Catholic seminary sees surge in vocations

Catholic seminary sees surge in vocations

A surge in the number of men feeling called to the Catholic priesthood has prompted a training college to expand its premises.

(Transcript from SBS World News Radio)

A surge in the number of men feeling called to the Catholic priesthood has prompted a training college to expand its premises.

Corpus Christi College says the number of first year trainee priests is at its highest level in decades. 

Greg Dyett reports.

(Click on the audio tab above to hear the full report) 

(Seminarians singing) "Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel! He has visited his people and redeemed them. He has raised up for us a mighty saviour in the house of David his servant, As he promised by the lips of holy men those who were his prophets from of old."

Morning prayer at Corpus Christi College, where 59 men are currently studying to become Catholic priests. 

That's more than double the 1999 enrollment figure of 28 students.

This year there are 17 first year students among them: the highest it's been in decades.

Father Brendan Lane is the priest in charge.

"We've got another eight rooms that we're going to build this year because we think we're going to grow more and we don't want to have to say no to people. Well, we do say no all the time because there would be one applicant a week. The internet has been an enormous tool in recruiting that seminarians and students for the priesthood from all over the world are applying here, they want to come here continually."

Father Lane says enrolments have been growing steadily because of World Youth Day, a Catholic church event for young people started by Pope John Paul the Second.

He says the 2008 visit to Sydney by Pope Benedict has led to a steady rise in people entering the seminary.

"To see millions of young people, want to be part of the church because often in the parish there's very small numbers of young people, they see that great crowd and it gives them hope."

Attending World Youth Day as a young teenager had an impact on first year seminarian, 19 year old Olek Stirrat.

"We had a Papal Mass with him and various activities but at that stage I was only 13 and probably didn't appreciate it fully but for me it was an amazing experience just to see the pope and participate in a papal mass."

He says what proved to be pivotal in deciding to end his chemical engineering and biotechology studies was a trip he made to Rome last year.

"For the Canonisation of John Paul the Second and John the 23rd and that experience there really inspired me and helped me recognise my desire to become a priest."

Fellow first year student Anthony Beltrame also spent time in Europe last year after finishing a construction management course.

Shortly after getting back to Australia, he says he had what he calls a 'light bulb' moment.

"I came back from holidays, still I wasn't thinking about the priesthood really but I started work and pretty much straightaway all I could think of was the priesthood, 24-7 and it was driving me nuts and so I called my local priest and said I wanted to have a chat with him and about two weeks after I got back from holidays I broke my leg playing football and so I was at home for eight weeks."

(Reporter) "Thinking?"

"Pretty much, yeah, nothing else to do but pray, and discern and think and so my discernment process was maybe about two months, so compared with some of the other guys here in the seminary, I had a very quick period of discernment."

The young trainee priests suspect some people think the seminary is a cloistered, almost Medieval environment.

28 year old first-year Jaycee Napoles, who was born in The Philippines, says it's not what people might think.

"It's not medieval, it's very modern. We learn the same things that people learn in universities and to be tackled, the same issues that everyone faces in everyday life and we try and master ourselves so that the message of Jesus is transparent through us and it becomes clear.

The 59 students come from 11 different countries.

Father Brendan Lane says in assessing potential students, church demographics at its various parishes are taken into consideration. 

"So we have a lot of migrants (in parishes) now, a lot of Filipinos, a lot of Vietnamese, a lot of Indians, a lot of Sri Lankans, Mauritians, so we try to have the same mix in the seminary."

All prospective students are now subjected to what Father Lane says is extensive testing, including psychological tests and screening for paedophilia.

"The church is a dangerous place for paedophiles today. They wouldn't survive five minutes now. We're alert. Now, I saw behaviour of these paedophile priests but I was not alert to their behaviour, one of them said 'I'm a masseur, I'm doing massage.' I thought it was unusual but I never thought that he was a paedophile, you know, I never, we weren't alert to that, now we are."

It's a lengthy, seven-year course at Corpus Christi and about half to two-thirds of the trainees survive to ordination.

One of the challenges they face is a life of celibacy.

27 year old Adi Indra from Indonesia is in his third year.

He says he can understand why some people regard celibacy as unnatural.

"It is going against the current, in a sense, but it is a new way of loving and celibacy is something that I'm still learning to sort of embrace, in a sense, there's been like sort of seminars and talks and all that explaining what celibacy is but ultimately, I think it's living out that love God has given to us and how we love other people through many friendships, healthy relationships with both men and women and, you know, with prayer, with God's help, you know, I hope I can sort of embrace it faithfully, yeah"

Whether he manages to complete the next four years has become a day by day proposition for Adi Indra.

"Sometimes, like last year for example, I said to myself I'll take it a year at a time and then sometimes when it comes to difficult times or challenges with studies and everything else I said I'll take it a month at a time and even a day at a time. I think it's about renewing our commitment and remembering what we have received in our faith so if you ask me how confident I am, I'm not sure, God willing (laughs) I'll get there."





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