Bishop Anthony’s Address: Holy Spirit Seminary Harris Park Blessing
Address of Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP - Blessing of a New Seminary building, Holy Spirit Seminary, Harris Park, Solemnity of the Holy Trinity, Sunday 26 May 2013
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There is a delicious irony in young men discerning their vocations, along with leading lay people, seminarians, clergy and bishop gathering here today to bless a new seminary building. The first owner of this land, after God and its Aboriginal custodians, the builder of Kenilworth, was Mr Jack McCreedie. A wealthy merchant and amateur astronomer, he went to great lengths to keep the good Lord out of here, even declaring in his will that no portion of it could ever be associated with the Church of Rome and its popish pomps. Yet here we are.
When McCreedie’s land went up for auction in 1926, a group of Catholics, led by the parish priest of Granville, Rev Dr PJ Sheehy, successfully raised the funds to buy it. Fr Sheehy then invited the Sisters of Mercy to inhabit the precinct, so they might have an outpost from their Parramatta convent, and could establish a school and novitiate. A hall was soon erected that became Blessed Oliver Plunkett church and school. The first Mass was celebrated on Christmas Day 1929, just as the Great Depression was setting in, but the nuns and Catholic community were undeterred.
During the renovations a carpenter discovered a bottle in a closed fireplace. In it were parchment-wrapped statuettes of the Sacred Heart and the Immaculate Mother, apparently dropped down the chimney some years before by Catholics aspiring to have a place of their own. By the time Plunkett was canonised in 1976 the site had become Mary’s Mount in popular parlance, St Oliver’s was a parish in its own right, and there’d been many improvements. The anti-Catholic McCreedie had comprehensively failed to impose his will from the grave and a rather different Will was clearly operative. The popery of the priest, nuns and laity had by now seeped deeply into the land and stones.
Though the building passed out of Church hands for a time and became the Conservatorium High School, we eventually bought it back in 2011 and have now modified it as the common spaces for our seminary, including the chapel, reception and parlour, library, study and classrooms, refectory and kitchens, offices for the Rector and Vice-Rector, recreation room and amenities. For this work I acknowledge Mr Michael Digges, our excellent Diocesan Business Manager, who has led the present development, Mr John O’Brien the architect and SydneySyders the builders.
A genuinely fraternal community
Today I want to pay particular tribute to Fr Arthur Bridge, the Parish Priest of Harris Park, and the parish, who have been so cooperative with this venture and who recognise that enabling the training of future priests is an investment in the future of their parish and the whole Diocese of Parramatta. Likewise, I want to thank the Rector of Holy Spirit Seminary, Fr John Hogan, and the seminarians for being so patient and understanding through the overcrowding of the site at St Marys while a new site has been identified, purchased and improved; I expect a similar generous patience as they enjoy this new facility while living in temporary accommodation. I also want to acknowledge Kieran Lahey, the Diocesan Property Manager, who has managed Stage One of our project.
In due course, and by the grace of benefactors, Stage Two will see us build enough rooms for our present seminarians and for some more. Some more, I say, because this seminary is a symbol of our confidence that the recent increase in vocations to the priesthood in the Diocese of Parramatta will continue. For this I recognise the contribution of Fr Warren Edwards, our Director of Priestly Vocations, and all our clergy for they are all vocations promoters. The renovation and erection of these new premises seconds the decision of Bishop Kevin Manning who, with the support of our priests, had the courage to establish the temporary seminary in a suburban house(s) in St Marys. As it now moves from one Mary’s Mount to another, we pray that Mary the Mother of Priests will intercede and protect this new project which is a powerful expression of the love of Christ and His Church for the people of Western Sydney.
I, for one, am very proud of our seminarians, their Rector and formators. I think they have built a genuinely fraternal community that is serious about and effective in spiritual, human, intellectual and pastoral formation. This is also a real community of prayer. It is a healthy place for young men to grow up in faith and virtue while discerning their vocation. There is a strong sense of priestly identity here and I think it is bearing real fruit.
