Last week we had the opportunity to meet some of the Diocese of Parramatta seminarians, and find out what life is really like at the Holy Spirit Seminary in Harris Park. In a special ‘BE MET’ online event attended by parishioners, seminarians, and those who support them, two senior seminarians opened themselves to sharing about their day-to-day lives. The special event was held as the Church’s Vocations Month drew to a close.
After the 10 seminarians who attended introduced themselves, seventh-year seminarian Jack Elkazzi, and eighth-year seminarian Matthew Dimian painted an honest picture of the highs, the lows, the trials, and the joys of life in training to be a priest.
Matthew explained his perceptions of the seminary, prior to entering. “I thought people in the seminary would not walk, but float,” he said when imagining what life totally focused on God would look like. In practice, this means praying five times a day, starting soon after 6.30am daily. At first this was easy, but when the ‘honeymoon’ of excitement at entering the seminary diminished, it became harder to keep up with rising so early every morning. “No matter how I try, it’s still hard,” he said.
Similarly, Matthew loved the lectures for the Philosophy and Theology degrees that seminarians are required to study. Then when the first essays were due, reality hit again – more hard work.
As part of their training, seminarians experience specialized ministries such as schools and hospitals as well as parish community settings. It was when he had to give his first talk, that he found it more challenging than he realised. “I was stuttering and spluttering,” he laughed.
Yet, despite the hurdles, Matthew isn’t changing direction. “This is a beautiful and radical life,” he said, “but formation is hard work. You have to face yourself to grow.
“The priesthood of Jesus Christ is absolutely worth it.”
Jack agreed. “It’s a beautiful experience,” he said. Jack came to the seminary with 35 years of life experience under his belt. “It was a beautiful chance to think about your life and your relationships,” he recalled, about his early days at the seminary. He agreed the days can be routine, with prayer and study the focus of the day, but the sense of fraternity and the vibrancy of the Diocese of Parramatta is a gift from the Holy Spirit that keeps him going. “It keeps me inspired to keep wanting to be a priest,” he said, “and to give to this community.”
The audience also had the chance to ask questions. As they came flooding in, it was clear people are both supportive and fascinated by the life choices of our seminarians, including what age they made the decision to become a priest.
Matthew told us that he decided to be a priest when he was only five years old. “I never really grew out of this,” he said. “I changed things around after school, but then found myself in the seminary.”
Jack pinpointed the event that was to change his life at 28, when a friend told him he was going to take him to World Youth Day. “Then gradually the discernment started,” he said.
The decision to commit his life to God has taken him to places and doing things he never imagined he would do, like standing in front of a Year 3 class teaching them or learning sign language so he can converse with the deaf community and support the Ephpheta Centre’s ministry.
Matthew can’t wait to preach, particularly around the Catechism. “I love the truth. All Church teachings are so life giving, but some are not always known about,” he said.
His final message to those who are considering the priesthood: “Trust in God, come and see what it’s like and give it a go.”
‘BE MET’ is held every Thursday evening from 7.30 to 8.30pm until 17 September as part of the Diocese of Parramatta’s HOME Ground program of online gatherings. You can find the program at parracatholic.org/homeground. The next BE MET online gathering is on 2 September and will feature discussion on how you can make #SeasonOfCreation a special time of prayer and action in caring for our common home. Email email@example.com for the Zoom link.
To support our seminarians’ education, formation and journey to the priesthood please visit yourcatholicfoundation.org.au/bishops-good-shepherd-appeal/