Category Archives: Catholic Weekly

By Michael Kenny -September 11, 2021 | Reading Time: 4 minutes

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.

Sydney priest Father Daniele Russo helps young men discern where God is calling them at Sumner House, a vocational house of discernment for the Archdiocese of Sydney. Photo: Bernard Caballero

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.

The Art of Gnocchi: former Sydney Catholic Youth leader Chris Lee joins in the gnocchi-making at Sumner House. At the vocational discernment residence everyone rolls up their sleeves for the community. The gnocchi is reportedly very good, made according to a recipe known only to Fr Daniele. Photo: Bernard Caballero

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”.


‘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.

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The four new priests with Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP in the sacristy after the ordinations Mass, with the masks they wore during the service to meet COVID-safety precautions. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

Restrictions exemption triples ordinations day joy

It might have only been at a quarter capacity in terms of attendees, but St Mary’s Cathedral was overflowing with prayers and praise as the Archdiocese of Sydney welcomed four new priests on Saturday.

The cathedral bells peeled joyfully before the 11am Mass, amplifying the delight of those inside and the many more who were joining via live-stream.

The ordination to the priesthood of Fathers John Pham, Noel Custodio, Roberto Keryakos and Jonathan Vala was one for the history books. Originally scheduled to occur on 1 August, the ordination was postponed until 19 September in the expectation that COVID-19 restrictions would have eased to allow more of the ordinands’ family and friends to be present inside the cathedral for the ceremony.

Fr John Pham. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

However as the day drew near, it looked like the severe restrictions would remain in place, with multiple requests for an exemption to allow more than 100 people in the spacious cathedral rejected by health department officials.

An 11-hour change of heart and the granting of a three-hour exemption that would allow 300 attendees saw the ordinands making hurried, but excited, phone calls to family and friends with the good news that they could now attend the once-in-a-lifetime event in person.

These families and friends lined up outside the cathedral and waited patiently to register their names and contact details at the doors, and not even the compulsory masks they wore could conceal their wide grins and teary eyes.

Whatever the restrictions on numbers and activities, the four new priests were not going to delay their ordination any longer. Father John Pham said that he did not consider delaying again, because he believes that the timing was in God’s providence.

“Why didn’t it happen last year or at another time but during this time?” Father Pham pondered. This abandonment to God’s providence was especially poignant for the young priest whose parents were unable to travel from Vietnam to be present due to pandemic restrictions.


They were, however, tuning in via the live-stream, as were many of Father Vala’s classmates and formators from the Pontifical North American College in Rome, and Father Roberto Keryakos’ maternal grandmother, who is in lockdown in a nursing home. “She’ll be with me virtually as much as she is spiritually,” Father Keryakos said.

Fr Jonathan Vala. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP had originally offered to celebrate four separate ordination ceremonies, so that each new priest could choose 100 guests to be in attendance.

However, the four were determined to stick together. They had begun the first year at the seminary together, and so naturally wanted to be ordained together as well.

“It was just fitting that you get ordained next to your brothers,” commented Father Noel Custodio, a sentiment that was echoed by each of them.

Although slightly modified to take into account social distancing requirements, the ordination ceremony lost nothing of its beauty.

The unusual nature of present circumstances was, however, a focal point for Archbishop Fisher’s homily, with the Archbishop encouraging the new priests to be a “spiritual pandemic” for the whole country.

“Beyond COVID you must help rebuild people’s confidence and trust, reawaken their hunger for that Eucharist and community they can only find at Mass, and re-sacralise a culture increasingly profane, anxious or indignant,” Archbishop Fisher exhorted the new priests.

“Where health authorities act as if preserving life were all that matters and politicians talk as if the economy is the only other thing, you must stand for a richer conception of the good life: one that gives due importance also to family and friendship, truth and beauty, work and leisure, integrity and justice, above all to the sacred.”

Fr Roberto Keryakos. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

Offering words of gratitude on behalf of the newly ordained, Father Custodio thanked family and friends, acknowledging especially those who could not be there in person.

