It has been a year since my ordination. This limited time of ministry is nothing compared to many priests in the Archdiocese. In other words, more than 365 days seems a very little time or a short journey of pastoral experience and personal encounter with the many things that happen in parish life, but it has been a fruitful, wonderful and blessed time.
After 6 months of deaconate placement at Camberwell, Balwyn and Deepdene Parishes (CBD), immediately after my ordination, I was appointed as an Assistant Priest of CBD Parishes: a community of over 10,000 Catholics across two Parishes, three Churches, a Parish Primary School and a Retirement Village. There are also eight aged care facilities and a hospital in the boundary of the Parish.
- Deepdene Parish (Our Lady of Good Counsel Church)
In 1889, the parishes of Kew, Camberwell and Hawthorn were established. The area which the Deepdene Parish encompasses was, at this time, part of the Parishes of Camberwell and Kew.
Our Lady of Good Counsel Church is located on the corner of Whitehorse Road and Burke Road. The Church has undergone several refurbishments over the years, the most recent being to the internal structure, throughout 2016–2017. It carries in its own identity with modern design.
- Balwyn Parish (All Hallows Church)
All Hallows was originally part of Our Holy Redeemer Parish, Surrey Hills. To serve the needs of the Balwyn section of his Parish, Fr David Gleeson, Parish Priest of Surrey Hills (1922–33), negotiated the purchase of land in Brenbeal Street and the construction of a church and school.
Balwyn Parish consists of many senior parishioners with an endless love of the parish community and also a few younger families who support and value the local church of Balwyn.
- Camberwell Parish (Our Lady of Victories Basilica)
Camberwell with Our Lady of Victories Basilica was initially part of the Hawthorn Parish and was administered by the Jesuit fathers from their mission in Richmond.
Our Lady of Victories Basilica is located in the heart of Camberwell where it can be seen easily along Burke Road. The Basilica is a magnificent building with a rich history, it is a famous place for weddings and baptisms. The community is quite different to Balwyn and Deepdene.
My first challenge coming to these parishes was that the three communities are quite unique and different in living their faith. It includes the weekend congregations across three churches. They are quite educated parishioners including many successful business men and women, lawyers, judges, doctors, priests, senior lecturers at CTC and YTU who join the various communities as parishioners each weekend. It puts enormous pressure on my weekend homilies and the way that I relate to them. Fortunately, they are very supportive and began with positive feedback and unceasing encouragement from the very first day.
Not many months into the ministry, the Covid-19 Pandemic hit our parishes in particular and the universal church in general. Similar to all parishes of the Archdiocese, our staff, Fr Brendan and I went through the tough time of finding ways to keep a spiritual and pastoral connection with the parishioners. The Parish Priest encouraged the parish to “stay connected while socially distancing”. We soon realised that social media, including websites, weekend newsletters, videos messages, and Mass online were the key elements in keeping connected with all parishioners.
At a personal level, not having very much experience in pastoral skills, but having some limited skills with IT, especially in websites and software prior to training for the priesthood, I was able to offer assistance as much as I could. So the first lockdown of the pandemic seemed busier than we expected with many projects on websites and social communications. Including the Clergy Life and Ministry website that I worked on with Fr Brendan, in order to support our brother priests.
Just as the first lockdown was finishing, our neighbour at Surrey Hills Wattle Park Parish, Fr Mark Reynolds was announced as the new Parish Priest at St Jude’s, Scoresby. And so with the departure of Fr Mark Reynolds as Parish Priest, my second appointment came through as the Assistant Priest of Surrey Hills Wattle Park Parish with two more churches and two more schools, in addition to Camberwell, Deepdene and Balwyn.
Learning from our earlier experience, we took the same technique, same spirit and the same mindset that communication is key during this time of crisis. Once again, we began the process of building up the communication channels with Surrey Hills Wattle Park Parish. It also comes with its own challenges because we have had no chance to see the parishioners and to introduce ourselves. So we introduced ourselves with a video message.
Together with normal pastoral activities, the pandemic invites us to find new ways to connect with our parishioners: I took the initiative of ‘Calling/Telephone Ministry’ in order to ensure parishioners that while the Church doors may be closed their parishes are still open for them. In addition, Social Justice Groups, Virtual Choirs, video calls with the residents at aged care facilities become a new playground of pastoral activity for our parishioners.
Another interesting experience that I encountered during this time, was the opportunity of giving the Last Rites and anointing for a Covid-19 patient at the Austin Hospital. It was quite a unique experience as I entered into the Quarantine Ward where no visitors or family have been allowed since March. Entering into the Covid-19 area, I kept reminding myself, despite the extreme emphasis on protection and personal hygiene, that I was giving the Sacrament of Anointing to a person, a human being; not treating a patient as a dangerous virus. According to the nurses and doctor, 10 minutes after the anointing and my departure, the patient died peacefully. The family was quite touched that in the last moments of their father’s life, he was able to be visited by a priest on behalf of the whole family who could not be there because of the restrictions.
During this time, Fr Brendan had an idea that he would be the Parish Priest from Tuesday to Friday and I would be the Rector of the house from Friday to Tuesday. It worked out quite well that on the weekends, apart from celebrating the Eucharist, we researched and learnt how to build a deck in the backyard, also building a new garden. It has given us a chance to be active and creative with abnormal weekends. At the same time it provided us with the opportunity to do some extra physical exercise in addition to walking and gym work during the week.
This is an extraordinary year with many external challenges for everyone, myself included, but it is a great chance to reflect on how I live my ministry as a newly ordained priest.