Corpus Christi College, the regional seminary for Victoria and Tasmania in Carlton, in Melbourne’s inner north, has welcomed two new faces this year. Fr Cameron Forbes, former parish priest of Mentone and Parkdale, officially started in his role as rector of the seminary on 22 January, and with him came Felix, an 18-month-old, soft-coated Wheaten Terrier puppy, affectionately now referred to as ‘the seminary dog’.

Fr Cameron Forbes has only been rector of Corpus Christi College for two months, but he’s already been made to ‘feel very welcome by students and staff’. It’s a role that he says is ‘a great privilege’, and one that he looks forward to developing and growing into over his three-year appointment. He considers himself ‘somewhat like a parish priest of the seminary’, with his main concern being the personal and spiritual welfare of the students.

‘The formation at Corpus Christi College focuses on several areas: human, spiritual, intellectual, pastoral and missionary endeavours,’ he says. ‘The program is designed to give seminarians the opportunity to develop themselves in all of these areas, while supplemented by prayer, the Word and sacraments, and living in community.’

Currently there are 26 students preparing for priesthood at the seminary, with 17 training for the Archdiocese of Melbourne. The remaining students come from many dioceses—Ballarat, Adelaide, Hobart, Port Pirie, Darwin—and from Church entities such as the Syro Malabar Eparchy and the Syriac Catholic Church. There are seven international students, one from Mauritius and six from Vietnam. Five of these students are preparing for ordination to the priesthood this year and two others for ordination to the diaconate. This semester, there are also six students visiting from the Catholic Diocese of Wagga Wagga, who are completing a separate course of study but who join in with the other students for spiritual and human formation. The training for priesthood, overall, usually takes seven years.

Fr Cameron is no stranger to seminary life at Corpus Christi, having studied there himself between 2003 and 2009 before being ordained at St Patrick’s Cathedral for the Archdiocese of Melbourne on 12 September 2009. Following his ordination, he was appointed to St Andrew’s parish in Werribee (2009–2012) and went on to complete a licentiate and doctorate in moral theology at the Alphonsianum Academy in Rome (2012–2016). The topic for his licentiate was authentic friendship and social media, and his doctorate was on ethics and warfare. He also holds a Masters in Liturgical Music from the Athenaeum of Saint Anselm in Rome.

From 2016 to 2018, Fr Cameron served as a formator at Corpus Christi, going on to become Vice Rector between 2018 and 2020. He left that role to become parish priest at Mentone-Parkdale. Thinking he’d be ‘settled within the Mentone–Parkdale parish for many years’, he bought Felix, a soft-coated Wheaten Terrier (a type of Irish farm dog). ‘As a working dog, his tasks normally include catching vermin, herding, being a watchdog and sitting at his master’s feet at night for company,’ explains Fr Cameron.

When Fr Cameron’s was appointed to Corpus Christi, naturally Felix came along. ‘He’s been a good addition to the seminary,’ says Fr Cameron. ‘His name, Felix, means “happy” in Latin, and he certainly lives up to his name. He’s a very happy dog, and he brings a lot of joy to the seminary—the students and staff have really adopted him.’

Reflecting on the life and commitment of the seminarians under his care, Fr Cameron says:

To discern a priestly vocation today is counter-cultural. Our aim at the seminary is to equip these young men with the skills they need to preach the gospel in both words and deeds, in season and out of season, regardless of the environment. Obviously today that involves some creativity and adaptability, in addition to strength of faith.

‘I’m really inspired and nourished by the seminarians, and their willingness to offer their lives to serve the Church in this special way.’ Fr Cameron hopes that the students find at the seminary a ‘hope-filled and positive environment where they can discern what God is asking of them in their lives, and that, God willing, many may become priests’.

Fr Cameron’s personal call to serve God

When Fr Cameron considers his own path to priesthood, he says, ‘it seems obvious that God works in mysterious ways! While my vocational story has taken plenty of twists and turns, looking back on it now, I can see the hand of God gently guiding me in the direction of the priesthood over many years.’

He grew up in Melbourne’s bayside suburb of Brighton with his parents and twin sister, experiencing what he describes as a ‘very conventional childhood’. Religion didn’t play a large part in the life of his family. He attended a local government primary school and then, from grade 5 onwards, attended the local Anglican grammar school in Brighton. It was there that he first began to develop his faith. As part of his regular timetable, all students attended chapel services twice a week.

‘In grade 6, a very good school chaplain arrived—Fr Ramsay Williams—who was well liked by the students and taught in a very effective and exciting way’, says Fr Cameron. ‘His example first sparked my interest in the ordained ministry. I often used to visit him to talk about matters of faith, and I still regard him as a firm friend today. Fr Ramsay was ordained a Catholic priest in 2011 through a special arrangement for ex-Anglicans.’

When Fr Cameron was 12 years old, Fr Ramsay baptised him and prepared him for confirmation. At the same time, he joined the choir of his local Anglican parish in Brighton, which meant he became more involved in the life of the local church. Even after he left the choir in year 12, he still attended church regularly.

Fr Cameron studied Law and Arts at the University of Melbourne and lived at one of the residential colleges, becoming very involved in chapel ministry. He was also elected the Senior Student of the College, which taught him about leadership and working with groups of people. At the same time, he became interested in Catholicism and began to read more widely about issues of faith. He says, ‘My sense of vocation remained, but for some reason I couldn’t see a way forward.’

As part of his Arts–Law degree, Fr Cameron completed an honours year in political science and wrote a thesis on the cabinet system of ministerial government. After this, he worked as a ministerial adviser for the government in Canberra. It was in Canberra that he decided to become a Catholic.

‘After being received into the Catholic Church, my sense of a priestly vocation became stronger than ever, and I began serious discernment,’ he says. ‘In some ways, I felt like I was “treading water” in the workforce and needed to respond to the call I had been sensing for so long.’

So, while working at the Industrial Relations Commission in Melbourne, he contacted the Director of Vocations about his interest in priestly ministry and took a discernment retreat. He decided to explore the issue further with a diocesan priest who had been recommended, and soon after, he travelled to Europe with his sister. Through a ‘series of amazing coincidences’, he ended up at a Papal Mass celebrated in Poland by Pope John Paul II.

‘While I was already in a process of vocational discernment, this experience proved to be very influential for me,’ says Fr Cameron. ‘Soon after my return to Australia, I decided to apply to Corpus Christi College.

I felt a great sense of peace that I had cooperated with God in the only way I knew how. That sense of peace remains with me to this day.

Fr Cameron has been a priest for the Archdiocese of Melbourne for 14 years. He still finds inspiration and strength in the words he chose for his ordination card: ‘I have come that they may have life and have it to the full’ (John 10:10). ‘These words inspire me a lot because it implores us to show God’s love to all people.’

He’s also ‘particularly fond of’ St Philip Neri and Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati because they ‘both had a great sense of humour and enjoyed practical jokes’, something Fr Cameron enjoys among his closer friends.

Despite only being in the role for a couple of months, Fr Cameron knows there’ll be challenges ahead and trusts that he has the ongoing, prayerful support of those around him. ‘Being a priest is an incredible privilege, and I look forward to continuing to serve the Church where I can be best put to use,’ he says. ‘I’m most grateful for the prayerful support of the people of God. It’s incredibly humbling.’

Until recently, Fr Cameron Forbes was Head of the Department of Moral Theology and Canon Law at Catholic Theological College (2019–2022). He continues to lecture in moral theology at Catholic Theological College, and is also chaplain to the Melbourne Catholic Lawyers’ Association, the Equestrian Order of the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre, and the Victorian horse-racing fraternity.

Photos by Fiona Basile.