This year marks the tenth anniversary of Cardinal Pell's reorganisation of ministry to tertiary students in the Archdiocese of Sydney.
The Cardinal initially reformed ministry at Sydney University and the new model was then applied to the Catholic chaplaincies at UTS (Technology University), Macquarie University and the University of New South Wales.
What are key elements of this new approach?
Cardinal Pell placed his trust in young, thoroughly-orthodox, well-trained, dedicated Catholic adults to run the university chaplaincies with team ministry as the norm. Secondly, he has been prepared to spend considerable funds to improve chaplaincy facilities where the universities have failed to so.
The priests in each separate university chaplaincy are youngish men and comfortable at being part of a team, rather than directing the chaplaincy as has been the usual approach around Australia.
The chaplaincy team(s) have the positive qualities of youthful enthusiasm, openness to new ideas and a natural, unforced rapport with other young people.
The current Convenor of University Ministry in the Archdiocese is a 28-year-old married man, Daniel Hill, whose wife has just presented him with their second child.
Meanwhile, in an important letter, Cardinal Pell, explained his thinking on these new initiatives: "All our chaplaincy teams are lay-led and naturally selecting the right people for these roles is crucial. Of course, these teams need priestly support, especially to make the Mass and the Sacraments available.
"The chaplaincies have had some success on difficult terrain and are making progress. At Notre Dame University (Broadway Campus), Catholic life is very strong, with between sixty and seventy students attending daily Mass.
"Our experience has made it clear that laypeople are more than capable of effectively leading chaplaincies on the university campuses. In due course, I hope to have more young priests assisting part-time in university ministry.
"We have plans to ask young Catholics to volunteer for a year's work with a chaplaincy team, following the model that the evangelical groups use at the University of Sydney.
"We are committed to building a new chapel and chaplaincy centre at Sydney and exploring opportunities for similar centres at New South Wales and Macquarie universities."
The John Paul II Student Centre, within easy access of the three universities on the Broadway-Parramatta Road, provides office facilities for the six chaplaincy staff members, including the Dominican Chaplain, Father Paul Rowse OP.
Mass is celebrated daily at different venues within the university precincts during semesters with an an additional Mass each day at Notre Dame University (Broadway), an easy walk or commute from both UTS and the University of Sydney.
In First Semester, the Chaplaincy arranges a special "Christ Week" of talks at central campus venues with visiting speakers who focus on the Christian fundamentals. In May 2012, the talks were: "Jesus Founded the Catholic Church" (Peter Holmes); "Jesus made Peter the first Pope" (Sr Maria Kolbe); "Jesus turned Bread into His Body" (Christian Stephens); and "Jesus gave us His Mother" (David Obeid).
In Second Semester, there is a similar round of special talks at various venues with visiting speakers during "Life Week". This is an opportunity for the whole university community to examine questions relating to ethics and human dignity. In August 2012, these talks were: "Does Catholicism Matter?" (Debate, Atheists v. Catholics); "Does Marriage Equality Matter?" (Panel, Speakers); "Does Life before Birth Matter?"; and "Does the Family Matter?" (Cardinal George Pell).
At most of these sessions, there were sixty to seventy students participating.
For Semester 2, 2012, the Chaplaincy has organised "Veritas Groups" involving short faith courses, over five weekly sessions, for tertiary students wishing to discover more about the Church and her teachings.
The Chaplaincy also organises a "Universities Retreat" each year during the mid-year university vacation. From 2-4 July 2012, fifty students attended the Retreat at St Joseph's Conference Centre, Bringelly, in the Minto area of Sydney's outer west.
The Keynote Speakers were university lecturer, Dr Robert Tilley, Lorena Portocarrero (of the Fraternas), Fr Greg Morgan, a recently ordained Sydney priest, and Bishop Julian Porteous.
The Retreat included daily Mass and Adoration, confession and spiritual direction, talks and discussions and vocation panels, and time for relaxation.
Over the ten years of the chaplaincy reforms, a gratifying number of vocations have emerged from among the tertiary students who have been close to the chaplaincies at Sydney's universities.
In 2012, twelve men are in priestly formation with the Dominicans and the three (Arch)dioceses of Sydney, Parramatta and Perth. In addition, two have already been ordained priests (one for Sydney one for Lismore).
As well, six young women are in formation with the Fraternas (a new Religious Movement), the Dominican Sisters of Nashville, Tennessee, and the Missionaries of God's Love Sisters.
Contact Details: University of Sydney and UTS Catholic Chaplaincy Team, JPII Student Centre, Level 1/245, Broadway, Glebe, NSW 2037. Tel: +61 2 9518 6415.