Year for Priests (19 June 09 to 19 June 10): Fr Warren Edwards
By Virginia Knight
|Parish priest of Our Lady of the Angels Fr Warren Edwards with parish secretary Eileen Reyes. Photo: Virginia Knight|
Catholic Outlook, June 2010
For Rev Warren Edwards one of the best things about priesthood has been the opportunity to get to know and work with the people in the parishes to which he has been appointed.
But the most extraordinary experience to date has been establishing the parish of Our Lady of the Angels at Rouse Hill. As the first parish priest, he said it had been a blessing to work with the parish community to get the project underway.
“To be able to be a part of forming the parish with them and making it as they would like it to be is an enormous privilege and is destined to be one of the biggest, but most rewarding challenges of my priesthood,” he said.
Fr Warren grew up in Kingswood, the third of four children (two brothers and one sister). His parents, Les and Margaret Edwards, have lived in the same home and parish since their marriage.
Fr Warren went to school at St Joseph’s Primary, Kingswood and St Dominic’s College, Penrith.
He trained to become a high school teacher of Mathematics, Science and Religion at the Castle Hill campus of the Australian Catholic University (at that time the Catholic Teachers College). His first posting was to St Columba’s High at Springwood.
During his time at university in his early 20s Fr Warren said he drifted away from the Church, something which he attributes more to laziness than as an objection to Catholicism.
“I was a part-time Catholic for many years. I went to Mass occasionally with friends, but I was basically just too lazy to get moving. It was not a problem with the Church or Catholicism, it just wasn’t a priority.”
When he was about 24 he attended a talk that would be the catalyst that brought him back to the Church. “They pointed out things that were important in the practice of the faith that I had been told were no longer important,” Fr Warren said. He found himself thinking that those teaching him had really got things wrong. He began praying, going to Confession and attending Mass every Sunday.
Rejuvenated in his faith, he found teaching Religion was more enjoyable. As his own faith grew he seemed to convey this in some way to his students. The connection to God and the Church grew subtly in his heart and he found that wanted to do something different, more in the service of God, like missionary work. He made up his mind to pursue this but just missed the intake for the beginning of the year. It would not be till later that year before he could go.
To fill that year he got a job at St Agnes High, Rooty Hill. It was during that year, in the Easter of 1992, that Fr Warren finally identified the inner change in himself. Once again, while attending a faith group discussion he found himself reflecting out loud, “I think I am going to be a priest.”
Suddenly, the prospect became exciting. He had ticked all the boxes in his mind when considering what he would give up and accepted all the aspects he would embrace in the new life he was contemplating.
“It was everything I wanted to do. Everything fit perfectly, even though I had never actually thought about it before. I have never had any doubts. Once I made the choice I always felt that what I was doing was right.”
Fr Warren was drawn to the Capuchin order, feeling companionship with the teachings of St Francis and the order’s rather radical way of living; of leaving so many things of the world behind, by treasuring heaven and becoming a witness for God.
He studied philosophy for two-and-a-half years in the US with the Friars of Renewal in New York. He worked among the poor of the Bronx on street patrol, befriending the homeless, and participating in a ‘Youth off the Streets’ program, working with troubled youth at a gym in the afternoon, and teaching at summer school.
During his last six months in the US, Fr Warren was Director of the Shelter for Homeless Men before returning to Australia to complete his studies in theology in the seminary at Homebush.
He was ordained in St Patrick’s Church at Blacktown by Bishop Kevin Manning on 2 August 2002 – the Feast of Our Lady of the Angels. His first appointment was to St Patrick’s Cathedral Parish in Parramatta.
He recalls his ordination as a great day. The support of his family, friends and parishioners, and the uplifting music augmented by the choir combined to make it the most amazing Mass he has ever experienced.
'The gift of priesthood is a blessing'
But more incredible was the realisation that at last he was a priest and able to minister in the way he had been longing to do. “I was ordained on the weekend, and on the Monday I was in the Cathedral celebrating Mass and hearing confession from those who had in many ways become my friends. And it was not awkward or difficult. In an incredible, blessed moment in time I had become a priest.”
It is the simple act of living out his priestly ministry that Fr Warren pinpoints as the highlight of his vocation. “To be able to do all the things to help people – celebrating the sacraments, hearing confession, celebrating Mass – to have been given the gift of priesthood is a blessing.”
He reflects that people often liken the work of a priest to that of a social worker or counsellor. But for Fr Warren, being a priest is far, far different. “What you are as a priest is significantly different. When people come to me, I don’t consider it to be counselling. They are coming to talk to their priest about the issues in their life that they need help with.”
Fr Warren said the most challenging part of priesthood was often being the voice of an unwanted message in the wider world. Christians have always been faced with spreading a message that a large part of the world’s population might not want to hear.
“It is not about making the message more relevant, but to be that necessary voice, even though it is unwelcome at times, and to bear that unwelcomeness,” he said.
Fr Warren would advise men who are contemplating priesthood to listen when they are being called. People often ask: “Is this what I am meant to do?” He feels it is more a question of: “Is this what I want to do?’ And if the answer is yes, then God is probably working in this calling.
“Don’t let fear ever stand in your way and stop you from doing something you want or feel you are called to do,” he said.
For Fr Warren it is the simple text of Psalm 73 (featured on the prayer card for his ordination) that encapsulates his priestly ministry: ‘Who have I in heaven but you and apart from you I desire nothing on earth.’
“People have doubts about obstacles in their path, and ask is this God’s will? I have always felt that it is.” Fr Warren’s total consecration to God is what his life is about.
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