Fr Joel Peart is Assistant Priest at St Catherine of Siena Parish in Caroline Springs. The 35-year-old—originally from Gladstone Park, where he grew up with his family of five siblings and parents—says being a priest was the ‘best way he could give glory to God’.

Before entering the priesthood, he had completed a Bachelor of Business at RMIT, Melbourne, and was working in logistics management at a pharmaceutical company. ‘Things were going pretty well,’ he says. He had a good job; opportunities were presenting themselves to him, but there was a deeper call. ‘As far as my bigger vocation story—would I get married, have my own family to raise in the faith, or would I give my life to God as a priest? In the end, the priesthood won out and I’ve been very blessed and very happy that I made that decision, thanks be to God.’

Joel made this decision at 21 years of age and entered Corpus Christi Seminary in Carlton aged 22. Following his studies, he was ordained to the priesthood at St Patrick’s Cathedral in September of 2015. He was appointed to the parish of Mornington and then Epping as an assistant priest, before serving as parish priest of St John’s, Heidelberg, for two years. He was appointed to his role at St Catherine of Siena earlier this year.

Conveying the joy of vocation

Fr Joel is one of seven vocations promoters across the Archdiocese (with another to be appointed soon), charged with the mission of promoting and facilitating the call to priesthood and religious life among the faithful in his local community. Others include Fr Anil Mascarenhas (Hampton Park), Fr Geoff McIlroy (Mornington), Fr Trac Nguyen (Camberwell, Balwyn, Deepdene and Surrey Hills Wattle Park), Fr Jerald Mariadas (Doncaster East), Fr Daryl Montecillo (Corio/Lara) and Fr Sang Ho (Belmont).

As a vocation’s promoter, Fr Joel says it is important ‘first and foremost’ to convey the joy, beauty and goodness that comes with being a priest. ‘I think that’s going to be infectious, especially to young people, and is going to be the best thing that will help them to discern and be excited about maybe becoming a priest or religious.

The priesthood is ‘a wonderful, blessed vocation’, he says. ‘It’s something that I enjoy thoroughly. It’s not to say there aren’t challenges, but even in that, there is a joy in taking up this ministry for our Lord.’

On a practical level, he is looking to engage with parishioners, and in particular young people, via youth and young adult groups, and by visiting secondary colleges and universities. He hopes to provide guidance on how they might best discern their vocation.

‘A vocation is a very personal call from God and it’s something that each of us needs to discern,’ he says.

So asking God that question—What do you want in my life?—that’s going to be so important. And yes, it’s a call. It’s a way to give your life to God, to give glory to him. We all need to make a decision in life and to give our life in a particular way. What’s going to be best for God, for the world, and then for ourselves of course? How are you going to best live a life of blessedness and grace to serve God and serve the world? That’s a vocation.

‘To not simply just to do what we think we ought to do or would like to do, but to know that doing the will of God is going to bring us the most happiness, and the most joy, and the most peace.’

Discerning a call

Though every vocation story is unique, Fr Joel’s own vocation story started in the family home and was ‘fairly typical’, he says. He grew up in ‘a good Catholic family’ with both parents taking the family to Mass each Sunday. They also prayed the Rosary daily as a family.

‘As someone growing up in that environment, it was so natural,’ he says. ‘I’d look up to the priest on the altar on a Sunday at Mass and think, maybe could that be me?’ Those thoughts stayed with him over the years and grew stronger. When he was 18, he started learning more and growing deeper in his faith for himself. He also started meeting young priests who he saw more as his contemporaries. ‘That’s when it really started to burn a little stronger in my heart,’ he says.

And then with the prompting of a priest that he knew, he began to really discern and pray whether God was calling him to the priesthood. Within a few months he had signed up to enter the seminary. His parents and family were ‘really happy’ when Fr Joel shared his news. ‘I remember that day really clearly and the joy my family had,’ he says. ‘That was really special.’

My family, particularly my mum and dad, created an environment of prayer and of faith that allowed me to make that decision. I didn’t have that pressure as to whether they would be struggling with my decision. I knew they’d be so supportive.

There were also two priests in his life who were particularly influential in his decision. One had been ordained only a few years, a young man, while the other was toward the end of his active ministry, in his late 70s. ‘Both of them inspired me in different ways,’ says Fr Joel. ‘They were really good father figures, people strong in faith and they believed in what they were preaching and had that integrity and the fire of the Holy Spirit with them and that caught on. I know so many young people inspired by these men, and me in particular, and that helped me to make that decision to want to be with them as a brother priest.’

The greatest gift of priesthood

Fr Joel believes that the ‘greatest thing we can do as priests’ is to offer the sacraments. ‘If I can say Mass well, like I mean it, it conveys that great power and hopefully that will inspire others to take up the mantle to do the same,’ he says. ‘I know that is something that inspired me, seeing priests with that integrity in their prayer life and believing in the sacraments and their strength.’

He also hopes to provide opportunities for young people to ask questions, whether it be in a social setting or in quieter, one-to-one conversations, which he personally found inspiring and helpful. For anyone currently discerning the priesthood or religious life, Fr Joel recommends prayer. ‘You can’t escape it,’ he says.

If you’re going to know the will of God, you have to ask him and talk to him and have him speak to your heart, particularly in those quiet moments.

‘Also, make sure you’re close to the sacraments. Attending Mass regularly as well as the sacrament of confession will give you a love of these things and you’ll see the goodness and grace that they give and how necessary they are. And so that will help you understand how much they’re needed in the world, and then hopefully you’ll want to maybe go out and give them to the world yourself and help people to be reconciled to God and nourish them in the Holy Eucharist.’

He also recommends that people who are discerning their vocation talk to people and ask lots of questions. ‘Go to priests and ask them about their life,’ he says. ‘Go to information days, open days at the seminary, get online and look things up. The more information and knowledge you have about what you’re getting into, the more you’re going in with your eyes open, knowing how you’re going to give your life to God and in what way.’