Fr Ignatius Tan is one of our newly ordained priests in the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne. The Singapore-born priest has called Melbourne home since 2007 and has been appointed assistant priest to Fr Andrew Jekot in St Mary of the Cross parish in Mordialloc and Aspendale. Fr Ignatius is looking forward to getting to know his parishioners and understanding their needs, and to helping nourish their faith through the Scriptures. Serving those in need is also a top priority as he embarks upon his vocation of priesthood.

Fr Ignatius was born and raised in the north-east of Singapore in a family that practised Taoism. Despite this, he received a Catholic education and had his first encounter with the faith through classmates who were part of a youth group. He was constantly invited to join the group by his friends, but kept rejecting them, thinking it was a ‘Christian thing’ and so not for him. Fortunately, after some time, attracted by the group’s ‘life, dynamism and vibrancy’, the young Ignatius accepted their invitation.

Fr Ignatius says the life of his classmates in the youth group was ‘very colourful, interesting and dynamic, and there was a lot of leadership training.’ Those things attracted him, so he joined the youth group, where he ‘got to know Jesus.’ Along with the youth group, Ignatius later enrolled in catechism classes and was baptised into the Catholic faith at 18 years old.

He maintained his faith by joining a Bible-sharing group and involving himself in various outreach ministries, particularly in a bridging ministry focused on the Catholic Church in China. Fr Ignatius is able to speak and understand Mandarin, and it’s a skill he hopes to use now and into the future as a priest. As a young man, he can recall being asked by priests whether he’d thought of becoming a priest, but he shrugged off their suggestions. As the eldest of two brothers, his priority lay in taking care of his parents.

Fr Ignatius attended university in Perth, Western Australia, and then worked as an industrial chemist back in Singapore for many years. He maintained his Bible studies, which helped deepen his love for the Scriptures and his faith. Over this time, he continued to dismiss any notions of becoming a priest with thoughts of ‘I’m just not worthy. I’m not the right person. I’m not knowledgeable enough.’

In 2007, Ignatius migrated to Melbourne to join his brother and sister-in-law. He first joined a Bible-sharing group at St Augustine’s Church in the city, and was later introduced to the Missionaries of Charity Sisters (MC)in Fitzroy, where he became a volunteer in the soup kitchen and night shelter. He later joined the lay I Thirst Movement associated with the MC fathers. He was again prompted, this time by one of the sisters, with the question ‘How come you’re not thinking of becoming a priest?’

It was then that Fr Ignatius started to ask the question of himself more seriously: ‘Is this really for me?’ By this time, he was in his early 50s, and he worried that he was too late for a priestly vocation. Fortunately, someone informed him that there was a late-vocation program in the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne, so he contacted the Director of the Vocations Office to start the conversation and journey. ‘I started the journey through discerning, talking to different spiritual directors and then, at the end, I asked myself, “Do I dare to give it a try?”’ he says.

After two years, Fr David Cartwright, then Vocations Director, encouraged Fr Ignatius to ‘go and try’. ‘If I never try, I’ll never know,’ he said to himself. He commenced his formation at Corpus Christi seminary in 2018 and, later that year, joined the Pontifical Beda College in Rome for the late-vocation program. He was ordained for the Archdiocese of Melbourne on 15 July 2022, along with Fr Andrew Kwiatkowski and Fr Brian Muling. Following his ordination, Fr Ignatius spent a month serving in St Damian’s parish and Our Lady of the Way community in Bundoora before his current appointment at St Mary of the Cross MacKillop parish.

As well as getting to know the parishioners, Fr Ignatius is looking forward to helping and encouraging parishioners to focus on Scripture, given his own deep love for and experience with the Word of God. ‘I grew up in an environment where Scripture was part of my life,’ he says. ‘I try to read and reflect upon the Scriptures every day. They give me a lot of guidance, inspiration and encouragement, so that’s something I’d like to share and teach my congregation.

‘I have also been helping the Missionaries of Charity Sisters since 2008, so serving the poor is always on my mind, and encouraging people to do whatever they can to assist will be important.’

Fr Ignatius isn’t just talking about those who are ‘materially poor’. He says, ‘I’ve noticed a lot of spiritual poverty in Australia. I think there is a lot of desire for spiritual nourishment, including those who come to church, and those who don’t come to church. And families need support, too, so there’s a lot to consider.’

In his own ministry, Fr Ignatius hopes to draw upon the inspiration of other priests he has encountered over the years. Fr Wahid Riad—a ‘very charismatic priest’—was one of the first people he met in Melbourne. At the time, Fr Wahid was parish priest at St Augustine’s in Melbourne’s CBD. ‘He was such a welcoming, charismatic person, so when I thought of my vocation, he was the first person who popped into my mind,’ says Fr Ignatius.

He was also inspired by his mentor and chaplain in the Singaporean youth group, Fr Paul Tong, who later went on to become a priest. ‘He journeyed with me for the majority of my faith formation and is such a dynamic person,’ says Fr Ignatius. ‘He has inspired me in terms of his priestly vocation, his spirituality and leadership. He was taking care of the youth group, then later the Bible Society. He always cared about our relationship with Christ and our formation, so I really hope I can be like him, always wanting to help people to nurture their faith.’

Reflecting on his own priestly vocation, and how his story might encourage others to ‘give it a go’, Fr Ignatius says it’s important to listen.

Basically, to me, vocation is to pay attention, and to listen to what God wants me to do. We need to pay attention, and importantly, we need to surrender. And that goes for any vocation—whether it be to the priesthood or to family life or consecrated life.

He admits, this ‘surrender’ isn’t always easy, especially if we listen but then resist God’s call. ‘I think if I really listened to God, I probably could have pursued my vocation much earlier,’ he says. ‘I think God always had his plan for me, but I kept rejecting God and gave a lot of excuses.’

Looking back, Fr Ignatius could recognise that ‘God had planted the seeds’ for him throughout his life, which gave him many opportunities to open his eyes and ears. ‘Now, if God really wants me to do something, I don’t think I will ever run away from him,’ he says.

He advises anyone considering the deeper question of vocation to ask: ‘What will make me happy? Because, ultimately, we have to be happy with our choice in life, whether it’s a family vocation or to the priesthood or consecrated life. And we need to consciously make that decision. I think that decision is important, as is trust.

‘I just have to learn to journey with Christ and he will guide me, even though I have difficulties, weaknesses and don’t know what to do—God will give me strength to overcome all these things. That is my motto that I keep in my mind.’

For more information, visit Vocations Melbourne.

All images by Casamento Photography.