Catholics from across Sydney gathered to welcome the relics of St Thérèse of Lisieux and her parents Sts Zélie and Louis Martin to St Mary’s Cathedral on 1 February.
At the expected arrival time of 4.30pm two WN Bull hearses pulled up to the cathedral steps which were lined with the faithful holding pink and white-coloured roses.
They were a tribute to the ‘Little Flower’ who promised to send a shower of roses in the form of God’s graces after her death in 1897.
Others waited patiently inside and as the two reliquaries, one containing remains of St Thérèse, and a smaller one bearing remains of her parents, were borne in procession down the central aisle, a shower of rose petals fell from the choir loft.
Despite a heatwave searing across the city people had travelled for up to nearly two hours to greet the saint whose ‘little way’ of spiritual childhood has inspired millions, and to ask for the intercession of her and her parents for themselves, their loved ones, the Church and the entire country.
They queued to touch, kiss or kneel briefly beside the reliquaries with expressions of deep devotion, a few smiles and whispered words, and for some, quiet tears.
St Thérèse’s teaching about the ordinary path to holiness, expressed in her autobiography Story of a Soul is “not rocket science” said Bishop Terry Brady who officially welcomed the relics and presided at Mass.
“In her mind, in the end, it was all about love,” he said.
“HER ABILITY TO LOVE WAS A WONDERFUL GIFT THAT HER PARENTS NURTURED IN HER.
“All of us in these special days while the relics are here, let’s make use of the opportunity to go back to, or discover, some of the wonderful writings of St Thérèse and her parents.”
Bishop Brady also reminded the congregation that St Thérèse is a patron of the Catholic Church in Australia and that seeking her aid in deepening one’s spiritual life would be a good preparation for this year’s Plenary Council.
Jana El Thoumi and Jane Xie, from the young adults’ group at St Patrick’s Church, Kogarah, said the relic’s visit to Sydney “really exciting”.
“It’s a very special occasion and an opportunity that doesn’t happen often,” said Ms El Thoumi.
“ST THÉRÈSE IS VERY SPECIAL. SHE’S A BIG SAINT, AND ALSO A LITTLE ONE.
“She’s very relatable and beloved by our youth group. She is a saint of humility, which is such a beautiful virtue but not appreciated today when everyone is pushing confidence.”
Some cathedral visitors, impressed by the events, wanted to know what was going on with such obvious deep devotion. Others had already spent time praying with the Martin family relics since their first stop on the national tour last week in Varroville where St Thérèse’s Discalced Carmelite community are based.
They included Angelo from western Sydney who is inspired by the universal application of Doctor of the Church St Thérèse’s ‘method’ of sanctification.
“We don’t have to do great things, only our ordinary daily things with great love,” he said.
Maria Henness of Strathfield had venerated Thérèse’s relics while visiting France last November. She has told all her friends and people she meets to pray with the trio while they are here.
“They have come such a long way to be with us and to intercede for us and for everything that is happening in the world today, for example, the passing of the abortion bill here last year,” she said.
On a cold, bright late Winter morning today Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP filed into St Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney accompanied by 138 priests; by the time he processed out, that number had grown to 145.
As Sydneysiders strolled through Hyde Park’s leafy, picturesque grounds just across the road, and with the sound of an outdoors rock band thumping faintly in the background, one of the Church’s most ancient ceremonies played itself out over the next two and a half hours.
St Mary’s was filled to overflowing with well-over 2000 people as the Archbishop ordained seven men to the priesthood: four from the Seminary of the Good Shepherd in Homebush, two from the Archdiocesan Redemptoris Mater Seminary in Chester Hill and the seventh a member of the Dominican Order, of which Archbishop Fisher is also a member.
It seemed as if half of Sydney had turned up for one of the largest ordinations seen in years.
At 9.30am, an hour before the ceremony was set to commence, the Cathedral was already packed. Just half an hour later, hundreds were left standing in aisles and leaning against the towering neo-Gothic sandstone walls and columns of the cathedral, sitting out of sight behind the high altar or in the Cathedral Crypt where they later followed the ceremony on television.
