At a time when many religious congregations are wondering what to do with their buildings, the Missionaries of God's Love (MGL) do not have enough room to accommodate the influx of new recruits.
A new emerging congregation of priests and brothers, which was founded in Canberra in 1986, the MGL has enjoyed steady growth. The initial formation house in Red Hill, Canberra, is now insufficient for the numbers. To deal with the accommodation crisis, they have had to bring in a couple of demountables from work sites and have even fitted out a room previously used for storage of tools and other equipment.
Now these measures are still not enough. To alleviate the problem, at least temporarily, the congregation has decided to buy a convent building previously owned by the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth.
There are currently twelve men in formation: four Australians, three from Papua New Guinea, two from Nigeria, two from the Philippines and one from Indonesia. MGL Moderator Fr Ken Barker says that he expects at least twelve more men of similar international mix to arrive next year. That would mean close to twenty in formation in Canberra alone.
The MGL also expects that their Seminary in Burwood, Melbourne, which is the next stage in the formation process towards priesthood, will have ten seminarians next year. After finishing their novitiate in Canberra and making their initial profession, the students come to Melbourne to undertake studies at Catholic Theological College. So far, ten priests have been ordained.
The normal day in an MGL formation house begins with two hours of morning prayer, including Mass, chanting the Divine Office and one hour of adoration before the exposed Blessed Sacrament. The brothers gather again later in the day for evening prayer and night prayer.
The centrepiece of MGL spirituality is undoubtedly the daily hour of adoration. "We seek to be contemplatives in action", explains Fr Barker. "Our love for Jesus in the Eucharist gives us the fire for mission".
What is attracting young men to join the Missionaries of Gods Love? Fr Barker believes that men are drawn because the MGL are distinctive, having their roots in the experience of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the worldwide "new Pentecost" since Vatican II. "We have a strong vision under the grace of the new evangelisation called for by Pope John Paul II, especially in working with young people".
Young men are also attracted to the MGL because they have a reputation of being loyal to the Church's teaching authority. They attract candidates who are looking for a solid philosophical and theological formation which is in step with the Magisterium. Young men are also attracted by the chance to live a celibate life in a strong brotherhood, sharing life together in a supportive environment.
Young men are also attracted by the spirituality of the MGL which is a unique mix of "old and new", blending the traditional spiritual practices and ways of contemplation with charismatic worship. More than anything else, it seems that men are attracted by the opportunity to live a radical gospel way of life that takes the poverty of Jesus seriously.
Fr Barker says that young men who sense a call to priesthood are "searching for a place where there is true poverty, a genuine spirit of docility to the Magisterium, a love for Eucharistic adoration, and strong commitment to evangelisation."
The MGL have responsibility for a Eucharistic Centre based in St Benedict's Parish, Narrabundah, ACT, where there are 60 hours of rostered adoration each week. It is also a gathering place for three youth ministries geared towards different ages which the MGL conduct together with the Disciples of Jesus community.
The MGL also serve at St Martin de Porres community in Darwin, which is an urban aboriginal mission and recently the congregation took on the care of the Catholic Youth Chaplaincy for the Top End. The MGL priests also have a mission in Manila, Philippines, where they have been working in the squatter settlements to build communities of the poor that are focussed in commitment to Christ and the spreading of the Good News.
The Missionaries have canonical status as a Public Association of Christ's Faithful under the Archbishop of Canberra and Goulburn. Their Constitutions have been written with a view to becoming a religious institute and they are waiting on sufficient numbers to be able to petition Rome for this.
There are also MGL sisters who have developed alongside the brothers and priests. The sisters have their formation house in Canberra and have been actively evangelising in Darwin. They hope to establish a new house in Melbourne in 2004. Under the leadership of Sr Judy Bowe they witness to the freshness and vigour of consecrated life when it is embraced enthusiastically at a relatively young age. Recently they held a vocations weekend which was attended by a dozen women in serious discernment.
Fr Barker says that the purchase of the Garran convent was "a real step of faith. We don't have anything, but we have great confidence that people will see the importance of training men for the priesthood and be inspired to give".
The MGL have set a target of $300,000 for buying the convent and making it ready for use. Generous donations have already come in and they hope to reach the target before the end of 2003. Donations may be sent to the Missionaries of God's Love, 8 Nuyts St, Red Hill, ACT, 2603. Cheques should be made out to MGL Building Appeal.