Fr Valerian Jenko OFM OAM – 60 years a priest
|Fr Valerian Jenko OFM OAM is still very active in the Slovenian community. Photo: Virginia Knight.|
By Virginia Knight, Catholic Outlook, May 2012
This month, Fr Valerian Jenko OFM OAM celebrates the 60th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood. On 20 May, a Mass of Thanksgiving will be celebrated at St Raphael’s Church at the Slovenian Mission in Merrylands.
The Mass will be concelebrated by the Provincial and priests of the Franciscan order’s Australian province and members of the presbyterate of the Catholic Diocese of Parramatta.
In July, Fr Valerian will visit his family in Slovenia where celebrations will include Masses, banquets and recitals. “I still have three sisters and one brother there,” Fr Valerian said. He will also spend two months in the parish of St Francis of Assisi.
In 1943, at the age of 17 the young Valerian entered the Franciscan Novitiate in Novo Mesto, Slovenia. In 1945 the school was dismissed and together with many of his fellow seminarians he elected to go to Austria to continue his studies.
“We were told there would not be any school as the communist regime was taking over on 6 May. We were given a choice to stay and give up the priesthood or to take responsibility for ourselves and move elsewhere.”
He completed his studies at St Mary’s College of Theology in the US and was ordained in Chicago on 18 May 1952. In America, he served in parish ministry and as the Assistant Editor of the Slovenian newspaper Ave Maria before he was asked to come to Australia to assist with the Slovenian community.
Fr Valerian arrived in 1963 and was based at St Francis of Assisi Parish in Paddington, which had become a religious centre for many people of Slovenian origin.
He celebrated Mass at the parish and at various locations around the city including the crypt at St Patrick’s Church in Church Hill where various European priests celebrated Mass for immigrants in their own language.
“The Hungarian priest said Mass before me,” Fr Valerian recalls. “We celebrated Mass in the crypt as the main church was in use every day from 7am till midnight. It was like an oasis in the city.”
He was also assigned the task of visiting the Slovenian people who were living in refugee camps at Matraville, Bonnyrigg and Villawood.
“I was visiting the people in these camps, and we had Masses for Slovenian people in Australian churches, but I was moved by the confusion of those who came to Mass,” Fr Valerian said.
“They would ask me, ‘Where is the Mass today? Last week I came to Leichhardt and you weren’t there.’ I would say it was the wrong Sunday, ‘I was at St Patrick’s’.”
“I thought it would be good if we set up a special place for our people to participate in Mass in their own language at regular and more convenient times. I set out to find a site in Western Sydney.”
The most suitable site was a disused Presbyterian church in Merrylands in a central location. The new church was built around the existing church, which was later dismantled. Other buildings were added later. The establishment of St Raphael’s Slovenian Mission saw Fr Valerian’s vision fulfilled.
More than 48 years after his arrival, Fr Valerian is still very active in the Slovenian community, assisting the current Rector, Fr Darko Znidarsic OFM.
“I still say Mass every day and assist Fr Darko. I don’t push myself forward, but if he needs something to be done, he asks me if I can do it. I still visit the sick in the neighbouring hospitals.”
At 86, there is no slowing down Fr Valerian who still travels to celebrate Mass in Wollongong and Canberra as part of the Slovenian chaplaincy.
“I have been very happy to have been able to say Mass and preach to the people. If you choose this vocation you choose to serve God and find your full attainment of happiness.” Fr Valerian’s 60th anniversary Mass will be celebrated on Sunday 20 May at 9.30am in St Raphael’s Church, 311-313 Merrylands Rd, Merrylands. Mass will be followed by a banquet in the hall next door to which all parishioners and friends are invited. Details: (02) 9637 7147.
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