful sign that the search for Christ and the role of the priesthood is still attractive to young men, and that the Holy Spirit is alive and well.
“Christ’s call is still being heard in the hearts of people still,” Fr Paul told Catholic Outlook. He also explained that while he was surprised and a little daunted by the appointment, he is looking forward to a new horizon opening.
Last month, Bishop Vincent Long OFM Conv, Bishop of Parramatta announced Fr Paul would be taking over from current Rector Fr John Hogan in January 2022.
“It’s something quite ‘other’ to my present experience as parish priest. It feels for me like an ending of an era, because I’ve been in parish ministry for around 30 years,” said Fr Paul.
“I acknowledge the pastoral dedication of Fr John Hogan as the current rector. Fr John has built up the seminary over the past 13 years, and he has formed many priests for our Diocese.
“We live in rapidly changing times for our church and society. I look forward to the next era and the challenge of shaping young men for the priesthood.”
Fr Paul was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Parramatta on 19 November 1988, and has served in the parishes of St Marys, Castle Hill, Luddenham-Warragamba, Toongabbie and Greystanes. He has also been Diocesan Youth Chaplain.
As Rector, Fr Paul sees the role as “forming the students into shepherds for the Diocese” through the emotional, psychological, pastoral and spiritual development of the students.
“It’s a kind of father figure in many ways,” he said.
“In the Diocese of Western Sydney, we’re unique in having multi-ethnic parishes, and we need to prepare the guys for that.”
Fr Paul sees the role as bringing him new opportunities for his own vocational reflection.
“It’s an opportunity to reflect more deeply on the nature of priesthood. Perhaps, stepping back out of the parish for a while could be very useful in discerning and reflecting, and reading a bit more about the nature of priesthood,” he said.
At the same time, he feels he would be inspired by the seminarians.
“Each seminarian offers something unique and different, and I find it refreshing that it stimulates questions for me in my priesthood. They bring an enthusiasm and vitality, and it’s a gift to the community.
“The seminarians witness to the Gospel Good News through their own personality in different ways.”
With his new appointment, Fr Paul says farewell to the parish community at Our Lady, Queen of Peace Parish, Greystanes, whom he has been “very blessed” to have served for the last six years.
“It’s taken a few people by surprise. It’s always hard for a community to let go of a priest, because they’re family – it’s an ending of a relationship in some ways, and there’s a grief attached to that.
“I’ve been very blessed by them over the last six years. They’re a very keen and dedicated parish. They have a great fervour for celebrating life and liturgy and it’s been a great parish for liturgical inspiration.”
For those searching for a sign that the priesthood is right for them, Fr Paul encourages young men to discern the workings of the Holy Spirit in their lives.
“If it’s an initial vocational call, I think it’s important to test it further with someone experienced in the priesthood or religious life, but also to talk about it with other people who are searching,” he said.
“For those who are unsure and even those who are sure, it’s important that in their journey of faith, they are aware of the ‘false self’ and the ‘true self’ in our hearts. That’s where it needs someone as a spiritual guide to discern.
“For those guys who take the step of seminary, it is a process of refinement and reflection as well. The seminary is not the final place where once they’re in, they’ll be a priest.
“They can still discern during that process. It’s the time to ask whether they can embrace the call and lifestyle of the priest.”
To find out more about a vocation to the priesthood in the Diocese of Parramatta, visit https://parracatholic.org/vocations/, contact the Holy Spirit Seminary or Director of Priestly Vocations, Fr John Paul Escarlan – firstname.lastname@example.org.