Over the past three years, Cardinal Pell has ordained fourteen young men for the priesthood in the Archdiocese of Sydney. In 2011, in addition, eight more men were ordained as deacons, four from the Archdiocese's own Homebush seminary and another four from the Redemptoris Mater (Neocatechumenate) Seminary then at Pagewood and now relocated to Chester Hill.
In the normal course of events, these eight deacons will be ordained priests this year which means that the Archdiocese has gained a significant boost in younger priests these last four years. In fact, around Australia seminary numbers are rising and ordinations to the priesthood are more frequent.
It is good that older Catholics realise this as, in many areas, they worship in "greying" congregations, with few if any younger people to be seen. However, we can capture this experience of rising seminary numbers from another angle.
In August 2012, Corpus Christi Seminary, Melbourne, will host the 14th National Inter-Seminary Soccer Tournament. Over 200 diocesan and religious seminarians from the seminaries on the Australian east coast will attend this annual event which affirms their vocations and gives them a sense of the significant numbers of men preparing for the priestly ministry.
In Sydney there are three seminaries in the metropolitan area: the Archdiocesan Seminary of the Good Shepherd at Homebush, the Redemptoris Mater (Neocatechumenate) Seminary and the Holy Spirit Seminary of the Parramatta Diocese. Overall, some sixty men are in training.
At the Holy Spirit Seminary in Sydney's western suburb of St Mary's there are eleven seminarians, five of whom have just entered to commence training.
The numbers are also encouraging in Melbourne where there are 53 seminarians in residence. Of these, fifteen are new seminarians for 2012, nine in first year and six from other seminaries when Bishops transferred them to various levels at Corpus Christi.
There are also three men studying at the North American College in Rome and five deacons in Melbourne are awaiting ordination to the priesthood later this year
Corpus Christi Seminary's nine first year aspirants include five for the Archdiocese, two for Sale, one for Adelaide and one for the Resurrectionist Fathers, a small religious order.
Meanwhile, the seminarians throughout the country reflect the changing face of multi-cultural Australian Catholicism with a growing proportion of them Vietnamese, Filipinos, south Asians and Africans, many of these groups being Catholic.
There are another 20 seminarians at Vianney College, the diocesan seminary for Wagga Wagga, NSW. Among these are five who commenced studies recently, with candidates for the Lismore and Armidale dioceses as well as the host diocese.
The numbers are comparable at Holy Spirit Seminary, Banyo, Brisbane, where there are 32 seminarians, of whom five entered this year to commence training, and at St Charles Seminary in Perth, where there are 22, including four who began this year. Five of this number are studying overseas. At the Redemptoris Mater (Neo-catechumentate) Seminary, also in Perth, there are seventeen students for the priesthood, including four men who commenced training recently.
The encouraging seminary growth is also reflected in the increased numbers of young men seeking admission to religious orders and congregations such as the Missionaries of God's Love, the Franciscan (Capuchins), the Priestly Fraternity of St Peter and the Dominicans.
Most Catholics would not know that the Missionaries of God's Love, founded in Canberra by Father Ken Barker, have twelve young men doing a two-year Novitiate in Canberra and an additional 30 preparing for ordination in their seminary at Burwood in Melbourne.
In the Lismore Diocesan Journal, Catholic Life (December 2011), Father Nicholas Maurice, the Vocation Director, outlined an average week in a seminarian's life at Vianney College, Wagga Wagga, where the Bishop of Lismore sends most of his candidates for the ordained ministry: "The normal day commences with Lauds, the Morning Prayer of the Church, and meditation. Mass follows. After the Eucharist, the men have breakfast and proceed to their various lectures until lunch time.
"After lunch there is a break with another lecture during the late afternoon. We then gather together for Evening Prayer (Vespers). After dinner, there is another free-time break until Compline, the Night Prayer of the Church.
"These are full days. However, on Thursday mornings there are no lectures and the seminarians drive to pastoral work around the Wagga area. Some teach Catechism in primary schools, others visit hospitals or the aged in nursing homes, while a few might take Holy Communion to the house-bound.
"Saturdays are free days and the men pursue their own sports, hobbies and recreation activities at the college and around the city. Sundays are centred on the Mass which is well-attended by numerous Catholics from Wagga's northern suburbs. After a fine lunch cooked by one of their number, the seminarians have sports in the afternoon. Evening Vespers are sung by the whole College and many local people attend."
The above outline would broadly apply to Australia's other diocesan seminaries.
Father Anthony Percy, Rector of the Good Shepherd Seminary, says that these increasing numbers will gradually address the challenge of the priest shortage in Australia: "There is definitely a renewed interest in the Church and in the priesthood. World Youth Days in Sydney 2008 and Madrid 2011 have helped."