On Saturday 4 December 2021, Archbishop Peter A Comensoli will ordain five new priests for the Archdiocese of Melbourne. The ordinations were originally scheduled for September, but due to the extended period of lockdown they were forced to hold off a while longer. Now that life in Melbourne is returning in strides to a “new normal”, it’s time to meet the five ordinands: Deacons Alexander Chow, Hoang Dinh, Jaycee Napoles, Joseph Nguyen and Samuel Pearson.
All of them experienced, at some point in their life, a ‘stirring of the heart’ they recognised as a call to the priesthood.
Deacon Alexander Chow, born in Brunei Darussalam (Southeast Asia) and with a background in chemistry, said that the priesthood was the fulfilment of a desire to live in deep relationship with Christ and also to proclaim to others the calling to this relationship. The quote from St John Henry Newman resonates deeply with Deacon Alex:
God has created me to do Him some definite service. He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission. I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next. I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons.’
The moment of ordination itself, he said, is ‘a deeper transformational journey to the person that God truly created me to be,’ and a public response to God’s unconditional love.
Deacon Samuel Pearson spoke in similar terms, saying that his calling to the priesthood involved the growth of a steady, ‘quiet realisation,’ one that was nurtured through Eucharistic Adoration at St Patrick’s Cathedral. G.K. Chesterton wrote that one’s religion should be ‘less of a theory and more of a love affair,’ and Deacon Sam said that during his days at Melbourne University, he experienced a renewal of faith that was very much like this. His faith became less theoretical and his interior life deepened considerably. Describing the impact of Melbourne's extended lockdowns, he said the isolation was ‘a mental and emotional adjustment I’d rather not have to experience again.’
I've certainly learned to trust more deeply in God's will and strength and not my own, through a deep interior process of just letting go and entrusting all things to him whose "ways are clearly as far above mine as the heavens are above the earth!" (Isaiah 55:9)’
The moment of ordination is one that Deacon Sam hopes will be inspiring to others, because the call of every Christian is to live ‘with absoluteness and excellence,’ entrusting oneself entirely to God.
Deacon Joseph Nguyen grew up in ‘good old Footscray’, which he described as ‘a mixed community made up of Vietnamese, Italians, Greeks and Aussies’. He recalls being 15 years old when he first thought about the priesthood.
I visited a leprosy camp in Vietnam. I was inspired by the parish priest there, who worked day and night to organise humanitarian services in order to provide food and medical care for those who are suffering from leprosy.’
He said that initial inspiration faded as he went through university, but slowly returned as he became involved in a young adults group with the Legion of Mary. ‘By practicing the devotion to the Holy Rosary, I was once again awakened to the call of the priesthood. I later became an assistant sacristan at St Patrick’s Cathedral and was able to work closely with many great priests and shortly after, I finally came to the decision to join the seminary.’
The lockdowns were a challenging time for the deacons, especially since the ordination – a moment they have been preparing for their whole life in seminary – was constantly up in the air.
Deacon Hoang Dinh, whose family hails from Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), said that the last two years have been challenging for the same reasons as everyone, but the fact that it was his ordination being rescheduled was only added pressure. He said that he couldn’t help but feel frustrated and ask God why this was happening:
I am sure there is something to be learnt in waiting and wondering in the things that affects us. We can be impatient when we set our own expectations and timelines; I have to learn to be patient in God’s own time.’
Deacon Jaycee Napoles, born in the Philippines but a Melbourne boy from an early age, said that he had prepared himself for the fact that 2021 was going to be a year of ‘plan Bs’, and the time in lockdown was an opportunity for his love for the sacraments and the people to grow.
‘Now at the threshold of being a priest, I can’t wait to minister the sacraments and be with the people.’
All of the deacons have requested the prayers of the community as they begin their service for God’s church in this unique and powerful way.
The Ordination Mass will take place on Saturday 4 December, 10am, at St Patrick's Cathedral. The Mass will be broadcast live to community TV channel C31 (channel 44 on digital TV) and livestreamed to the Archdiocesan YouTube channel.
Melbourne Catholic28 November 2023
VMCH28 November 2023