National Vocations Awareness Week
From the low point of a decade ago, seminary numbers at Corpus Christi College, the regional Seminary for Victoria and Tasmania, continue to increase, with applicants for the Archdiocese of Melbourne forming the bulk of the numbers. Of the forty-one seminarians who are currently students of Corpus Christi, thirty are destined for Melbourne. Twenty-five of them are in residence at Carlton, two are on pastoral placement and three are studying in Rome.
Whilst we are still some way from the heady days of the early 1970s when numbers at the Clayton seminary were in excess of one hundred, the situation is much better than the low point in 1996 when only one new seminarian was admitted. This year eight young men began their studies at Corpus Christi - six for the Archdiocese of Melbourne and two for Sandhurst Diocese.
Working hard to continue this positive trend is Fr Anthony Denton, Director of Catholic Vocations for the Archdiocese of Melbourne. Fr Denton was appointed to the position of Director of Vocations at the beginning of 2005. It is a role that he tackles with great enthusiasm.
Fr Denton was ordained a priest by Archbishop Denis Hart at St Patrick's Cathedral on 29 June 2002, after completing his studies at Corpus Christi College and the Pontifical Urban College in Rome. He was initially appointed Assistant Priest of Sacred Heart Parish, Croydon, until December 2004. Fr Denton also serves as Chaplain for Catholic Youth Ministry, assisting with retreats, talks, theological input and help with the weekly Holy Hour "SIX30" in the Cathedral.
This is one of the ways that Fr Denton makes contact with young men who may recognise that God is calling them to the priesthood. However, it is not only the devout young men to be found kneeling before the Blessed Sacrament on Thursday evenings that Fr Denton views as potential candidates for the priesthood. Whether it be at boxing training (which he does weekly), or at football matches of his beloved Collingwood Magpies, Fr Denton is always alive to the possibility that God may be calling the young men he meets.
To encourage them to open the "ears of their heart" to receive God's call, Fr Denton invites these young men to join him at the Cathedral presbytery for monthly reflection evenings. Called Quo Vadis, meaning "Where are you heading?", these evenings include a simple meal and time for prayer and discussion, to assist these young men in the process of discernment. As if to emphasise that a vocation to the diocesan priesthood is a call to live in and of the world, Quo Vadis is sometimes followed by a walk across the park, to a football match at the MCG!
Other activities of Catholic Vocations for those discerning a vocation to the priesthood include the annual Vocations Retreat. Held in Easter week each year, this is an opportunity for young men to spend three to four days apart with the Lord, praying, attending Mass, and listening to talks given by Fr Denton and other priests about the life of a diocesan priest.
In addition, at every opportunity, Fr Denton visits schools, parishes and youth groups to talk to young people about their vocation. Recently he addressed Year 12 students at Marcellin College as part of their Life is a Journey seminar day, and also attended a Careers Expo at St Joseph's College, Ferntree Gully.
National Vocations Awareness Week will be celebrated in Australia this year from 6 to 13 August. This is an opportunity to remind us all to pray for vocations to the priesthood, and to take seriously our own call, received at Baptism, to take Christ to a world hungry for His love.
When was the last time you spoke to a young man of your acquaintance, family or friend, about the possibility that God may be calling him to the priesthood? Perhaps many would answer "Never!" to that question. Well, it's never to late to start. The future of the Church in Australia depends on us maintaining the upward trend in numbers in our seminaries.
As Archbishop Hart said in his Pentecost message to young people this year, "Don't see a need without acting on it. Don't see a need without praying about it. God is sending you to show people that there is a higher purpose in life. Do not be afraid. You are on a mission from God."
Joan Clements is Special Projects Officer, Catholic Vocations, Archdiocese of Melbourne.