St Paul once asked, “How are people to call upon Christ if they don’t believe in Him? And how are they to believe in Him if they’ve never heard of Him? And how are they to hear of Him without a preacher?” (Rom 10:14) In the Gospel passage we just heard (Mt 9:35-37) Christ the Preacher was out on mission, touring the towns, preaching in the synagogues, proclaiming the Good News. This new seminary must be a powerhouse of Gospel preaching, and so of the spiritual and intellectual formation that makes that possible, where the Word of God and the teachings of the Church are presented and studied, prayed and contemplated. From here will emerge a large part of the preaching of the next generation within this Diocese. But words will not be enough. Here you must lay foundations for a life of continued growing in holiness, so that people may see that you believe what you read in the Gospels, that you teach what you believe and that you practice what you teach. The harvest is plentiful, the Lord says today; there are souls like fruit ripe for picking.
Souls like fruit ripe for picking; but also harassed and dejected, like sheep without a shepherd. The Church and the rest of humanity need men who are not only intellectually and spiritually well-formed, but also humanly and pastorally. Men of passion and practicality who will take on the real challenges, as Fr Sheehy and his parishioners did, as the nuns who came next did. Priests who will not stay at home waiting for the world to come to them, but will get out there among God’s people like Christ in our Gospel passage, bringing Christ to the world and the world to Christ, spending themselves completely in service.
As Pope Francis said in his Chrism Mass homily this year, priests need to live “with the smell of the sheep” and the fish, as “shepherds in the midst of their flock, fishers of men.” While I favour high standards of hygiene amongst my seminarians and clergy, I accept the Holy Father’s thought that we must be willing to risk getting our spiritual and emotional hands dirty, risk sweating from the sheer hard slog of the pastoral life, risk confronting the things that stink about our world, risk getting up ‘close and personal’ with those in pastoral need. If our desire for monastic tranquillity or our willingness for celibacy is really driven by fear of people, then priesthood is not for us. Celibacy is, of course, about self-gift; it is the ink with which some people write of their undivided love for God and His people. And priesthood is that most exciting of self-gifts, conforming oneself to Christ the Priest who ‘celebrated the greatest and only Mass’ from the Cross amidst the blood and gore, the spittle and mud.
Our seminary is dedicated to the Holy Spirit. There used to be an Octave celebrated after Whitsun: like Easter and Christmas, Pentecost was thought so important it needed a week of days. Well, instead of an Octave we offer the Holy Spirit a seminary full of His devotees. Paul reminds us in our first reading today (I Cor 1:26-2:5) that we rely in the end not on the wisdom of this world or the fashions of the age, not even on the best of human thinking, but on the power of the Holy Spirit.
St Thomas Aquinas, my beloved Dominican brother, perhaps the greatest theologian in history and the patron saint of sacred science, declared at the end of his life that all he had written was just so much straw compared to the glory he had glimpsed in a vision of God. As my special gift to our seminarians today, in addition to this new house, I entrust to their care a relic of St Thomas Aquinas. I pray that he will guide you in your studies and teach you the humility to rely, as he did, on the Holy Spirit. Within these walls, as you come to a deeper knowledge of God and yourselves, you must ask for that Wisdom that comes from above. With the grace of the Holy Spirit you will get over the sense of your own unworthiness for this great calling, not because you come to think yourselves worthy, God forbid, but because you will come to know Christ’s love for His priests and the power of His Spirit operative around you and within you.Can a dozen seminarians change the world, or at least the Parramatta end of the world? Well, a dozen confused, ordinary blokes cowering in the upper room at the first Pentecost were made by the Holy Spirit into apostles to the nations, foundations for an irrepressible Church. We need such apostles for Western Sydney and we need a place where the Holy Spirit may prepare and propel, inspire and enlighten, soften and harden, inflame and soothe them. Together with our existing priests, we will do great things together for Christ in the Spirit! May the Most Holy Trinity who has begun this good work bring it to completion!
For more photos from the Harris Park site blessing, visit the Diocesan site
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