In a culture that pushes young men in particular not to commit to anything – or anyone – Sydney’s Sumner House, a vocational discernment residence for men, goes against the tide.
As a 23 year old engineering student taking up his first job and on the cusp of graduation, Daniel O’Kelly never dreamt that less than two years later he would be training for the priesthood.
“I really loved my job and was in the middle of writing my thesis while also working part-time as a youth minister”, Daniel explains from his room at Good Shepherd Seminary in Homebush.
“A big turning point came when I attended the Youth Leaders Evangelisation School which gave me my first real taste of being part of a community truly united in their love of Christ”, he said.
Former monastery turns to new purpose
“I started attending Mass every day and only a few months later some friends invited me to the opening of a new House of Discernment for young men in Lidcombe, called Sumner House and I haven’t looked back since”.
Set on the grounds of St Joachim Parish and formerly used as a Monastery by the Marist Brothers, Sumner House has helped nurture a vocational culture in the Archdiocese of Sydney since it was opened by then Auxiliary Bishop Anthony Randazzo on 12 May 2019.
Name after the first priest to be ordained in Australia, Fr Bede Sumner, Sumner House provides up to ten young men with an opportunity to live in community for 12 months in a supportive environment in which they can grow in their baptismal calling and discern their baptism as disciples of Jesus Christ.
The basic experience: being open to God
“For some of the young men, it’s about giving themselves time to be really open to whatever direction God is calling them in, others may see it as a finishing school to help them prepare for marriage while in the case of some others, they may well be on the brink of entering the seminary”, explains Sumner House chaplain, Fr Daniele Russo.
“The step from single life to the seminary or to marriage can be quite daunting for many young men. So Sumner House helps these young men by providing them with a transition period to free them up to make that final leap of faith and since it’s a 12 month program, you commit to a full year to help you make that decision in a really supportive, prayer-filled environment”.
On a given day at Sumner House, the young men wake up early for Holy Hour, setting time aside at the start of the day to be in the presence of God. Prayer and Eucharist are at the centre of the life of the house and the faith formation the men receive is very comprehensive.
Formation in faith
Twice each week, they undertake a faith formation session led by either the house chaplain or by a guest speaker, whether a layperson or a priest. These talks cover a diversity of topics from vocations in the Church through to the Catechism, human sexuality and masculinity.
There are monthly retreats, Lectio Divina and formation on the life of prayer and how to discern God’s will and the program is based around the four pillars of Intellectual, Spiritual, Pastoral and Human formation.
The men are all expected to continue their paid work or tertiary studies while staying at the house and must take turns for cooking dinner for the household, chores around the house and undertaking works of charity together.
Not conforming to a secular society
Sumner House chaplain, Fr Daniele Russo said the whole culture of the centre is intentionally counter-cultural.
“It’s really innovative because it’s directly challenging a culture that’s quite allergic to commitment, with many young men growing up in a culture that encourages them to keep their options open for as long as possible”, he explains.
“But Sumner House is intentional about creating a vocational culture where we invite the young men to say ‘Yes’ to God”.
IT’S REALLY INNOVATIVE BECAUSE IT’S DIRECTLY CHALLENGING A CULTURE THAT’S QUITE ALLERGIC TO COMMITMENT, WITH MANY YOUNG MEN GROWING UP IN A CULTURE THAT ENCOURAGES THEM TO KEEP THEIR OPTIONS OPEN FOR AS LONG AS POSSIBLE – FR DANIELE RUSSO
‘Powerhouse’ of evangelisation
Sumner House graduate Daniel O’Kelly said he is one of four men from his year who have entered the seminary and three others have embarked upon married life.
“The House is a powerhouse of evangelisation since it genuinely fosters a freedom for discernment, not only from things that hold us back from living a life of holiness, but also freedom for discerning how God is calling us to love in a particular and unique way, that will lead us to grow in holiness but also help to build the Kingdom of God”, he said.
Other dioceses are now embracing the example set by Sumner House with Bishop Randazzo establishing Joseph House for young men in the Diocese of Broken Bay this year.
Applications open for 2022
Fr Russo believes Sumner House is serving a long-term need in the contemporary church in Australia.
“I invite young men to take that first leap of faith. Discernment is ultimately about giving a certain period of time to God in trust and seeing what He does with that time and we all know, first-hand, that there’s never any harm in taking a risk with God”.
Applications are open for a place in the 2022 program at Sumner House and will close on 17 September. Submit an expression of interest form online here.