Ordination class of 1983 still making a mark on the world  

21 December 2023
(L-R) Archbishop Patrick O'Regan, Mark Lane, Chris De Souza, Ian McGinnity, John McSweeney, Robert Borg, Brian Moloney, Bishop Terry Brady, Richard Lennan, Msgr Ted Wilkes following a class reunion celebratory Mass at St Patrick's Church, Adelaide in June 2023. Image: Supplied


As they celebrated 40 years of priesthood on 20 August, Diocese of Parramatta priests Fr Chris de Souza, Fr John McSweeney and Fr Ian McGinnity took time to remember and reminisce about when and where their vocations began. 

First meeting at St Columba’s Seminary at Springwood in early 1977, the three began their training and early priesthood before the Diocese of Parramatta had even been imagined and were originally ordained for the Archdiocese of Sydney. 

Now, 40 years on, they regularly catch up with the other members of their graduating year, despite some members now living overseas. They celebrate their friendship and what Fr Chris describes as their ‘individuality’ whilst different, they are a very close group. 

A 3 August 1983 article from The Catholic Weekly describes the Class of 1983 as they prepare for their ordination in August that year. Image: Supplied

Appreciating their individuality 

“We each had a mutual respect for our individuality,” says Fr Chris of the class, several of whom have gone on to senior leadership positions in the Church.  

Adelaide Archbishop Patrick O’Regan, Bishop Terry Brady and Fr Richard Lennan, Professor at Boston College, are members of their ordination class of 1983. Fr Ian has been Chair of the National Council of Priests of Australia, Fr John has seen active service as a naval chaplain and graduated from the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome and Jerusalem, and Fr Chris, formerly Vicar-General and Episcopal Vicar for Education in the Diocese of Parramatta, is now General Secretary of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference. 

Once the seminarians had “experienced life” and had achieved some of their goals, the classmates began to appreciate each other, says Fr John, the current Parish Priest of Sacred Heart Parish, Blackheath and St Mary of the Cross MacKillop Parish, Upper Blue Mountains.  

Over the years their individual views are witnessed in their theologies; “And that’s because often experience in ministry directs people one way or the other,” says Fr Ian, Parish Priest of Christ the King Parish, North Rocks.

“But we still at least can acknowledge that even though we might do caricatures of some of each other’s behaviours and habits, we certainly allow each other the freedom to defend what they believe in.” 

A 3 August 1983 article from The Catholic Weekly describes the Class of 1983 as they prepare for their ordination in August that year. Image: Supplied

They each look differently on the trajectory of their own ministry and how they ended up where they are.  

For Fr Ian, it was “the mystery of God” working through others, that has shaped his time in ministry in the Diocese. 

For Fr Chris, God is not a controlling God. Rather, he believes “God works with the choices we make to achieve the best outcomes for the individual as well as the community. The best that God does with the choices that we make”. 

A challenging start to seminary life 

They all agree that early days of seminary life were fairly tough. Fr Ian was the youngest in the group and came straight from school. The structure of seminary life forced them together. “You had no choice,” says Fr Ian. “You ate together, you prayed, study and played together, and you worked together.” 

It wasn’t all hard work. Fr Chris admitted that he would at times sneak back to his room to watch science fiction shows on his contraband TV! Not that the others minded – Fr John also became a convert to science fiction. Not so Fr Ian, they point out. As the youngest of their class, they joke that he was the “good one”.  

The food also stands out. “The fish was very questionable,” says Fr John. Some seminarians who had jobs smuggled back food they had bought, bringing joy to the foodies amongst them. 

After one year at St Columba’s the seminarians moved to St Patrick’s at Manly, which, with older seminarians, gave more freedom. “I remember one of the older boys told me it’s fine to go out, as long as you are there for prayers the next morning,” says Fr Chris. 

Deciding which diocese to serve 

Three years after their ordination, the Archdiocese of Sydney was split to form the Diocese of Parramatta and the Diocese of Broken Bay. 

“You had three choices,” says Fr Ian. “You could decide which of the three dioceses you wanted to move to, you could let them decide where there was the greatest necessity, or you could stay where you were.” They had a few years to make the decision, “not just 24 hours, or a week.”

The front cover of the 24 August 1983 edition of The Catholic Weekly describing the ordination of the Class of 1983 to the priesthood at St Mary’s Cathedral, Sydney. Image: Supplied

Fr Chris de Souza decided it was “better the devil you know” and stayed in the Parish of Windsor, thereby becoming a member of the Diocese of Parramatta.

Fr John who grew up in the Blue Mountains had been placed at Merrylands and Penrith, so elected to stay in the Diocese.

Fr Ian was a little more strategic and wanted to be where the majority of the population of Sydney was, and at the time, the centre of Sydney’s population was around Seven Hills. He was also attracted to the smaller size of the newly formed Diocese of Parramatta with its founding bishop Bede Heather, compared with the much larger Archdiocese of Sydney.  

‘We have energetic discussions’ 

Today, when the 11 classmates (10 are still ministering) get together they have plenty to talk about. “We have energetic discussions about a number of topics,” says Fr Chris. They also enjoy music. “We do tend to sing often,” he adds. 

(L-R) Richard Lennan, Mark Lane, John McSweeney, Ian McGinnity, Archbishop Pat O’Regan, Bishop Terry Brady, Msgr Ted Wilkes, Robert Borg, Brian Moloney during a class reunion excursion to Adelaide Oval, Adelaide, in June 2023. Image: Supplied

What do they talk about? “We’ve been pretty blessed to have a ‘bigger than local’ view of the Church because many of our brothers have either a national or even international experience of the Church” says Fr Chris.  

Most of them have been part of church life internationally. It’s given them hope for the future of the Church, says Fr John. “We’ve had a pretty good view of how the Church will survive and grow in different areas of the world, and we talk about that.” 

Before their ordination, members of the group were interviewed by the Catholic Weekly. Even then, there was a hint at how this remarkable group of men would take on the world. 

On 3 August 1983, it said about the group: “Fired with a confident, fresh approach and many new ideas, the ordination class of ’83 are ready to put their theories to the test and tackle some of the many problems in today’s unchristian, uncaring society.” 

But 40 years later, despite all they have done, they are still looking to uphold what Pope Francis asks of priests – to ‘be shepherds with the smell of sheep’. 

“You have to relate to people at all different levels of society, and to be able to listen to those people and respond with a generous heart,” says Fr Ian. 


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