Catholics in Melbourne who define their Catholicism with the term orthodox, and who are labelled by some therefore as "conservative," are watching with some trepidation the exodus of their luminaries to Sydney.
First it was Archbishop George Pell along with his assistant Dr Michael Casey. Dr Pell had inherited a very strong and well-managed Melbourne Archdiocese. It was a diocese, however, that was not without the need of reform in some key areas.
By the time of his move to Sydney, the Archbishop had not really had time to attend to every aspect of the Archdiocese that was in need of amelioration. He made a good start with the seminary of Corpus Christi College, the improvements of which contributed to an increase of local vocations.
Here his reforms addressed two key problems: the seminary was shrinking, and Melbourne had extraordinarily high numbers of resignations from the priesthood of recently ordained clergy - in some instances by as much as 33 per cent. And some Melbourne men applying to the seminary were being rejected because they were too "conservative," some of whom have gone on to become competent priests in other dioceses.
The Archbishop initiated the writing of new religious education texts and revitalised Catholic Youth Ministry - the latter paying spiritual dividends with young prodigal Catholics returning to the Church and the nurturing of vocations.
Dr Pell's sense of social justice also saw resources poured into such initiatives as the Mary of the Cross Centre, that cares for people and families affected by drug abuse. His deep concern for the pastoral support and intellectual formation of Christians on matters to do with human life, sexuality and marriage saw him bring the John Paul II Institute to Melbourne.
Dr Michael Casey, an accomplished scholar in sociology and law, made no small contribution to assisting the Archbishop in his intellectual engagement with the wider community of politics, commerce, and the law on important matters and social trends.
Bishop Anthony Fisher OP and Dr Hayden Ramsay, although not natives to Melbourne, were inspired by Archbishop Pell to contribute their talents to the Church in Melbourne - the former in the area of medical ethics and the latter in philosophy, especially moral philosophy. Spiritually and intellectually they have fed and guided countless laity and seminarians, diocesan and religious, in Melbourne. Both will now live and work in Sydney.
So is this a time of trepidation for Catholics in Melbourne?
Pope John Paul II has confidence in Archbishop Denis Hart. This confidence is reciprocated with Dr Hart's loyalty and support for the Pope. The Archbishop has added his own mark to seminary formation and reinforced its staff even more so than Archbishop Pell had done.
Archbishop Hart also supports pastoral, spiritual and practical efforts that address the obligation of mission and evangelisation while the promotion of priestly vocations is for him a major priority as is the solid faith education of Catholic schools.
The momentum generated by his predecessor in these two areas remains strong under Archbishop Hart who has a grasp of the "big picture" and can read the "signs of the times". Moreover, he brings to the Catholic enterprise his own gifts of administration, husbanding resources, encouraging people and deftness in meeting the challenges facing all bishops in the Church and the world today.
Some vital blood has moved north from Melbourne. But Catholics there can rest assured that the Archdiocese remains on course with a significant number of young Catholics and clergy ready for the next chapter in God's plan for his people in Melbourne.
Fr Paul Stuart was ordained in 1992. In 1999, he completed a Licentiate at the Gregorian University, Rome, and is currently the Dean of Studies at Corpus Christi Seminary, Melbourne, and Director of Vocations.