As a young boy, Fr Daryl Montecillo dreamt of being superman. He wanted to don the blue tights and red cape, flying around the world rescuing people. Realising this wasn’t to be, he later set his sights on becoming a paramedic. But ‘God had a different plan’, according to the 35-year-old parish priest of St Francis Xavier in Corio and St Anthony of Padua in Lara. In this story, Fr Daryl shares how the call of God gently, but persistently led him to the priesthood, and to a life of service and ‘walking with’ others.

Fr Daryl Montecillo was born in Cebu, Philippines, and came to Australia with his parents when he was two. His younger brother and sister were born in Melbourne. They lived within a block of flats in Malvern for several years, with many aunties and uncles living in the same block. Once established, the family moved to Boronia where they built their home – his parents still live there.

Though the Montecillo children attended primary and secondary state schools, faith always played a big part in their family life and culture. ‘Faith was always present,’ he said, though ‘we were the only young ones in the parish at the time’. This experience didn’t inspire a deep and enriching relationship with God. ‘It was only later that it became something that was personal to me and part of my own story,’ he said.

The idea to become a priest arose in Year 12. Daryl was involved in a school play where, known to be ‘the religious guy’, he was asked to play the role of priest. He remembers when he put ‘the little collar on for the first time’, a sheet thrown over for the vestment – something ‘stirred’ within and the experience never left him.

Alongside that, he and his parents would often visit Hampton Park, where his aunty lives, for Mass at St Kevin’s. It was a charismatic Mass, which didn’t appeal to Daryl’s own spirituality or expression of faith, but he could see how it ‘touched people’s hearts’. Following Mass was a period of Eucharistic Adoration. Though embarrassed to admit it, Daryl was paid $5 to operate the overhead projector during this time of prayer.

I remember laughing and making fun of these crazy people kneeling and praying and doing whatever they did,’ he said, ‘but over a couple of years, just being with the Lord, I remember suddenly it wasn’t a job anymore. I was kneeling and praying beside them.

‘The Lord, in the Eucharist is very present to us. He’s calling to us from there. Eucharistic adoration is something that I think often marks the steppingstones to responding to a vocation – those periods of silence where the Lord can really speak to you.’

Throughout this time, the idea of becoming a priest continued to grow within Daryl’s heart. He started spending more time with God in prayer and silence. ‘As that happens, you grow and you learn to pray, then you start to pray more, and spend time in quiet with the Lord and you realise that this [call] is not something from outside, it’s from the Lord,’ he said. ‘But it’s also something that I want. It’s very deep in the heart. Saying yes to that – at least the idea of it – brought peace.’

WYD: A space for conversations on faith

The idea of joining the priesthood continued to grow, however, he decided to finish his nursing studies at Swinburne University, that he’d still work toward becoming a paramedic, attend World Youth Day (WYD) in Sydney in 2008, travel for a year, and then look at the seminary.

In the lead up to WYD, Daryl was involved in the planning and preparation of the event within his own local deanery in the east. In serving and helping to ‘bring things together’ he soon realised he needed a ‘deeper reliance on others, which led him to more prayer’.

‘Preparing for WYD, and not just the event itself, really asks a person to open a space for conversations on faith,’ he said, ‘And so naturally, the idea of priesthood fits within that, which is something I’d been thinking about for a few years by then.

WYD had a big effect and impact on me, in realising you’re not on your own in the faith. I grew up in a parish where my siblings and I were the only young people. You can feel alone and think this is just something you do. And then you realise that this is something very much for all people and there are peers with deep faith and a deep joy that comes with their faith.’

WYD was also ‘the first place’ where Daryl met like-minded Christians – seminarians on that journey – and priests who love the Church and God. ‘They were filled with joy and that’s contagious! WYD was very much a mountain top experience – a high – and the spiritual director helped me to see that this call has to also be in the everyday, in the normal and constant.’

Daryl decided to enter Corpus Christi Seminary in Carlton not long after returning home from WYD. He felt ‘excited in his heart’ when he imagined becoming a priest, though he admits there is a period of denial, too.

