01 Oct 2017
Building on his teenage commitment to God
Deacon Andrew Kirkbride
At age 18, surrounded by hundreds of other like-minded Catholics, Andrew Kirkbride had a watershed moment… he knew he wanted to use his talents to serve God but just didn’t know how that would unfold.
Three decades later, he sits comfortably in the roles God has chosen for him – as a deacon in St Ann’s parish, chaplain at Mercedes College, devoted husband to Libby and father to Charlotte, Julian and Oliver, while also running an architectural firm.
Juggling so many balls in the air at one time would bring some to despair, but Andrew exudes a sense of calm that perhaps comes from his long journey to find where he would serve best.
His “moment of clarity” came in his late teens when he attended a charismatic conference with the Antioch group from Glenelg Catholic parish. It was a fluke he was even there, as he was not planning to go until his then-girlfriend Libby said she was going along with his friend.
“I didn’t want that to happen… I did not want Libby going without me,” he laughed.
“At the conference a Catholic priest was speaking about living your life for God and as an 18-year-old I decided then that whatever gifts I had I was going to give to God.
“I had kept God at arm’s length up until that point in my life, but what struck me was when he talked about the sins of omission and that was a major turning point for me.”
True to his word, Andrew took up roles in youth ministry while he studied architecture at university. He married Libby and the couple worked in the UK before returning to Adelaide to start their family.
They joined a Couples for Christ group and Andrew continued to wonder how he could best serve God. Eventually Libby said he needed to make a choice between pastoral care work or being a full time architect and concentrate on one as a means of supporting the family.
“A weekend of praying followed and I decided pastoral care gave me the most life, by being involved and helping people,” he said.
He missed out on a job with the schools ministry group but after a meeting with Fr Paul Cashen, who was involved in the selection process, he enrolled in the ministry formation program with the view of becoming a pastoral associate or deacon, and agreed to join the Diocesan Pastoral Council and Nazareth faith and spirituality sub-committee. But as Fr Paul pointed out, as there was no money involved Andrew also needed to continue to build up his architecture practice to support his family.
“I was really happy that they were considering something for me,” he said. “Finally I had some direction as before that I felt as if I was fluffing around the edges and had little support.”
Taking heed of Fr Paul’s advice he built up his practice, Kirkbride Architects, which now employs eight architects working on about 30 projects at any given time. The multi-million dollar commissions are generally in the aged care and State Government education sectors.
His training as an architect was also identified with his appointment to the National Liturgical Art and Architecture Board of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference. As part of his service to the board he was one of four authors of an official Church document, And When Churches are to be Built, a guiding document for any architect preparing to build a sacred space.
He completed the MFP and went on to further study, still waiting to find out if he would be ordained a deacon or become a pastoral associate.
“They just didn’t know how it would fit with me being a deacon as a professional person, as there was no current practicing model for that,” he said.
In 2012 Archbishop Philip Wilson said it was time.
“When I knew it was going to happen it was a sense of relief. I can now build my buildings – or tents like St Paul – go to the school and be a deacon. I call myself the minister in the market place.”
It is his work as a chaplain at Mercedes College over the past three years that has really struck a chord with the 47-year-old.
“That’s almost my favourite part of the ministry. It’s about going into the classroom and being able to share God’s love in the lives of the kids and help the kids to see that God’s love is everywhere. I go on each retreat, assist at Friday morning Mass and at the main Masses for the school.”
Amid the joy at the college, which includes baptising the children of teachers and officiating at the weddings of teachers, there are also times of great sadness. In May, a Mercedes parent died in a tragic accident.
Andrew had stood alongside this parent and chatted over the years as they watched their now Year 12 sons play football.
When he heard about the accident, Andrew blocked out the appointments in his diary and spent the day with the Year 12 students, “crying and praying and just sitting with them”.
“That is what being a deacon is about, being there with them. It was a really sad time and a hard time, but it’s rewarding in its own way because we all have our own frailties.”
Reflecting on his past five years as a deacon, Andrew says he is most happy about “just being able to be me”.
“There’s been a lot of joy coming from my relationship with God which is what I try and share with others.”