Perth is leading the way in the number of priests ordained every year across Australia. It is the fruit of a sustained strategy introduced and developed by Archbishop Barry Hickey. The following article is adapted from one by Debra Warrier in Perth's Catholic newspaper, 'The Record'.
When Fr Richard Smith, a former Anglican clergyman, was ordained in St Mary's Cathedral at 10am on Saturday, 22 March 2003, he became the 36th priest ordained in the Perth Archdiocese in the last five years.
This revival in ordinations compared with the 80s and early 90s, when Perth's seminary was closed, is a sure sign that although Church values are publicly rejected and secular practices are widely adopted, those who claim we live in a post-Christian era are premature in their judgement.
Not only the level of ordinations, but also the number of seminarians in Perth is high in comparison with other States. Perth currently has 41 men in its two seminaries, compared with 43 in Sydney, 27 in Melbourne (37 including regional and Tasmanian seminarians) and 15 in Brisbane.
It is the fruit of sustained efforts for more than a decade, but Archbishop Barry Hickey said it is just the beginning.
"Comparing us with other dioceses is very flattering, but it should not make us happy with the numbers we have. We need more," he said.
"There's no lack of work. We're not just thinking of the parishes. We are thinking of schools, we're thinking of tertiary organisations, special groups, the media, priests out there evangelising to non-believers. The potential is limitless."
The correlation between his commitment to promoting vocations to the priesthood and the level of ordinations is hard to miss. It was one of his primary objectives on becoming Archbishop.
"I think underneath all this is certainly my firm belief that we must have priests. We must have more priests. So I continue to talk about vocations wherever I go."
Archbishop Hickey attributes the current progress of this campaign to three factors.
Firstly, the steady stream of ordinations has flowed from having two seminaries in Perth, St Charles' Seminary in Guildford and the Redemptoris Mater Seminary of the NeoCatechumenal Way in Morley.
St Charles' was first opened in 1942, but ceased to operate as a seminary from 1977 to 1993 until it was officially reopened in 1994. Last year, $1.7 million was spent building modern accommodation more suitable for the mature age of most seminarians.
Reopening St Charles' created more visibility in the diocese for vocations, and made it easier for priests to talk about vocations more often and have a personal interest in finding someone from the parish to send out to the seminary.
Monsignor Tim Corcoran, Rector of St Charles', agreed that community support of the seminary contributed to vocations. "The priests are very supportive of the seminary and actively promote vocations. There seems to be a real desire for priestly vocations in the Archdiocese, among priests, parishes, prayer groups and movements," he said.
His opinion is supported by the Rector of Redemptoris Mater Seminary, Fr Michael Moore, who said the two seminaries created "a strong awareness of vocations."
Fr Moore added that this model was the first of its kind in the southern hemisphere, and that Perth was only the 20th diocese in the world to adopt the dual system which originated in Rome.
Archbishop Hickey said that Sydney had adopted the two seminaries approach and Archbishop Pell would open his second seminary, also called Redemptoris Mater, this year. The Vice Rector of the Perth seminary has gone to Sydney to be the Rector of the new seminary.
The second factor in Perth's high level of ordinations is the strong contribution of various ethnic groups, particularly from Asia.
"Perth is very multi-cultural. We have had a tremendous response from the Vietnamese community - their Catholic faith is very strong. A vocation is promoted in Vietnamese families and seen as a very good thing."
He also singled out the Korean community's contribution when expressing gratitude to ethnic groups.
The third factor identified by Archbishop Hickey was openness to overseas vocations.
The Archdiocese has had three vocation promoters for some time. One of them has found vocations in countries like India and the Philippines. There is already one seminarian from the Philippines and two more are expected soon. Three students who have been studying for the priesthood in Rome have offered to serve in Perth. They are from India, Africa and Ecuador.
Recently the Vocations Promotion team was increased by six more priests. The team is headed by the Rev Dr Armando Carandang and will meet a few times a year to compare notes. Primarily, their role is to go out into the archdiocese and promote vocations among the youth.
The Archbishop spoke highly of the growing number of youth who are faithful to God. Impressed by their devotion, he said they gave him hope.
"They have rediscovered the riches of the Church," he said.
Some claim that the promotion of lay vocations over the last 20 years has had an effect on religious life, but Archbishop Hickey feels there is no competition and that a religious vocation is a special call.
"Sometimes what you read about the role of lay people in the Church could be taken to mean we don't need as many priests. That's not the way I see it at all - it probably means that we need more priests to handle the proper formation of lay people in their vocations."