Good Shepherd Sunday, also known as World Day of Prayer for Vocations, is traditionally celebrated on the fourth Sunday of Easter. To mark the occasion, seminarians from Corpus Christi College, the regional seminary for Victoria, Tasmania and South Australia, visited parishes across the Archdiocese last weekend to share how they responded to God's call to the priesthood. They also offered some helpful advice for those discerning the call to priestly or religious life.
‘My vocation is what others call late vocation,’ shared fourth-year seminarian Jamie Castillo, who entered the seminary at the age of 30. He was born and raised in the Philippines where he said it is ‘very typical to be involved in a parish as an altar server’ and receive encouragement from your parish priest to consider the priesthood. ‘I was not exempted from that,’ he reflected.
But Jamie's life took a different direction, and he worked as a chemical engineer for the Philippine government for two years before deciding to pursue his postgraduate studies in Australia. ‘It was not an easy ride for me when I first arrived in Perth [in 2014],’ Jamie said. ‘While looking for a university and a scholarship, I had to work at Subway and Nando’s as a kitchen hand to support myself financially. Thank God for a Filipino family who welcomed me into their home and treated me as one of their family members.’
Four months arriving in Perth, he was offered a scholarship by Monash University in Melbourne. ‘I got involved in a student organisation called Monash Catholics on Campus which led me to seriously discern the priestly vocation,’ Jamie shared. ‘After a year of discernment under the guidance of an Aussie priest, I decided to join the seminary.’
What a waste, some may say. Even my mum, at one point after entering the seminary, told me that she cried upon seeing my diplomas back in the Philippines. Though she was very supportive of my decision, I know for sure mum had this thought – which I must admit that I had too – “Such a waste”.’
But Jamie’s life experiences and exposure to social issues in the Philippines kept him motivated to pursue a vocation to the priesthood. ‘I’ve encountered so many people both here in Australia and the Philippines who were struggling both in their personal and spiritual lives,’ he said.
I saw priesthood as my way of expressing God’s love and care for the people ... I wanted to be God’s instrument to show love and compassion to them,’ he said. ‘I wanted to reach as many people as I could, and I saw how priests can be welcomed into the lives of families and individuals.’
Looking at the bigger picture, Jamie believes that God has used his experiences and life encounters for a greater purpose, ‘even my sufferings and pains’. ‘My whole 30 years prior to seminary has prepared me to be more understanding and pastoral to the needs of the people. I know I need to learn more and grow in maturity but somehow, I can see how God has used everything I went through in life. Nothing is wasted if we trust and let God guide us.’
Tue Pham said that it was the example of his parish priest back home in Vietnam that first attracted him to religious life. ‘He was a humble, simple and faithful priest,’ Tue recounted. ‘He regularly invited me to participate in a group of eight altar servers when I was very young. I was committed to serve God at the altar in the daily Masses where I felt God was calling me through the Gospel.’
‘One day, after the evening prayer at church, I came home and surprised my parents by saying, “I believe I am called to become a priest.” At first they were a bit surprised and then they told me, “If you want to become a priest, we will support you and pray for you. Go ahead!”’ Two months into his university degree, Tue decided to enter the minor seminary. After his graduation, his rector suggested that he study in Australia. Tue arrived in Australia in 2016 and continued his seminary studies at Corpus Christi College, where he is now in his fifth year.
Speaking at Hoppers Crossing Parish over the weekend, Tue said that his parents played a key role in the growth of his Christian faith. ‘They prayed for me every day at Mass, and instructed me to deepen my relationship with God,' he shared.
Family is indeed the seedbed of vocations. It is in the family that children are encouraged, get their inspiration, and are guided in discernment.’
‘Do not be afraid. When God calls, He calls for a reason,’ he said to those considering their vocation. ‘When He calls, He also equips us with courage and strength. When He calls, it is for us to be happy and to find our inner peace.’
The first time that fourth-year seminarian John Vespa remembers encountering Christ was during his first Holy Communion. ‘But I did not truly know or realise what that encounter was until I was around 18 years old, at which point I started discerning the priesthood,’ he shared with parishioners in East Kew.
‘After many years, I finally applied and began seminary life in 2019 when I was 35 years old. The years between my initial discernment and entering the seminary were enriching years because I was able to grow not only in faith but also gain life experience which I draw on daily in seminary life.’
His advice for those discerning the vocation to the priesthood? ‘The first and most important thing I would say is trust. Trust in the call, take that to prayer and listen – listen to the voice of the Shepherd. It is only through that discernment and prayer you will be able to hear the voice of God and live your vocation to the full.’
Jordan McBroom entered the seminary at 26-years-old after completing his degree and working in the corporate sector. ‘I’ve been fortunate throughout my life to have always felt a type of surface happiness, but like anyone I've struggled at times,’ said the second-year seminarian. ‘Upon reflection, I was going through the motions of life, ignoring that only through my vocation was I going to be truly happy and fulfilled.’
Speaking with parishioners at Craigieburn Parish, Jordan said his journey began at a young age. ‘As a boy, I thought that boys grow into men, and men become husbands and dads. But it was only when I knelt down and prayed, asking God: “What is my vocation?” He shared that a seemingly simple question of “What do you want me to be in my life?” revealed a deeper longing. ‘I received a clear response in the form of an inclination towards being like the man I regularly see standing behind the altar at Mass on a Sunday: a priest.’
Three months into his studies, Jordan said he experienced a deep sense of joy and peace.
During meditation in the chapel … it hit me. I felt that morning for the first time a deep happiness and an extraordinary sense of fulfilment and peace. It was like I had found who I am. I found the person God created me to be and the joy of that morning has fulfilled me every morning since.’
When asked what advice he would give to those discerning their vocation Jordan said: ‘Be open to the possibility, and ask God what his will is for your life. When you do He will answer you… and when you follow him, as hard and as scary as it can be, you will feel the joy I do. Joy deep within your soul.’
Melbourne Catholic07 June 2023
Melbourne Catholic10 August 2022