Good Shepherd Sunday is also World Day of Prayer for Vocations, an opportunity to pray for vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life, both locally and globally. To mark the occasion, we hear from four seminarians at Melbourne’s Corpus Christi College. Though coming from different walks of life, all share a deep trust in God’s plan for their life.
Although he was born in the Philippines, Ian Vergel and his family moved to Melbourne when he was just a baby. They brought their Catholicism with them. ‘Catholicism is a big part of Filipino culture,’ he explains, ‘and it was also a part of our family.’ However, he admits he was initially more of a ‘cultural Catholic’. It was only when he began attending the Life Teen youth program at St Francis of Assisi in Mill Park that he moved deeper into the faith.
As he grew in his faith, Ian says he felt torn between marriage and priesthood. On pilgrimage to World Youth Day in Krakow, however, he met Fr Dishan Candappa, who has recently been appointed Vocations Director for the Archdiocese of Melbourne.
I was grateful to have met Fr Dishan … [He] gave me a more balanced approach to discerning my vocation. He suggested that I first work on my spiritual life and challenged me to work towards being a holy Christian first.
Fr Dishan encouraged Ian to develop a daily habit of prayer and become more involved in his parish. Through this process, he eventually took the plunge and entered seminary. By the end of his first year, he had grown more confident in his vocation. A silent retreat based around the exercises of St Ignatius of Loyola was especially helpful.
‘I reflected upon God’s grace and goodness in my life,’ he says. ‘Towards the end of the retreat, I began to consider how I could return the Lord’s goodness to me. I wanted to give my life back to God, and I thought this could be done through the priesthood.’
Ian encourages people to do the same thing he did and to develop a daily habit of prayer. ‘Whatever vocation you end up in, a habit of prayer will be beneficial to you … Some may see prayer as a waste of time, but by “wasting time with God” you give yourself the opportunity to hear his calling. That calling may take seconds, months and even years! Be patient with your time with God.’
‘My life is filled with a lot of losses of people I love and value so much,’ Tuong Nguyen says. Originally from Sai Gon, Vietnam, Tuong lost both his parents while in seminary, and this painful experience made him realise he ‘needed to be strong, persevering, and accepting of the reality I faced.’
Both of his parents were faithful Catholics, but at the age of just 9 years, Tuong left home to live with his grandfather, who had purchased a house to provide better educational opportunities for his grandchildren—an experience that Tuong says formed him in ‘good Christian values’. Tuong was only 12 years old when he first felt a calling to the priesthood. Discernment of this call led him around the world, first to the Philippines to study with the Society of St John the Baptist, then to Vancouver, Canada, where he studied at the Seminary of Christ the King in mission, and then finally to Melbourne in 2019.
Tuong says he trusts the providence of God. ‘As I look forward to my future as a priest, I am confident that God will continue to guide me and provide the necessary strength to fulfill my vocation. Through his grace, I hope to be a light to others, leading them closer to Christ and his Church.’
For those discerning their own vocation, Tuong says to have courage. ‘Do not be afraid to take risks, and do not let fear hold you back from pursuing what you believe to be your calling.
Keep your eyes fixed on him, and he will lead you to where you are meant to be.
Gregory Lewis grew up in a faithful Catholic family from Geelong. Stirrings of a call to the priesthood began in 2017 when he attended the Sydney Australian Catholic Youth Festival (ACYF), where he spoke with several Melbourne priests about it. ‘Over the next few years, I moved away from home and began working full time; it was during this time that I would continue to practise my faith and slowly grow closer and closer to God,’ he says.
One day while praying during Holy Hour, he finally made the decision. Having returned to Geelong after a period of time working, he made every effort to attend daily Mass and Eucharistic Adoration. During prayer, he read these words from Psalm 110:4: ‘You are a priest for ever, in the line of Melchizedek.’
‘Immediately after this, I felt completely at peace with the idea that God was calling me towards the priesthood,’ he says.
For those discerning their own vocation, Greg says not to be discouraged, since we are in the hands of God, no matter where that journey takes us. ‘A very wise priest once told me, “God does not change his mind and he does not make mistakes.”’
Xavier Ryan—the fourth of six children in a Catholic family, a student of science and a player of the cello and organ—spent two years as a police constable in Victoria. But by the time he was starting university, he says, he had all but lost his belief in God.
‘It wasn’t as if I wasn’t looking, but I could not seem to find answers that sufficed,’ he explains. What turned him around in the end was the witness of others; it was seeing not only priests but young Catholics live their faith with joy and conviction.
One turning point was when his sister became engaged to a young missionary for FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students) in the United States. ‘He showed me how a young man could seriously live the faith and introduced me to other young Catholics who lived their faith with conviction and with an intense desire to take the joy of the Gospel to the world,’ he says. This began a journey of immersing himself in silent retreats, Eucharistic Adoration, the Mass and the great prayer of the Church, the Divine Office.
For a long time, however, he was convinced he would be a husband and a father. ‘On reflection now, I realise that rather than seeking God’s will, I had only been considering what I wanted my life to look like. As my prayer life deepened, and with the help of my spiritual director, I became more open to allowing God to have a say in what I might do in my life.’
Eventually, Xavier applied to join the seminary, initially just to ‘get it out of his system’. It slowly turned into so much more.
The thing about God is that when you generously open yourself to his will, he then gives you all the grace necessary to follow. After stepping out in faith, God has strengthened a real and firm desire for the priesthood in my heart.
Xavier advises those discerning their own vocation not to discern fearfully but with great confidence in the God who loves us. ‘Be not afraid! Don’t be afraid to ask God to show you what he wants for your life, rather than what you want.’
Melbourne Catholic09 May 2022
Melbourne Catholic18 January 2023