Good-natured members of the congregation who had arrived early found themselves sacrificing seats to the elderly and infirm filtering in as the cathedral accommodated one of the largest crowds it has seen in years.
Meanwhile, the seven presented to the Archbishop to be ordained seemed more like a quickly-assembled committee of the United Nations – illustrating, in their own way, the changing nature of the face of the Church in Sydney and around Australia.
“Today,” Archbishop Fisher noted in his homily, “I am pleased to be ordaining men of Australian, Canadian, Chinese, Dominican, Irish, Korean, Lebanese, Malaysian and Mexican backgrounds … and,” he quipped, “most exotic of all, one from Brisbane.”
Diverse group represents a changing Church in Australia
Ordained were deacons Miguel Campos,33, from Mexico, Moises Tapia Carrasco, 31, from the Dominican Republic; John Jang, 33, born in Korea; Australian-born William Loh OP, 32, from Quaker’s Hill; Brisbane-born Joseph Murphy, 27, a former Redfield student; Ronnie Maree, also 27, from Campsie and Canadian-born William Chow, aged 34.
Deacons Jang, Murphy, Maree and Chow pursued their studies through Good Shepherd Seminary. Deacons Carrasco and Campos offered themselves for the priesthood in their own countries and were sent to the Neocatechumenal Seminary in Chester Hill. Deacon Loh is a member of the Dominican Order.
Like those waiting to be ordained, the diverse congregation ranging from the very young to the very old and seemingly representing every major ethnic group in the country only added to the festive atmosphere.
Meanwhile, in an ancient ceremony stretching back to the beginnings of the Church, each of the candidates was presented to Archbishop Fisher, as their formators publically attested that each had been scrutinised and found worthy of the office of Priest.
The Dominican influence
The occasion was auspicious, in every way a celebration of the priesthood. Today is the Feast of St Dominic, founder of the Dominican Order of which both Archbishop Fisher and newly-ordained Fr William Loh are members.
In early 13th Century Europe, Archbishop Fisher told the congregation in his homily, the Church had already sounded the alarm bell about the low standard of priestly formation, preaching and teaching that often saw priests ordained as mere distributors of sacraments. Often, clergy were poorly educated in theology and rhetoric and rarely expected to preach.
That situation left the baptised faithful prey to all sorts of non or anti-Christian ideas and practices; an intellectually well-formed priesthood was a vital part of the answer, one that could proclaim the Gospel with conviction for the time, he said.
The Dominican Order was a key part of the Church’s response. St Dominic and his band of mendicant preachers united by a passion for contemplating truth and passing on the fruits to others were to have a redefining effect on the priesthood as a vital force in evangelisation.
“WHAT AN EXTRAORDINARY PRIVILEGE IT IS TO BE A VOICE FOR THE GOSPEL!”
“My sons, brothers and soon fathers, Miguel, Will, John, Br William, Ronnie, Joe and Moises: what an extraordinary privilege it is to be a voice for the Gospel!” Archbishop Fisher said, “to express the eternal Word dwelling with the Father in the words of men.
“What a grace to unite the tables of the Word and of the Eucharist. To proclaim the kerygma through the cycle of feasts and readings. To open up the sacred text and relate it to people’s daily lives. To teach and catechise in other ways too. Today I welcome you to that order of preachers that are the presbyters.”
As the seven candidates lay prostrate before the high altar of St Mary’s, 2000-plus voices almost lifted the roof of the cathedral seeking the intercession of the saints as the Litany of Supplication was chanted.
Then came the moment the congregation had been waiting to see all morning as each deacon came forward and knelt in front of Archbishop Fisher. Laying hands on each, he then prayed the Prayer of Ordination over the whole group.
Sydney’s clergy then came forward to pray, one by one – over and for – their new brothers in the priesthood.
A short while later, emotional scenes broke out as each new priest was then vested in stole and chasuble – special vestments reserved for priests – by family members or fellow clergy and embraced.
The hands that would consecrate the Eucharist, impart blessings, absolve sins in the confessional, baptise new Christians and anoint the sick and dying were then anointed individually by Archbishop Fisher.
