01 Nov 2019

On the path to priesthood

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The Southern Cross  |  November 2019

On the path to priesthood

Nervousness, happiness and a sense of joy were just some of the emotions experienced by Olek Stirrat and Anthony Beltrame as they declared their intention to join the priesthood on September 29.

Before Bishop Greg O’Kelly SJ, family, friends and members of their local parishes, the seminarians made their admission to candidacy in a ceremony during Mass in St Francis Xavier’s Cathedral.

“Before the Mass I was somewhat nervous. It’s a big thing to publically announce your intention to become a priest,” said Anthony.

“But Bishop O’Kelly was quick to put us at ease with his caring manner and quick wit. Throughout the ceremony I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face, and this lasted even throughout the morning tea after Mass. I was so happy to express my commitment to give my life to the Lord, and I couldn’t think of a better way of living my life.”

For Olek, it was a “feeling of joy” as he took his next step in his vocation as a priest. 

“I was greatly inspired by the kind, deep and moving words of Bishop Greg towards us. Furthermore I was encouraged primarily by the presence of many loved ones, and those who have been praying for us and supporting us on our journey,” he said.

Both men agreed there had been several challenges as well as celebrations since beginning their studies at Corpus Christi seminary in Melbourne in 2015.

“In my first year I was very bright-eyed and excited for a new adventure,” Anthony reflected.

“Little did I know the challenges that lay ahead, like feeling the weight of shame and failures of the Church in recent times, like the long periods away from family and friends or the growing realisation of just how much work there is to do in the Lord’s vineyard.

“But also little did I know the joy that was in store for me, like the privilege of sharing and proclaiming the Gospel, the love and encouragement received from God’s people and the special bond of brotherhood fostered amongst seminarians.

“I’d like to imagine I’ve aged like fine wine, but perhaps more accurately, I’m slowly learning more and more what it means to be a follower of Christ.”

Olek said joyous family occasions – such as the wedding of his brother and recent birth of his first nephew – had helped him develop an understanding of his vocation.

“It’s through these events that I have grown in my understanding of my developing role as a spiritual father in relation to those around me. It has helped me better understand that a priest ought to be a man for others, and a good shepherd just as Jesus is.

“My appreciation of celibacy has been a challenge, as well as a liberating development for me.

“I have gradually come to understand celibacy more so as a positive gift, a way of loving, rather than an inhibition to marriage. Through my relationships with those around me I have come to appreciate and love the reality of celibacy. It has enabled me to develop deep bonds of friendship and trust with those I love.”

Both men are now undertaking their Masters in Theology, which normally takes two years to complete.

Their formal pastoral placements will continue in accordance with the seminary program and over the next few years will include pastoral care ministry in hospitals and prisons. When they are ordained as deacons – likely mid to late next year – they will be sent out to parishes on weekends.

All going well, their ordination as priests should take place in 2021.

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