The number of students at the Seminary of the Good Shepherd in Sydney has continued to increase this year with 44 seminarians enrolled along with another three studying in Rome. This is double the number of five years ago when Archbishop Pell was transferred from Melbourne to Sydney. A similar increase had earlier occurred in Melbourne following Archbishop Pell's reforms at the Corpus Christi Seminary.
In Sydney, there are also 18 students at the recently established Redemptoris Mater Seminary run by the Neocatechumenate.
Of those at the Good Shepherd Seminary, three are from Adelaide, two each from Lismore and Canberra-Goulburn, and one each from Wollongong and Broome. There are also three training for dioceses in Burma and two for Uganda. The remainder, numbering 30, are for the Sydney Archdiocese, plus those in Rome and at the Redemptoris Mater Seminary.
The seminary situation elsewhere is also promising.
In Perth, the St Charles Seminary had 20 students for 2006, following eight ordinations for the Archdiocese in December 2005. Of the 20 students, fifteen were for Perth, four for Geraldton and one for Bunbury. The Neocatechumenate's Redemptoris Mater Seminary had 20 students for 2006. Since 1997 a total of 20 priests have been ordained from this seminary with two more expected during 2006.
In Melbourne, numbers have also increased, with ten new seminarians entering in 2005 - all for the Melbourne Archdiocese. Of the total of 35 seminarians at Corpus Christi in 2006, 26 were for the Melbourne Archdiocese, three each for Vietnam and for the Sandhurst Diocese, and one each for Ballarat, Sale and Bathurst (NSW).
Wagga Wagga's Vianney College has twelve students in residence, one for Armidale, and 11 for the Wagga Wagga Diocese. This is a remarkable figure for such a small diocese.
However, Brisbane's Holy Spirit Seminary, which caters for Queensland's five dioceses, had just three students in residence in 2006, plus two others on pastoral placement.
No new students entered in 2004 or in 2005, and only one entered this year for the whole of Queensland.
Within the Sydney metropolitan area the Diocese of Parramatta makes its own arrangements for training seminarians, with none attending the Good Shepherd Seminary, despite its close proximity. The Broken Bay Diocese normally sends students to the seminary, but there were none there in 2006.
Sydney's success at attracting more students for the priesthood can be attributed in part to Cardinal Pell's high profile leadership as well as a successful vocations program run by auxiliary Bishop Anthony Fisher.
This program includes two seminarians visiting a parish each weekend and giving testimony at the end of each Mass. On Good Shepherd Sunday, 7 May, all seminarians were involved, speaking at 91 Masses across the archdiocese. As a follow-up for those considering the priesthood, a Vocations (live-in) Retreat Weekend took place at the seminary from the 19-21 May.
Bishop Julian Porteous, Rector of the Good Shepherd Seminary, told me that today's young men are "really interested in a solid Catholic faith and spirituality" and "strongly attracted to clear expressions of Catholic identity".
He explained further, "I am concerned with the state of society. It has changed much since I was in the seminary. The ravages of secularism are great indeed. We face a crisis of truth and a crisis of faith. The crisis of truth - the result of post-modernism - has led to a new generation of young people who desperately seek what is solid and irrefutable. They want to base their lives on rock".
This is reflected in the solid formation provided at the Sydney Seminary, with its daily Rule of Life including celebration of the Divine Office in common in the chapel for morning, evening and night prayers, along with daily Mass. A half hour of meditation is scheduled after morning prayer and is held in the chapel in common.
Three-quarters of an hour of Eucharistic Adoration takes place every night and an hour of Eucharistic Adoration each Sunday afternoon.
An Annual Retreat is held for the whole seminary community and Days of Reflection are set aside during the semester for the community to spend time in prayer or recollection. Seminarians are also expected to make a regular confession.
Silence is required after 10:30pm until after morning Mass the next day and all conversations, phone calls, and TV watching have to stop by 10:30pm.
Regarding academic formation, which occurs at the Catholic Institute of Sydney, Bishop Porteous makes clear he requires one which "nurtures and inspires the personal faith of the seminarian - faith seeking understanding" and "presents unambiguously the truth of the Catholic Church captured in the Scriptures and the Tradition".
This, he believes, will produce seminarians "who are soaked in the Word of God as a living word", who have "formed a Catholic mind" and who "have a heightened moral conscience and a firm grasp of Catholic moral teaching".
But the overall goal of the spiritual and academic formation, Bishop Porteous emphasises, is "to produce good and holy priests".
A priest, he says, "stands in the midst of the secular culture of our day as a man set apart. He no longer belongs to the common run of people, even of Christians. He is a priest in their midst. He is a man of God. He belongs not to this world, but to the reign of God.
"As a priest he will be a sign of contradiction, and at times a subject of persecution or rejection. He will be a mystery to many. He will be a reminder of the Divine to others preoccupied with the present".
In these difficult times for the Church in Australia, a major source of hope for the future is the new generation of priests emerging from the country's seminaries.