Archbishop Fisher was clearly delighted by the occasion. In his welcome he apologised for not having had enough time to accommodate Deacon Maree’s hordes of Lebanese relatives arriving from Bankstown or Lebanon by building a bigger cathedral.
Concluding the Mass he confessed that for days he had been like a child counting down the sleeps to Christmas; with the seven new priests he felt as if he had received seven “grand Christmas presents” at once.
It was an important moment for Sydney’s priests as well.
Thanking those who were present for their love and encouragement of their priests, the Archbishop turned to clergy who had participated in the morning’s ceremonies.
“To the priests of Sydney and beyond I say the people of God love you and who you are and what you do for them. Thanks be to God for the priests of Sydney and beyond,” he said to loud and sustained applause.
As the newly-ordained processed out with fellow clergy before giving their first blessings, wild cheers broke out throughout the thronging crowds.
In a horror week for Christians and Catholics that saw Premier Gladys Berejiklian clear the way through State Parliament to enable laws declaring open season on the state’s unborn children, with some critics charging the parliament was becoming a house of death, St Mary’s Cathedral was exploding with joy – and life.
From the time he was a little boy, Fr Epeli Qimaqima would ask God on a regular basis what He wanted him to do with his life. He never received an answer but he kept asking anyway.
Then one day, when he had grown into a young man, God finally answered.
Fr Epeli has now been a priest for seven years and says the “inexplicable peace” he felt upon hearing that initial call to priesthood has never left him.
“I never knew such happiness was possible this side of heaven,” he told The Catholic Weekly.
“I never knew it was possible to know so much love in one’s life, from God and from his people.”
Fr Epeli is currently the Director of the Vocations Office for the Sydney Archdiocese. He grew up in the semi rural village of Naibuluvatu, Kalabu, in Fiji. He is the eldest of four children in the only Catholic family in the village.
Even as a little boy he felt the desire for priesthood. Often, he “played” at being a priest, covering himself with a blanket—with a hole in the middle for his head—that served as a chasuble and using potato chips to represent the Holy Eucharist.
But it was when he visited a remote mountain village for holidays with his family that the young Fr Epeli first realised the importance of the priesthood. Because there was no priest in the village, Catholics could only attend a Communion service led by a local catechist who was Fr Epeli’s uncle.
“I can still see in my mind that little boy in that church looking at this relative of his and thinking, why is uncle doing that when he’s not a priest? That was my first realisation of the unique role the priest has in the community and his connection with the Mass.
“As I thought more about that I started asking the Lord to show me what he wanted me to do for Him and His people. That prayer became more prominent once I got to Year 6 and whenever I thought about being a priest, that’s what I’d say to God.”
After completing his secondary schooling, Fr Epeli attended teacher’s college in Suva, and that’s where God finally answered his question.
He went for his usual “Rosary walk” after dinner one evening, praying as he walked around the college oval. He once again asked God the question he’d been asking since childhood,
“Lord, what do you want me to do for you and your people?”
“Being a romantic, I think God chose his moment, because the college is right on the water so there was this beautiful sunset and I heard this very, very quiet gentle voice in the depths of my heart saying, ‘Priesthood. I want you to be a priest’.
I believe that was the voice of God because of the effect it had—an inexplicable peace that is still there.”
But how did he respond to God’s will?
“Well, I said to God, ‘I’ll do whatever you want, whenever you want it, and wherever you want it. But please give me 10 years. I want to finish teacher’s college, I want to work for a while and I want to see my baby sister grow up’.
It was probably the most honest prayer I’ve ever said. And I didn’t think anymore about it. I finished my Rosary and went back to the dormitory”.
God granted Fr Epeli most of his request, giving him nine years before he entered seminary.
“He was generous, he gave me nine. I don’t know how to explain it but I knew God had given me nine years.” After finishing teacher’s college Fr Epeli moved to Australia in 2002 and worked as a teacher until he entered the seminary. He was ordained in 2012.
He says one of the wonderful aspects of priesthood is the privilege of sharing in people’s lives.
“At the heart of it is seeing that someone has been able to have an encounter with God, with Jesus, just by [the priest] being there. Visiting an elderly person in their home, someone who’s lonely, or someone in their sick bed, children at their First Holy Communion.