He thanked Archbishop Fisher for ordaining them, and for his fatherly care and example of preaching truth and love.

He also thanked Cardinal George Pell, who was described as a “constant support and pillar of faith,” seminary rectors and staff, teachers and professors for providing them with the environment to deepen their love for God and configure themselves more closely to Christ.

At the conclusion of the Mass, Archbishop Fisher reminded the congregants of the hope that surrounds the ordination of priests and alluded to the heavy restrictions that remain on religious practice during these times.

“In a time of such anxiety and uncertainty about our future health and happiness, including our freedom to worship, it’s especially encouraging to have four new priests ready to spread a pandemic of faith and reason, beauty and goodness, hope and courage, love and mercy,” he said.

The day after the ordination, the four new priests celebrated their Masses of Thanksgiving with family and friends in attendance.

Fr Noel Custodio. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

The new priests will, for now, remain at the parishes where they have been serving as deacons.

Father Pham will have his first placement as a priest at the parish of St Mark’s, Drummoyne. Father Custodio will remain at Sydney Harbour North parishes, and Father Keryakos at All Saints, Liverpool.

Father Vala will return shortly to Rome to continue his studies and will have to spend two weeks in self-isolation upon arrival.

This is something Father Vala has already been through, as he experienced two weeks of hotel quarantine on arrival into Sydney for his ordination. He described the four-week isolation as “absolutely worth it”.

“What’s four weeks of waiting patiently after seven years of seminary?” he said.

A number of Sydney’s clergy were able to attend the historic ordination of four new priests for the archdiocese, along with some family members and friends. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli


By Marilyn Rodrigues – May 29, 2020 

Nearly 30 per cent of Australians surveyed said they would like to continue praying more as restrictions ease. Photo: Shutterstock

Research shows new openness to sharing of faith in 2020

Australians have turned to prayer during the coronavirus pandemic, with many wanting to spend more time growing their faith once restrictions are lifted, according to a new study.

McCrindle Research said that about a third of Australians increased their prayer and other spiritual activities during the March and April lockdown, with 26 per cent wanting to retain that aspect of life going forward.

In looking at how people have been affected by COVID-19, it also showed that many enjoyed and would like to maintain a slower and more sustainable pace of life (49 per cent) with an emphasis on close relationships. More than half of Australians (52 per cent) spent more time with their family or household members and want this to continue.

“We know historically that in times of global crises these were times when people flocked to seek spiritual answers and support and guidance from Christian leaders,” Mark McCrindle told The Catholic Weekly.


“Times of uncertainty and anxiety get people thinking about their own mortality and to be more open to looking at issues of faith. In this case we saw quite clearly that our own money, expertise and skills couldn’t save us from this little virus.”

The embracing of live-streamed Masses and video conferencing other faith initiatives signals a time of “great opportunities” for evangelisation, Mr McCrindle added.

Large gatherings [such as the World Youth Days] will be the last to return, but that will result in empowering churchgoers to share their faith in their own community and among their friends, “which is actually that original biblical model of discipleship,” he said.

The pandemic has seen a rise in activities such as the use of sacred spaces in homes.

Daniel Ang, Sydney’s director of Parish 2020, said that the accompaniment and support of spiritual curiosity in others is a great form of pastoral care any Catholic can offer “in an uncertain and anxious age”.

Asking questions to support and provoke ongoing reflection as Jesus Christ did is a good way to engage people’s increased curiosity and spiritual openness, he said. “We can gently enquire ‘So what’s been your story with God?’ or ‘What’s been at the heart of your prayer?’,” he said.

“Such questions invite people to share what lies underneath their renewed spiritual awareness.

“By offering experiences of prayer both online and as our churches re-open, and integrating into our works and ministries the testimonies of those who have been surprised by God’s work in and outreach to them, we encourage people to trust their own spiritual experience as a calling to something, or rather Someone, more.

