'Search and you will find’ - Seeing Fr Julian Tenison Woods for the trees


As the Canonisation of Mary MacKillop draws near, Vocation Director for the Catholic Diocese of Parramatta, Fr Paul Roberts, reflects on Fr Julian Tenison Woods' role in the Josephite story.

Artist Reg Campbell's painting of Mary MacKillop and Fr Julian Tenison Woods
Artist Reg Campbell's painting of Mary MacKillop and Fr Julian Tenison Woods © Sisters of St Joseph, Perthville

Many will rightly talk about Mary MacKillop in the time between now and her Canonisation on 17 October. So I might share something about Julian Tenison Woods, the priest with whom she envisioned and began what became the Josephite mission.

Julian was a searcher for his life purpose. He lived in England and France until 23, his own health issues influencing two halted attempts at religious life. Then an invitation from the Bishop of Hobart started a southern hemisphere adventure that ended with a disappointed desire to return to England!

Visiting his brothers in Melbourne and Adelaide before the planned UK return, Julian earned his keep working with The Adelaide Times. The brothers advised Julian to settle and marry whilst local Bishop Francis Murphy, later to ordain him, saw Julian’s potential to complete priestly studies under Jesuit guidance in South Australia.

That’s the briefest description of his journey to priesthood, but might encourage others to take heart who feel that their own vocation discernment has been a bit unclear!

Three months after Julian’s 1857 Adelaide ordination, the Bishop asked him to go pioneering as the first pastor of the vast Penola parish. It was then, whilst providing pastoral care and sacraments in a region extending into Victoria, that Fr Julian first came to know the MacKillops. About that and beyond you can read lots elsewhere.

Real people are called

Fr Julian Tenison Woods
Fr Julian Tenison Woods.
Back when Julian had briefly joined the Marists in the south of France, his geological interests began. The Coonawarra and various environments in Australia where he lived and visited became sources of such interest.

Fr Julian was to write articles for scientific journals and lecture on geological and various topics and was even asked to explore tin deposits in Malaya!

None of his varied ministry or significant place in the Josephite story ceased as he pursued his great geological interest and scientific talent.

Much can be said about Julian Tenison Woods, but two relevant vocation themes that strike me are:

1. If the journey is not clear-cut, it doesn’t mean there’s no vocation. Maybe the right answer will be a bit ‘out of the square’ of current thoughts or places!

2. Julian’s life is testimony to the fact that those called to any vocation are real people; people with real interests and gifts apart from those most obviously related to the vocation. Julian’s vocation was priesthood. Using that as an example we can see that the priesthood is made all the richer by men with many interests and gifts.

Wildfire faith of generous service

There are many aspects of the Josephite story relevant for vocation reflection, but here’s just one more: Mary MacKillop and her first companions took vows in 1867. A year later there were 25 of them sharing the care for a refuge, orphanage and schools!

The rapid development of these works reflected that Mary had tapped deep needs that people hungered to have met. And in doing so, the hunger in many young women to serve and make a difference was tapped.

What are the deep needs of people today - and how can these needs be tapped in a way that will tap and reveal a generous hunger in young men and women to serve and make a difference? How can we as the Church, a Diocese of the Church, local communities or networks of the Church, truly bring the Gospel alive for the world of today?

The MacKillop story shows the wildfire faith of generous service unleashed when the Gospel is radically lived to meet the need.

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