Frs Baumgarten and Irdi following a Mass at St Peter’s Basilica
Perth priests, Father Christian Irdi and Father Mark Baumgarten, have this week reflected on the highs and lows of their journey to the priesthood on the second anniversary of their ordination.
After years studying together in Rome, the two priests were ordained by Archbishop of Perth Timothy Costelloe SDB at St Mary’s Cathedral on 2 August 2014.
Fr Irdi has become an Assistant Priest at Willetton parish, while Fr Baumgarten is an Assistant Priest at Whitford parish and the Archdiocese’s Assistant Director of Vocations.
Looking back on his process of discernment in a recent video interview for the Vocations Office, Fr Irdi said the seeds of his vocation were planted in childhood, when he went to Mass every Sunday with his family and was part of a children’s Rosary group.
However, despite his strong Catholic background, he said he never seriously considered becoming a priest as a boy.
“The priesthood was the furthest thing from my mind during primary school and high school and even into university,” he said.
“I wasn’t thinking about it at all. All I wanted to do with my life as I was growing up was to be a pilot and to be an airforce pilot.”
Fr Irdi got his pilot’s licence at the age of 15, but proceeded to follow another career path – that of a lawyer.
He studied Law at the University of Western Australia and also entered into a serious romantic relationship but, when the relationship broke down, he began to reconsider God’s plan for him.
“I started asking God again, Lord, what do you want me to do with my life?” he said.
“And I turned anew to that prayer of the Rosary, which had been implanted in me since I was a boy, and in and through that prayer I saw the clarity of the faith and, also, I received a lot of strength and consolation.”
Fr Irdi decided to go to Kolkata for a month to work with Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity and it was there, at the bedside of a dying man, that he saw his priestly vocation “with great clarity”.
Nevertheless, he was fearful of what a call to the priesthood might mean, and returned home with mixed feelings.
Fr Irdi said it was only during a trip to World Youth Day in Cologne in 2005, when he met the Archdiocese of Perth Director of Vocations by chance, that he finally accepted God’s plan for him.
“Ever since entering seminary, I never looked back. I went through the program and I was ordained a priest in 2014 and I’ve loved every minute of it,” he said.
Fr Baumgarten also reflected on his path to the priesthood, in particular the rare formative opportunity he was given to complete his theological studies in Rome.
He and Fr Irdi attended the Pontifical North American College (NAC), a mere five-minute walk from St Peter’s Basilica, and Fr Baumgarten said the experience was both a blessing and a challenge.
“Living and studying amidst the charm and chaos of the Italian capital certainly took some getting used to although, in time, I came to develop a real affection for Rome’s unique brand of laid-back mayhem,” he said.
“I was particularly drawn to the very human contrasts on constant display: the broken earthiness mixed with a passionate longing for the divine: brazen sinfulness and humble sanctity.”
Fr Baumgarten explained that Rome also doubled as the “United Nations” of the Catholic world, which allowed him to befriend people from all over the world and share stories of the faith from their respective homelands.
“Being based at the NAC those five years also meant that our home away from home was as much a little slice of America as it was Bella Italia,” he said.
“Our generous American hosts found most things Australian to be rather amusing and exotic, and I would often joke that the Aussie charism at the NAC was to keep the Americans’ feet on the ground.”
While the perks of studying in Rome included opportunities to travel and the chance to be part of historic events such as canonisations and the 2013 papal conclave, Fr Baumgarten said he still missed his family and friends back home.
He added that the greatest blessing of his time in the Italian capital was “the privilege of receiving such quality formation alongside such fine men”.
Now back in the Archdiocese of Perth, Fr Baumgarten said that, while he was enjoying parish ministry, the added opportunity to work in vocations promotion came as an unexpected surprise.
“It’s such a privilege to walk alongside so many fine young people who love the Church and who are striving to discern the Lord’s will for their life,” he said.
“It reminds me of where I was not that long ago, and their enthusiasm and desire to please God is a constant boost to my own priesthood.”