For Fr Paul Roberts, the calling to the priesthood was something he did not look for, but something that kept ‘niggling’ him. Fr Paul is the Director of the Institute for Mission and has been a priest of the Diocese of Parramatta for 22 years, including a time as Vocations Director and Parish Priest of a few communities.
In 1987, he was part of the first group of seminarians for the newly founded Diocese of Parramatta.
Now in the third decade since then, he still finds it a privilege to be invited to share in the lives of people and to be attentive to their stories.
“I find myself genuinely moved by people’s stories,” he said. “I think there is a power for people, me too, when we are enabled to articulate our stories in trust. Something of truth, of challenge, of God’s presence, can be revealed and encouraged in us.”
Between facilitating different programs in life and faith formation for the Institute for Mission, Fr Paul can be found riding his motorcycle and keeping fit at the gym.
He agreed that priests’ hobbies can lead to interesting conversations in parishes. A number of younger people had commented in front of their parents that they should be allowed to get a motorcycle if he (Fr Paul) rides!
His reply: “Well my mother only gave up trying to stop me from getting my bike Ls when I was 37, so you guys will have to wait. Sorry!”
Fr Paul also has a strong involvement with a Nepali family in the lower Himalayas of north India. They do various projects together and he said it has challenged his Western thinking. “They’re a central and unexpected part of my life and vocation,” he said.
Fr Paul is one of four children whose parents, Graham and Vilma, were active witnesses to faith and service and who both passed away in the past year. In his early 20s he became a teacher before making the decision to join the seminary. There were two key mentors who supported the call to his priestly vocation.
Prior to teaching at Gilroy College, Castle Hill, in the early 1980s he met Jan, who continued to be a significant influence during his time in the seminary. “She died of cancer just before I was ordained, but she remains for me a significant mentor in coming to understand the interplay of faith, life, vocation and purpose.”
The other mentor was a Christian Brother, Peter Hancock, who guided his overseas immersion trip in his mid-20s.
“That became enormously significant to me in terms of trust, courage and trying to step out a little bit. Ultimately, that immersion experience became instrumental in giving me the impetus to take a step and pursue the priesthood.”
Fr Paul said that like many people’s vocations, his life as a priest had not always been easy and three times so far he had needed to seriously contemplate and renew his reasons and commitment to his vocation.
His favourite hymn, Take, Lord, Receive (John Foley), has a line that encapsulates the joys and struggles of his vocation, ‘Give me only Your love and Your grace, that’s enough for me’.
“I once heard a priest, on being asked when he decided to become a priest, reply, ‘Oh, this morning.’ And I subscribe to that. For all of us, our commitments, our vocations, our living as sacrament, is a daily reception of God’s grace.”
A core part of Fr Paul’s ministry is listening and accompanying people. “Being present to people’s lives, so that the Church becomes an agent of hospitality and genuine accompaniment, is key towards many being able to connect with and be missioned by God through the experience of sacrament and Church.”
His advice for those discerning their vocation is to think about it less. “Let the Mass send you out into the world to take risks on God’s Grace and then, as you keep returning to the Eucharist, you will know what is right for you in your part in God’s mission.”