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Priestly formation (letter)
Fr Paul Stuart's Article "Positive trends in priestly vocations" is worrying in parts. While there is much that is positive - encouraging the future priest to be a person of prayer for instance - it is sad that Fr Stuart found it necessary to denigrate those involved in his own formation and to suggest that there is less value in the witness of the lay pastoral worker or social worker than that of the ordained; surely we are all equal in God's love and ministry.
Over many years I have been reading the writings of Fr Michael Hollings who, after fighting with the Coldstream Guards in the Second World War, lost his faith, regained it, and asked to be a priest. He told his chaplain he wanted to help people. The chaplain asked whether he saw the Mass as the centre of the priesthood and Fr Hollings replied he did not.
Fr Michael became what many termed the "People's Priest". Wanting to be part of the community, he opened his presbytery to all - the homeless, the sick and the lonely. In his Living Priesthood, Fr Michael referred to the "open house" as a sign of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. Prayer, he said, is the foundation, love the energiser, and humility the way of Christ.
I notice nothing of this concept of service in Fr Stuart's article. Surely he would intend it, as do those educated to be pastoral workers and pastoral associates in our hospitals and parishes. Nor is there anything of the priest manifesting God's love through his "fatherhood" in the article.
I hope and pray that many of the functions portrayed in the priesthood of Fr Michael Hollings become manifest in the increasing numbers of those being educated at the seminary in Melbourne and I certainly wish Fr Stuart well in his important position of Director of Vocations to the Priesthood.
Father Stuart's response
God Bless Mr Drew. He is a regular letter critic of mine. I regret that while he is apparently not disturbed by the small number of clergy who have character-assassinated bishops and priests in the secular media - most especially Archbishop Pell - he is disturbed by my article.
This article, while criticising those same clergy, does not "denigrate" the formation staff of my time in the seminary. The priests and sisters of my seminary days were and are good people. However, I have allowed the resignations of 33 per cent of ordinands from that time to speak for itself and thus all seminary staff, past and present, can learn lessons from this tragic figure. Mr Drew ignores this. The Holy See has not.
On the matter of pastoral formation of seminarians and being able to help people, I believe this is obviously important and it does happen in impressive ways at Corpus Christi. Mr Drew's letter is correct in this respect, since this understanding can be read as "intended" in my article. In fact, it is a shorter version of an article first published in The Priest, which acknowledges the essential element of pastoral formation of future priests.
Reprinted from AD2000 Vol 15 No 4 (May 2002), p. 13
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