Broad smiles and a spirit of great joy filled St Patrick’s Cathedral on the morning of Saturday 15 June as Archbishop Peter A Comensoli ordained Deacon Ferdinand Correya to the ministry of the permanent diaconate—a ministry he will exercise in the partnered parishes of St Gabriel and St Stephen of Hungary, Reservoir and Reservoir East, and St Raphael, Preston West, alongside his teaching work and family life.

Ferdinand Correya, 40, was born in Chennai, India, and migrated to Australia in 2006 with his parents, aged 22. They were the last of his family to migrate to Australia, after five of his six siblings had already moved to the country and settled in Epping, an outer northern suburb of Melbourne. His elder brother, a Salesian priest, was studying in Rome at the time. Having already completed an undergraduate degree in programming and computing in India, Ferdinand enrolled in a Master of Information Technology (Computer Networks) degree at La Trobe University, Bundoora.

During those university years in Australia, in his early twenties, his attendance at Mass ‘dropped’, he recalls, though he continued to visit an elderly priest regularly for the sacrament of Reconciliation. He also recalls vividly when something ‘changed one evening’.

‘I was working a part-time job at Coles one night, stacking shelves, and I said to myself, “There’s more to life than just working behind a computer in a network engineering job.” And from that point, I started seeking a deeper understanding of my life and what I wanted to do with my life.’

Having grown up in a faith-filled family—and having a brother who is a priest and who would occasionally give him a ‘gentle nudge’—Ferdinand decided, aged 25, to enter Corpus Christi Seminary in Melbourne. ‘I wanted to do theological studies to find out more about the faith itself and my own faith,’ he says. His brothers and sisters, he says, have always been there to listen to what he has to say and to ‘put me in the right direction’.

It’s a different kind of relationship between deacons and the people ... I felt the role of permanent deacon could help bridge the gap between the Church and the people.

Ferdinand remained at Corpus Christi for four and a half years before leaving to take care of his ill father. He completed his Master of Theological Studies and began working as a funeral director, which provided further inspiration as he continued to discern his vocation.

‘While working in the funeral home, I saw a couple of deacons, and I could see how people related to them,’ says Ferdinand. ‘It’s not that people can’t relate to priests, but I think it’s a different kind of relationship between deacons and the people, and I could see how they brought people closer to the Church in their own way. I felt the role of permanent deacon could help bridge the gap between the Church and the people.’

Ferdinand says it was prayer and the assistance of his spiritual director at the time, the late Fr Patrick O’Sullivan SJ, that helped him discern his call to the permanent diaconate. ‘Even if it wasn’t the priesthood, I was called to some sort of ordained ministry,’ he says. ‘And after praying and reflecting, I thought the permanent diaconate was probably the best way for my ministry to be expressed.’

Ferdinand completed six years of formation for the ministry of the permanent diaconate, with assistance from the director of the formation program, Fr Andrew Jekot. During this time, he also returned to university to complete his Master of Teaching (Secondary) and met and married his wife, Lisa, in 2017. Together, they have two sons, Maximus (6) and Elijah (3), and live in Thomastown, in the outer north of Melbourne. Deacon Ferdinand is a teacher at St Monica’s College in Epping, where he teaches digital technology and religious education. He is also the worship and faith minister at the college.

When you’re ready, God’s ready for you as well. God is always there for you, but we need to take the first step, despite our busy schedules.

He brings all this experience to his role as deacon for the partnered parishes in Reservoir, Reservoir East and Preston West, where he’ll assist at the weekend Masses and can officiate at baptisms, marriages and funerals when a priest is unavailable. He’ll also help with the RCIA program and serve as chaplain to the St Vincent de Paul conference in the area.

‘I think being married, having children and working will allow me to relate to the people through my experiences,’ he says. ‘I can relate to people who say they’re struggling with work and other commitments, and perhaps that’s one of the reasons why they’re not coming to church—there are just too many things going on. So I can have a chat to them, relate my own experience and invite them to participate in parish activities.

‘I’d say, “When you’re ready, God’s ready for you as well. God is always there for you, but we need to take the first step, despite our busy schedules”.’

Ferdinand also brings the experience of caring for his ill parents, who have now passed away, to those he encounters in parish life. During the time he lost his mother, and Lisa also lost her mother, he was receiving formation in grief and loss, giving him ‘a greater understanding of the process’ and helping him now, as a deacon, to ‘empathise with people in similar situations’.

That’s what I’m looking forward to: being with and working with the people. They don’t just rely on us; we rely on them too.

He’s also looking forward to working with St Vincent de Paul, saying, ‘In my heart, I’ve always longed to work with the marginalised’. Soon after leaving the seminary, he spent some time visiting the Youth Justice Centre in Parkville once a week, helping him to realise that working with the marginalised ‘is where my greatest strength is, in terms of my ministry’. While at the seminary, he also visited the Immigration Detention Centre in Maribyrnong, where he would listen to the stories of those seeking asylum. ‘I think that’s what I’m looking forward to: being with and working with the people. They don’t just rely on us; we rely on them too. That’s where my mission lies: with the people.’

Reflecting on his journey to ordination as a permanent deacon, Ferdinand is grateful for the inspiration and guidance of Fr O’Sullivan, Peter Saunders (who was at Campion Retreat Centre in Kew) and his friend and Salesian priest Fr Arun Michael Charles. But mostly, he’s grateful for the gift of faith passed on through his parents, for his extended family, and for his wife, Lisa, and his sons. Throughout the journey, Lisa has been a big supporter of Ferdinand’s decision to become a deacon.

‘Even before we were married, we had this conversation and she said, “You’ll be great as a deacon.” She’s been right behind me from the very start. And my boys are very excited too,’ he says. His sons remind him daily of the relationship he hopes to maintain and foster with God the Father.

‘My sons look up to me. And it’s not that they rely on me because they have to. It’s that they lovingly look up to me,’ he says, likening this love to the love that characterises his relationship with God. ‘I get my strength from my relationships with the people around me, and through my relationship with God.’

Banner image: (from left) Deacon Ferdinand’s wife Lisa and sons Elijah and Maximus with Archbishop Peter A Comensoli.

All photos courtesy of Hildegard and Kyle Correya.