When seminarian Matthew Ramirez attended a ‘Come and See’ day at our Holy Spirit Seminary in Harris Park, he had this preconceived notion of what life in the seminary would be, and what kind of people seminarians would also be.
Now in his third year, Matthew’s perceptions of life in the seminary have completely changed.
“After you spend a year here, you realise the seminarians are people too, human persons,” he says. “We have our strengths and we also have our weaknesses. We are just regular guys striving for holiness, and we’re here to be formed as priests.”
Father John Hogan, the seminary Rector, adds, “It’s a feature of our seminary life to be continually aware and reflective both of strengths and weaknesses. They [the seminarians] are taught to transcend the weaknesses.” This is so that whenever people look upon them, they see Christ, much like St Patrick.
‘There’s always a God who loves you’
Seventh-year seminarian Jack Elkazzi says he has learnt a lot about himself throughout his formation.
Coming to the seminary after what he describes as a “misspent youth”, his participation in World Youth Day 2008 in Sydney planted the seed for a different calling in life.
“I was still living a certain lifestyle, and at World Youth Day, I think the Holy Spirit gradually helped me to change,” Jack says.
Going to Church more, praying the rosary and reading the scriptures helped Jack begin to develop a relationship between himself and God. “I just started falling in love with Him more and more.”
“There’s always a home you can come back to, there’s always a God who loves you. He has His arms always open for us. The Good Lord is always willing to forgive, I guess that’s the beauty of the Church.”
‘We come in as rough stones’
The seminarians often refer to each other as “brothers”, and, just like a normal family, there can be times of difficulties and struggles.
But, with all the men on the same path to holiness, they can rely on one another for support and compassion.
“It’s a small community, it’s intense living, you might have to live with people you might have difficulties with, but that means we have to be very patient with each other and understanding,” Jack explains. “We always support each other, and if there are hiccups, that’s part of being a family, you just have to move on.”
Matthew adds, “We come in as rough stones, but when we are put in the river and we tumble around, we round each other out.
“We help each other to become better humans, so we can be better Christians and therefore better priests.”
Fr John says he is inspired by the many young men who have completed their studies knowing that they will be serving Jesus, and that their excitement about God and Christ is the same that lives in the heart of the Good Shepherd.
Serving in the community
The relationships that the seminarians are developing inside the seminary are lived out when they go on community placements, gaining practical experience alongside their theological study.
Matthew is fortunate to be serving the local primary school of St Oliver’s, Harris Park, where he is getting to know the students who know that he “lives next door” and is studying to be a priest.
He helps with literacy and numeracy, and has also been on hand to help with liturgical questions, such as showing the children the different postures in Mass.
“Just my presence at the school as a seminarian, you have the capacity to remind people, especially to remind young men, that this path to the priesthood is available,” he says.
“I’ve had several people approach me last year, saying ‘I want to be a priest, who do I talk to?’ and I’ve told them to talk to their parish priest or the vocations director.”
For Jack, going out and interacting with members of St Bernadette’s Parish, Castle Hill, is what he enjoys.
In one instance, Jack was able to give Communion to an elderly housebound couple, who had not been able to attend Mass. He spoke with them about their love for the Church, their family, and some of the struggles they’ve had.
“I hope that by being with people around Church, I am helping them get closer to Our Lord and building a relationship with Christ.
“We have to be that face of Christ for the Church, because sometimes, we are the closest thing that people will get to reading a Bible. And it’s just being that presence for them,” he says.
As the Diocese of Parramatta continues to expand, we must prepare to meet the needs of our faith community. Your gift today can help support more seminarians like Jack and Matthew to answer God’s call and prepare to become our future shepherds and disciples of Jesus Christ.
To donate, please call (02) 8838 3482 or visit yourcatholicfoundation.org.au/appeal