‘Firstly, there’s denial, I suppose. You think, “that’s a nice thought, but no thanks” because you have dreams of family and children. And then you get to a point where this isn’t just a thought. This is part of a relationship with the Lord and there’s an acceptance that it’s not just you’re your own thought.

‘And then it becomes exciting. You start looking for anything that catches your eye about the priesthood. You want to go to Mass, you choose to go to Mass, you make efforts, and then you want to pray. And there’s a whole lot of peace. And then you get to the point of applying for seminary and then all the possible distractions come up and 1000 reasons why you shouldn’t enter the seminary suddenly surface.

But again, the call is there, it’s gentle, sometimes faint, sometimes strong, but it’s constant. Our Lord is there.’

Daryl was ordained a priest at St Patrick’s Cathedral in 2015 aged 29. His first appointment was to Laverton parish (Laverton, Altona Meadows, and Point Cook) in the west for three years, followed by a year as assistant priest at Moonee Ponds. He was then appointed chaplain to the Royal Melbourne, Royal Women’s, and Royal Children’s hospitals. At the same time, he was a permanent supply priest to the Lancefield and Romsey parish. After a year, he was appointed parish priest in Corio and Lara.

He has since been appointed one of seven vocations promoters across the Archdiocese (with another to be appointed), each charged with the mission of promoting and facilitating among their local communities, the call to priesthood and religious life among the faithful. In the east, there is Fr Trac Nguyen (Camberwell, Balwyn, Deepdene and Surrey Hills Wattle Park) and Fr Jerald Mariadas (Doncaster East); in the south, Fr Geoff McIlroy (Mornington) and Fr Anil Mascarenhas (Hampton Park) and in the north, Fr Joel Peart (Heidelberg). Fr Daryl is joined in the west by Fr Sang Ho (Belmont). He’s also recently been appointed the chaplain to Deakin University’s Geelong campuses.

Walking with others

Fr Daryl sees his role as vocations promoter as being a ‘personal presence’ of the office in the outer regions. ‘It’s certainly immense work,’ he said, ‘and because the nature of priestly vocation or any vocation is so personal – it can be daunting to make that call or to reach an office – it’s good having more people and faces out in the local areas.

‘I see my role as being an extension of the vocation’s office, a presence of the vocation’s office in the western area. Some of my work will involve a ministry of spiritual direction and helping people to really discern the call, and some will be working in schools, planting the seeds of considering one’s vocation. I see it very much as a “walking with” role.’

This is particularly evident in his role as chaplain to the university. ‘It’s very much a ministry of presence. I’m learning the ropes of university life, post-Covid especially, and the challenges. There are many international students who are home sick or disconnected from their families and disconnected from their faith.

Australia can be very different with its faith expression or lack of, so it’s about being available to those students – Catholics and anyone else – who’d like a chat. For young people, especially on a university campus, to see a young guy dressed as a priest can certainly draw looks and a second take. They’re probably thinking, “Where’s the costume party?”’

When it comes to his own parish ministry, Daryl said, ‘it’s about making faith and experience in the parish, personal’. ‘Our Lord calls us by name, and he knows us, and he loves us.’

This is a message he wants to convey to everyone, but particularly to those discerning the priesthood or religious life: ‘This is personal, and this is you. God’s calling you. It doesn’t need to be the big or the great guys, the average guys get called too. It’s about responding to his call.’ Daryle hopes to help those he encounters to understand that each encounter with God is ‘personal’ and ‘real’.

Fr Daryl says prayer is key. ‘I say this to the school kids a lot: Prayer is wasting time with God. You only waste time with people you care about. So, waste time with God. Care about him, he cares about you. Get to know him. And he’ll make it clear.

‘I think a lot of people get caught up with wanting to know exactly what God’s will is and I’ll do it. I think the first step is wanting to do God’s will, before you even know what it is. If you want to do God’s will, you’re already on the right path. God won’t lead you astray.’

If you’re interested in exploring a call to follow Christ more deeply, please contact Fr Jerome Santamaria, Vocations Director for the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne, or visit the Vocations website.