By Jordan Grantham, Catholic Outlook, November 2016
Seminarian for the Diocese of Parramatta Shinto Francis was accepted as a candidate for Holy Orders at Richmond Parish during Mass with Bishop Vincent Long OFM Conv on 16 October 2016.
Shinto’s journey on the path to ordination has been rewarding; strengthening faith, discernment and joy. The journey of discernment has taken him far from his family but now he has “found my home here”, he said.
Shinto, aged 32, is a tall and slim figure, with a bright face. He speaks kindly, with an ever-present smile. Originally from Kerala, South India, Shinto grew up in a faith-filled family.
“We had the rosary daily, during evening prayer,” he said. Shinto is the fourth of seven children and they also gathered daily for morning prayers.
Though living in a rural area, the local parish was based in a hall only 200m from his childhood home. Shinto grew up as part of the Syro-Malabar Rite, an Eastern Rite of the Catholic Church.
St Mary’s Church in Cholathadam replaced the hall more than a year ago. The architectural style of Syro-Malabar churches is renowned for colour; the churches are beacons of faith to the parish area.
At the age of 13, while serving as an altar boy in this parish, Shinto first sensed God calling him to the priesthood. Soon afterwards, he inquired to the local diocese and at the age of 15 entered the minor seminary, a common occurrence in this system of upper secondary formation for the priesthood, which no longer exists in Australia.
In his early 20s, Shinto took leave from the seminary, wishing to gain more experience in the workforce. During this break, Shinto undertook secular studies and managed a team in a graphic design firm.
Sensing God was calling him to Australia, Shinto was drawn by the strong faith, growth and multiculturalism of the Diocese of Parramatta, where he has lived for the past three years.
“Multiculturalism itself is a huge difference for anyone coming from a non-multicultural society. After coming here I met people from many countries, which I knew nothing about,” Shinto shared.
Prior to joining the Seminary of the Holy Spirit at Harris Park, Shinto frequently played the keyboard and guitar. Now he can also play the piano. Lang Lang and Yiruma are some of Shinto’s favourite recent composers.
Unusually, the seminary contains stained glass depictions of master composers because its Victorian era building was previously a music school. Beethoven is depicted in the main stairwell’s window.
Haydn is depicted above Beethoven, in the same window. Shinto has much in common with Franz Joseph Haydn; including two names (Joseph is Shinto’s baptismal name), devotion to the holy rosary and a joyful spirit.
Haydn was a devout Catholic with a warm demeanour, who remarked, “As God has given me a cheerful heart, He will forgive me for serving Him cheerfully.” This applies equally to Shinto.
Gratitude marks his attitude towards those around him. Shinto is especially thankful to the seminary’s Rector, Fr John Hogan, and Fr Robert Riedling, among many others, whose generous support has allowed him to flourish in his vocation.
The spiritual, pastoral, intellectual and human formation programs of the seminary have been “amazing,” Shinto said.
He looks forward to learning from experienced priests about being a pastor and part of a parish community.
His experience in the Church and world places him in a good position to give encouragement regarding vocational discernment.
“Pray constantly. Take your discernment seriously. If you think God might be calling you to the priesthood, try discerning it living inside a seminary rather than outside it. Seminary is the best place to discern your vocation,” Shinto advised.