“The excitement in the faces of children at their First Reconciliation, their fascination, that wow, Jesus really has forgiven them.
“That could only be possible if the priest is there to give the sacrament … I’ve seen God at work in ways that were just beyond me. I think we put God in a box but He’s got the universe in His hands.”
After his ordination, Fr Epeli served in three parishes—Mosman, Bonnyrigg Heights and Broadway and says priesthood involves a special kind of friendship, with God – and with God’s people.
“It’s got to be one of the highlights of my priestly life so far, the friendship that Jesus offers you and the friendship that the people offer you.”
Being constantly on-call with parishioners, anytime of day or night, to visit death beds, sick beds and family situations, is the demand of children for the love of their spiritual father, he said.
“It’s the demand of children for their father’s love, a spiritual father’s love and care… I could be so tired on a Sunday afternoon but then you get a phone call to say so and so is in the hospital and you go and you return fulfilled, just in time to say the evening Mass again.”
Serving as Director of Vocations over the last three-and-a-half years has been an enormous encouragement for his own vocation, seeing young people coming forward, still wanting to answer God’s call.
This year six priests and six deacons will be ordained for the Sydney Archdiocese.
“God really has not abandoned us. I still meet with young people responding to what is in their hearts.”
“Given the circumstances we find ourselves in especially in Australia and around the world, with the actions of a few people in the Church, I think this is a very good opportunity for us to stop and pause and reflect on what the gift of the priesthood is to the Church.
“This is an opportune time to not be too hasty to speak of married clergy or women priests or whatever. This is a time to appreciate and rediscover what the gift of the priesthood is for us to the Church and to the world. Then we will see profound renewal I think in many ways in the life of the Church.
“The Church is a lamp on a hilltop. Thank God it’s still burning. The light is still burning despite the storms of time. So I’m full of hope.”
A hundred and eighty three years to the day after the first Catholic priest was ordained in Australia, a house of vocational discernment named in his honour was officially opened and blessed in Sydney.
Sumner House in Lidcombe, a residential home for young men discerning their vocation, is named after Fr Bede Sumner, the first Catholic priest ordained in Australia.
Fr Sumner, a professed Benedictine from England, was ordained by Archbishop Bede Polding in Sydney on 12 May 1836.
Young men in Sydney seeking to discern their vocation will now be albe live for around 12-18 months in the home named for the pioneering priest. Sumner House accommodates up to ten and is situated next door to St Joachim’s Catholic Parish in Lidcombe.
Appropriately, the opening took place on World Day of Prayer for Vocations—12 May.
It was only discovered after the opening date had been set, and name of the house had been chosen, that 12 May was the exact date of Fr Sumner’s ordination to the priesthood.
Bishop Tony Randazzo, who officially opened and blessed the house, said the coincidence was “a wonderful little sign of divine providence.”
He said Fr Sumner was an example of someone who had struggles in life but still gave himself to the mission of the Church.
“He was quite a remarkable fellow in the pioneer period. He was held up by bushrangers, travelled quite extensively on horseback and was very close to the people.”
The establishment of Sumner House reflects the priority given by Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP to encouraging and supporting vocations in the Sydney Archdiocese, he said.
“The novelty of this is that it’s a new style of approach with regards to discernment,” Bishop Randazzo told The Catholic Weekly.
“It’s much more comprehensive. It begins with the call to holiness that comes through baptism and it helps young men to see who they are as men, who they are as men before God, who they are as men before others.
“This house gives us an opportunity to have some young men spend some serious time in discernment, in contemplation, while also being active in the world, and hopefully at the end of the day when they’ve engaged in the process of living there they’ll be able to say, I have a clear sense that God is calling me to be a priest to serve the Church, or God is calling me to be a married man.”
St Joseph has been named as the patron of Sumner House because he is patron of the universal Church and a great role model for men, Bishop Randazzo said.
The building, originally a Marist monastery, has undergone extensive renovations; it features private bed rooms, a chapel and communal kitchen, dining, study and lounge areas.
Residents will receive pastoral and spiritual support from two directors—a lay man and a priest.
