Fr Zvonimir Gavranovic: 40 years a priest
|Fr Zvonimir Gavranovic’s new book, In Search of Cardinal Stepinac, was launched in Sydney by Bishop Julian Porteous on 2 May 2012. |
By Virginia Knight, Catholic Outlook, September 20122
For Fr Zvonimir Gavranovic every day is an adventure. The Parish Priest of Holy Family Parish, Luddenham-Warragamba, exudes a tangibly joyful approach to life and the need to live it to the fullest.
About to celebrate his 40th anniversary of ordination to priesthood, Fr Zvonimir has recently been busy with the launch of his new book, In Search of Cardinal Stepinac, the lauded result of 25 years of work.
“A comprehensive life needed to be written about the difficult situations in which he lived, not only for him, but the Croatian people in general and that was the motivation,” Fr Zvonimir said.
Blessed Aloysius Stepinac was a churchman and courageous leader who through acts of intervention, kindness and charity fought for all the oppressed and persecuted (not just Catholics) in the harsh regime of the Cold War years under communism just before and after the end of the Second World War.
“Bishop Bede Heather gave me encouragement and I was grateful to Bishop Kevin Manning for six months’ long service leave when I went to Germany and Croatia and lived in Krasic, the village where Blessed Aloysius grew up and worked. I met those who knew him, relatives and friends, and got a lot of information. He was a heroic, saintly figure.”
Understanding what prompted Fr Zvominir to put pen to paper on this epic work lies in a realisation that even more than 50 years later, he still retains very strong ties with his European homeland and his Croatian heritage, despite having lived most of his life in Australia.
“I come from a Croatian family and have been brought up in that spirit,” he said. “My family were Croatian refugees. Germany was all bombed out and I can remember living in halls and people used to put blankets up to separate living quarters for privacy for families.
“We came to Australia but we never intended to stay longer than five years before returning to Germany.”
Fr Zvonimir entered St Columba’s Seminary at Springwood after graduating from school at age 19, something he said he would not recommend to young men today.
“I feel it is good for someone to experience life and work before they contemplate priesthood. When I think of vocation it is not just the priesthood or religious life, a baptised person must find their path in life.”
He encourages people to attend the monthly Vocation Reflection Afternoons at Our Lady of the Angels Parish, Rouse Hill, and to find a good mentor, a priest or religious they can talk to and observe their way of life.
“I found the first year as a priest was the hardest. Appearing in front of all those people celebrating Mass didn’t come naturally. I had to overcome the shyness and crippling nerves.
“My first homilies were not very conscientious, but became better in my second year. A parishioner said to me, ‘Father, your sermons are much better this year. Last year you were quite hopeless!’
“I thought, take each day at a time. If I can survive two weeks, I can stick it out for a month. Then two, then six and eventually I had been there a year. I thought if I can do it for a year, I can live it forever. Sometimes being a priest is just being there.”
Fr Zvonimir said there are three very important aspects to sustaining his priestly ministry. The first is prayer, “You cannot survive without it,” he said.
The second is maintaining a healthy, fully rounded lifestyle that combines diet, exercise, holidays, retreats and setting aside time to pursue outside interests. “My writing is a hobby. When I am writing I forget everything else and live in that world.”
But he feels the most crucial is sustaining friendships. "I wouldn’t have survived in the priesthood without real friends. Not just priests or religious but people I have come to know through parish work.”
Fr Zvonimir deems it a great privilege in his role as priest to be able to enter into the most important moments of people’s lives and their hearts.
He said he has been very fortunate in his parish and school support teams and staff in both terms as parish priest, first at St Joseph’s Parish, Kingswood, and now at Holy Family. “They have been a great support and without them I would have made a mess of the parish,” he joked.
In his time at Luddenham, Fr Zvonimir has established strong ties with surrounding Christian churches. He promotes Christian unity, and seeks to develop goodwill and friendship among all the churches in the local area, working together to strengthen the faith in the Lower Blue Mountains, Nepean and Hawkesbury districts. Regular ecumenical celebrations are held on Anzac Day and at Easter and Christmas.
On 26 August 2012, Bishop Anthony Fisher OP was the principal celebrant for a Mass of Thanksgiving for Fr Zvonimir’s 40th anniversary of ordination to priesthood. An ecumenical service with the ministers of all the churches in the region will take place on 13 September 2012, the feast of St Augustine. Copies of In Search of Cardinal Stepinac can be purchased for $40.00 + $10.00 P&H through Holy Family Parish Office tel (02) 4773 4321, firstname.lastname@example.org
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