“Recognising renewed interest in the transcendent we are perfectly placed to share the myriad of spiritual traditions of our Catholic faith with others, practices of prayer, adoration, the meditative reading of Scripture, and devotions that have led, sustained and grown the spiritual lives of Christians through the ages.”

Roberto Keryakos had his life all mapped out, a career in teaching, a wife, and lots of kids … or so he thought.

As a former student of Sydney Catholic Schools, the self-confessed “cheeky kid” with a voice like an angel was deliberating between a career as an educator or a musician or both until an unexpected event completely changed his career path.

Ready for their Ordination. Deacon Roberto and his fellow Deacons are ready for a life of service as priests. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli.

Spotted by talent scouts in Year 4 at St Raphael’s at South Hurstville, he joined St Mary’s Cathedral College as a chorister where he stayed until he entered the seminary 12 years later.

Throughout his high school years, he was often told he would make a good priest which he laughed off politely saying “thanks but no thanks”.

It wasn’t until he stumbled on the UNSW chaplaincy couch while looking for somewhere to rest in between lectures that he began to think about a vocation and ultimately become part of the furniture in God’s House.

“I must admit I do like my catnaps and found the chaplaincy had a great lounge which was the perfect place for me to have a break in between classes,” he laughed.

Roberto in Kindergarten with his older brother.

“The guys would ask ‘who is that guy that keeps crashing here’ but as I got to know them I was so inspired by them, they had a really vibrant, dynamic presence on campus which I wanted to be a part of.

“I never grew up in youth groups and thought they would be all about jumping for Jesus so wasn’t that keen to join but when I did I was really surprised, they all seemed so normal.

“And the more involved I got the more I wanted it.”

Roberto graduated with a Bachelor of Education and a Bachelor of music but something inside of him wanted more.


He said God started to talk to him about the priesthood and just as importantly he started to listen.

“I thought, God knows best so it really was a win-win situation,” he said.

“If I try the seminary out and it’s for me great, if it’s not for me I can tick it off the list forever and find a beautiful girl and have lots of kids.

“It just turned out it was for me and I couldn’t imagine being anywhere that could make me happier.

Then and now. Deacon Roberto Keryakos in year one and now. Photo: Keryakos Family/ Giovanni Portelli

“As soon as I entered the grounds I knew I was home, it was where I was meant to be.”

Throughout his discernment, Deacon Roberto has discovered his greatest strength can also be his greatest weakness and said his voice is something he has come to use with greater care.

Guided by his favourite Saint, St Joseph, from whom there are no words in the Bible, he said he has discovered you don’t have to be loud to be heard.

“St Joseph achieved such great things from the background and that’s somewhere I aspire to be,” he said.


“I learned some great lessons from some of the Vietnamese seminarians in particular at the seminary who are very gentle and achieve great things. I am loud and very cheeky which was something I’ve had to address.

“Although at the end of the day all I want to do is help people get to Heaven, that is what I am called to do and makes me very happy.”

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By Marilyn Rodrigues -February 1, 2020 | Reading Time: 4 minutes

Joy marked the faces of Catholics as the relics of the much-loved St Therese and her parents Sts Zelie and Louis arrive at St Mary’s Cathedral. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

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.

The faithful venerate the relics of St Therese of Lisieux and her parents. Many were present during the first visit of St Therese’s reliquary in 2002. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

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.


“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.


“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.

Roses, a symbol of St Therese’s love and care, were offered to the saints in gratitude or taken home for loved ones. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

“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.

For 11-year-old Ignatius Jee, venerating the Martin family relics brought happy memories of praying by the reliquary of Sts Zélie and Louis with his own parents and siblings at the World Meeting of Families in Dublin in 2018. Pope Francis canonised the pair, the first married couple to be raised to the altars, in 2015.

A few people told The Catholic Weekly they were intending to stay late or return overnight during the all-night vigil or early in the morning to pray with the much-loved saints minus the crowds.

After 24 hours at the cathedral, the relics begin their pilgrimage around the Sydney archdiocese with the first stop at St Michael’s Church, Belfield, followed by St Aloysius Gonzaga Church, Cronulla.