Chris Lee from Sydney Catholic Youth told The Catholic Weekly a place of discernment like Sumner House is needed more than ever to help young men hear God’s call.
“In this day and age it’s hard for young people to be able to hear where God is calling them to. So a place like this house is needed which can help them develop as men and help answer those three important questions—who am I as a man? Who am I as a man before God? Who am I as a man before others?”
Mr Lee said the house was set up to allow a lifestyle conducive to growing in faith as well as learnilng life skills such as budgeting, cooking and regular physical exercise.
“It’s more than just a share house. It’s an investment in your personal and spiritual growth,” he said.
Those staying at Sumner House will benefit from being next to St Joachim’s Church which has perpetual adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.
Several young men who were present at the opening told The Catholic Weekly they were considering submitting an application to live in the house.
Twenty-three year-old Phil who works as a builder said he was excited by the opportunity the house would provide.
“It’s going to be able to provide a place of community and also a place of brotherhood. But especially a solid place to check out discernment in life, whether it be priesthood, married or single life, whatever it may be.”
University student Dan, said he was also impressed by the house.
“It looks like an amazing way to take action on that call to discernment and start the journey on the path to holiness, just taking that extra step.”
Meanwhile, Andrew, who works as an engineer, said the house was “pretty cool” and would provide a good opportunity to pursue holiness.
“I think the brotherhood would be an awesome, to have a bunch of guys who can support one another in that call to holiness and also to keep each other accountable. Having perpetual adoration available is an awesome thing as well.”
Applications to live at Sumner House are now being accepted and the first residents will move in on 1 July this year.
For more information about Sumner House contact: Sydney Catholic Youth on 02 9307 8152 or the Vocations Centre on 02 9307 8433 or go to www.sydneycatholic.org/sumnerhouse
There are great signs of hope amid turbulent times in the Church, according to the rector of Sydney’s seminary Father Danny Meagher.
Father Meagher has welcomed 12 newcomers to the Good Shepherd Seminary, bringing the total number of men in formation for the priesthood there to 54.
Coinciding with an unprecedented Vatican summit on child protection and clerical sexual abuse, and in the wake of last year’s Royal Commission into the Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, the willingness of young men to consider entering Holy Orders is a sign that there is much hope in the future of the Church in Australia, Father Meagher told The Catholic Weekly.
“There are stormy seas but the Lord is with us,” he said, adding that this year’s crop of newbies is not the largest he has seen but is a healthy crop.
“There’s still hope. People are still being called to the priesthood and have a desire to serve the Church and its people,” he said.
This week the new recruits gathered with the current students at a Mass celebrated by Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP to officially open the seminary year, before going on a five-day retreat.
They will then come back to begin their discernment and formation under the first year director Father Arthur Givney with input from other seminary staff, and undertake a course on Christian Spirituality at the Catholic Institute of Sydney.
Stephen Howard, 25, from the Archdiocese of Sydney said he “immediately felt comfortable” upon moving into the seminary this month.
“But the intensity of classes and prayers started straight away and I’m sure we are in for a very satisfying spiritual year addressing all aspects for our formation from gardening to contemplation to academia and grasping at God’s will,” he added.
Shayne D’cunha, 22, from the Diocese of Broken Bay said that he thought his new home has a “wonderful balance of prayer, work and community”.
“So far seminary life has been wonderful,” he said.
“The other young men studying here have created a wonderful culture rooted in fraternity. I have also been thoroughly impressed by the formation staff who have made the transition into seminary life very easy.”
Good Shepherd’s 54 seminarians are in training for the Archdiocese of Sydney and other NSW dioceses, with eight living in parishes on pastoral placement, said Father Meagher.
This year five Good Shepherd seminarians will be ordained to the priesthood and six to the diaconate, all for NSW.
Father Meagher said that one of his ongoing priorities is working with the archdiocese’s safeguarding office to make sure students receive the appropriate training in professional standards.
“It’s important to make sure they are always up-to-date with the needs of the day,” he said.
At the opening Mass, Archbishop Fisher said that it was a “great pleasure” to welcome the first years and commended all the seminarians for their “courage and generosity” in giving themselves “heart and soul to discernment and formation for service”.