As missionary disciples of Jesus Christ, all are encouraged to pray for vocations to the priesthood and religious life. Priests have a particular role in supporting anyone who may be thinking about, or ‘discerning’, becoming a priest or religious. To support priests and parish communities in this important work, seven vocations promoters have been appointed across the Archdiocese, with another to be appointed soon. Fr Jerald Mariadas, Parish Priest at Ss Peter and Paul, Doncaster East and Our Lady of the Pines, Donvale, is one of two vocations promoters in the Eastern region. He is committed to ‘tuning his ear to young people, to listening to their stories and desires, and to journeying with them in whole-hearted support’.

Fr Jerald Mariadas’ own vocation story stems back to his childhood when he was an altar server at his local parish in his hometown in the south of India. He remembers feeling ‘the desire to become a priest’ but put that desire to the side during his high school years, focussing instead on engineering and mechanical studies, and making automobiles.

But the desire to be a priest stayed with him. ‘It was always at the back of my head,’ he said. His family played an important role in encouraging his desire to become a priest. His godfather regularly shared with the young Jerald stories of the saints – St Francis Xavier, St Ignatius of Loyola, Mother Teresa, Don Bosco – telling of their life and mission. His uncle was also a priest, Fr Carmel Irudayem, and was a ‘strong source of inspiration’ for his vocation, encouraging throughout his teenage years.

Not being able to ignore the desire in his heart any longer, Fr Jerald joined the minor seminary (for juniors) in his hometown after completing year 10, aged 15. There he completed his Year 12 and university studies, followed by a two-year break living in local villages for apostolate experience. He continued discerning his call to follow God in the priesthood.

‘During this time, I had a lot of opportunities to work with young priests and young people living in the villages and helping people in general,’ he said. ‘I spent a lot of time in prayer, reflection, adoration and animating small group prayers. It is there I discerned and decided my vocation,’ he said.

What is my purpose?

Following six years of formation in the minor seminary in Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu, he studied philosophy and theology over seven years at St Peter’s Pontifical Seminary in Bangalore, also in the south of India. He concluded his formation and undertook one year in diaconate ministry before being ordained a priest in 2009, aged 28. It wasn’t an easy road to priesthood, and the ‘discerning process took a long time’, he said.

‘I had the desire from a young age, but it took me more than eight years to discern it and to discover my call,’ he said, ‘Asking where is God calling me? Where am I going to work? What is my purpose?

‘In my 14-year priestly vocation journey, there were a lot of challenges. My family had some struggles – on the first day of joining the seminary I lost my brother in an accident. I had a lot of opportunities or chances to leave my calling, but I chose to remain. Those obstacles challenged and strengthened my vocation. I always remember St Paul’s words, “When I am weak, I am strong”. Whenever I felt weak, God strengthened me.’

He also remembers daily the words his spiritual director told him: ‘If God assists you to become a priest, no one can resist you from becoming a priest. If God resists you in becoming a priest, then no one can assist you in becoming a priest.’

Fr Jerald spent two years in India before his bishop offered an opportunity to serve overseas in the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne. He arrived in 2011, assisting at St Patrick’s Cathedral and at St Augustine’s in the central business district for a year. He described that first year as ‘a honeymoon’ being able to easily explore his new Australian home. He then served as Assistant Priest at St Macartan’s in Mornington for 19 months, was appointed Priest Pastoral Coordinator at Our Lady of the Pines, Donvale in 2014 and Administrator at Ss Peter and Paul’s Parish in Doncaster East in 2015. In 2016, he was officially appointed Parish Priest of both parishes in Donvale and Doncaster East where he currently serves.

‘People here are so loving, caring and friendly,’ he said. ‘They made me feel at home from the start. That’s why I decided to stay in Melbourne for a longer period.’ Fr Jerald felt so at home that he was officially incardinated to the Archdiocese in 2016, making him an official priest of the archdiocese. ‘I’m now a Melbourne priest,’ he said, ‘This is my eleventh year in Melbourne, which I now consider home.’

When Fr Jerald first became a priest, he wanted to be a formator, forming seminarians for the priesthood, but ‘God had a different plan’. ‘Now I am here in Melbourne, and I love to listen to people, and to hear their stories,’ he said. ‘One or two days a week, I take people for coffee or a walk and just listen to their stories.’

He also enjoys preparing young people for the sacraments and visiting their families in the lead up to the celebrations. In spending time with the families, ‘getting to know the family and listening to their stories’, it helps him to connect with them, he said. ‘It’s all about relationships.’

Fr Jerald remembers the first baptism he did in Australia. That same person came for First Reconciliation, then First Communion and Confirmation. Having performed all four sacraments, the parents joked with Fr Jerald that they’d come back to him for the child’s wedding.

20220224 Jerald Mariadas F Basile 010

Tuning his ears to listen

Having been appointed one of two vocations promoters for the eastern region – Fr Trac Nguyen who serves the parishes of Camberwell, Balwyn, Deepdene, and Surrey Hills Wattle Park, is his ‘teammate’ – Fr Jerald is looking forward to engaging particularly with the young people in his area.

‘I was worried that language would be a barrier but decided to put my trust in God and do the best I can,’ he said. ‘I want to talk to young people in their language and try to speak in a way that they understand. Sometimes young people might find it hard to relate to priests, so I want to break down those barriers, and simplify the mystery around vocations.

‘Young people have a lot of talents and gifts. They have a strong sense of social justice, and they love nature and humanity. They do acknowledge all these gifts are from God and some of them want to contribute so I hope I can help these young people to find an appropriate place, or fertile land where they can invest all their talents.’

Together with Fr Trac Nguyen, Fr Jerald is praying and asking for God’s help, and is encouraging parishioners and parish groups to pray for vocations. He wants to create a culture of vocations in the community and within families. He plans to visit primary and secondary schools, parish youth groups and dedicate some Sunday Masses in the parish to vocations. He encourages others to do the same.

At the heart of his work, though, is ‘tuning’ his ears to listening to the stories of those he encounters and giving ‘whole-hearted’ support. For anyone discerning the priesthood or religious life, he hopes to journey with them, and accompany them on their spiritual journey.

‘Someone discerning may have a lot of questions, so I hope I can help them to find answers, and if I can’t, then hopefully I can find someone who can support such candidates. It’s about being in a relationship – friendship – and helping them to grow and connect with God and helping them to try to understand what God is asking of them for their future.’

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.