By Matthew Lau
“Many are called, but few are chosen.” (Matthew 22:14)
The doors of St Charles’ Seminary in Guildford were opened to give Matthew Lau, of the Archdiocesan Communications Office, an in-depth experience into the day in a life of a seminarian.
“So, when are you joining the seminary?” is a joke often endearingly aimed at young bachelors.
But all jokes aside, those discerning will find that the seminary is the place where they will find out if priesthood is their true calling.
An air of calm tranquillity permeates throughout the grounds of St Charles on a sunny, but chilly, Friday.
The day begins with a dose of spiritual nourishment in the form of morning Mass in the chapel, celebrated by Rector Fr Phillip Fleay and Vice-Rector Fr Mark Payton.
This is followed by bodily nourishment at breakfast. The seminarians make a point of sharing meals together regardless of their schedule obligations.
Third-year seminarian Errol Lobo leads choir practice on the keyboard, preparing the group for the impending Archdiocesan Clergy Day Mass at Trinity College on 31 October.
“Seminary life is an opportunity to develop the habits and disciplines that are necessary for a fruitful priestly ministry,” the 25-year-old told The eRecord.
While they maintain a prayerful and reflective environment, there are plenty of laughs shared at appropriate moments by seminarians and rectors alike.
After choir practice and class on Fridays, lunch is followed by free time where the seminarians are expected to fulfil their obligation to study or complete assignments.
They then gather together again at 5pm for meditation during the exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. Their scheduled day ends with dinner, after which they are free to do their own activities.
Fr Phillip Fleay has been Rector since early 2017. He spent his first year as a seminarian at St Charles at the same time as now-Bishop Emeritus Justin Bianchini, before moving to Adelaide to join the Society of Apostolic Life with the Vincentians.
Together with Fr Payton, they oversee the seminarians’ formation in the areas of: spiritual, human, intellectual, and pastoral development.
On the first Sunday of each month, they are welcome to attend Mass at their “home” parish; the second Sunday is celebrated at St Charles, while Mass on the remaining Sundays of the month are done as group visits to different parishes.
“We’re trying to make the seminary a more open place and that we invite people out here, particularly on the second Sunday of the month to experience our life, but also to participate in the Mass that day, and be hospitable,” he explained.
There is no set amount of years before a seminarian is ordained, he said, and that they will remain at the seminary “until they are ready to be a priest”.
Fr Phillip echoed the sentiments of Archbishop Timothy Costelloe, when he said: “There is no such thing as a perfect candidate for ordination. There are varieties of priests in life”.
“It might be that seeing changes your understanding of what it might be like and just the fact that you don’t come out here and believe you’re going to become a priest – you come out here to speak with the Lord and to understand what the call means to you,” Fr Phillip added.
“So coming out as a candidate, anybody can come. It’s what we’ll see in the development over the years that matters most of all. The growth, the openness to change, the ability to relate to others, the sense of being part of God’s people, all of that becomes an important aspect in the whole discernment process.”
Seminarians attend classes at the University of Notre Dame Fremantle Campus three days a week, while lectures are also held in the seminary’s LJ Goody Lecture Room on the other two weekdays.
Nicholas Diedler, 24, now in his fifth year of formation, first felt the call from God when he was 16.
“I only made the decision when I was 19, and that was just to try it out. My time through seminary has slowly confirmed that and assured me that it’s more than just an interest; it’s my vocation,” Nicholas described.
Seminary life is not what he expected, and not what outsiders expect either.
“The moment you enter is as good as confirmed, in their eyes, that you’re practically a priest already,” Nicholas added.
“But we’re not certain until ordination; we’re constantly questioning – and that’s what makes it really so hard, is that we’re in this constant period of change.”
Vice-Rector Fr Mark Payton is back at the very place he underwent his own discernment process from 2002 to 2007.
“I never thought I’d be back as a rector, it was a bit of a surprise but it has been a good experience. I can still certainly relate to how they feel,” Fr Mark said.
He said the misconceptions that discerning men “must be super holy” and “must be certain of priesthood”, in order to be considered candidates to enter the seminary, are misleading.
“If people can overcome those ideas then it’s easy to enter the seminary, especially as the first two years go deeper into discernment.
“For those who enter the seminary but don’t discern all the way to priesthood, we’d like to think they leave here as better people.”
Fr Mark, who back then had been discerning for some time already, entered St Charles’ Seminary 16 years ago to be absolutely certain either way.
Nathan Barrie, 25, a second-year seminarian for the Diocese of Bunbury, offered the reflection at morning Mass on 24 August.
“It is no secret that we are a small community here at St Charles, and in need of more seminarians. Like Philip, in today’s Gospel, we too must stir the hearts of the people we come across and inspire them to consider a priestly vocation,” Nathan proclaimed.
“Some may say ‘St Charles? Can anything good come from that place?’ But we must reply, ‘come and see!’.
“And by the way we live our lives, in complete love and service of our Lord, they will follow.”