Deacon Tom Duncan is looking ahead to his ordination next month with great excitement and, most of all, he’s looking forward to celebrating his first Mass. He said in some ways there was no other answer. “(Mass) is not the only thing a priest does of course, but it is at the heart of the priesthood,” he said. “And when the call to the priesthood first came to me, it was really grounded in that – I looked forward to celebrating the sacred liturgy.”
Deacon Duncan’s call went back to his time at Marist College, Ashgrove. “I was at a time in my life where I started to pray and have an interest in the Bible, just more of a consciousness of the presence of Jesus,” he said. “I didn’t really make sense of it at the time, that that was going on with me.”
But as the real world loomed at the end of his Year 12 studies, he told himself he had to make a decision about what he wanted to do with this life. “It’s a huge thing to be put to you at that stage,” he said, “and I thought I had it all more or less fairly worked out. “I never had any huge, big dreams. “I thought I’d come back to Miles and become a builder like my dad, probably take over his business and get married and live a normal life like my mates.”
But a deep emptiness revealed itself within him. “That was frightening because all of a sudden I had this sense that everything I wanted to do and everything I thought was my life totally wasn’t my life,” Deacon Duncan said. He wasn’t sure where to go or what to do. “But I had this sense deep down that I couldn’t do that for the rest of my life – I could go there but once I achieve that, then what? There was something missing.”
So he turned to God. He asked God what God wanted him to do. “All of a sudden, things changed and it’s difficult to say how I heard it or how I felt it, but the word priesthood or the idea of the priesthood was in my mind,” he said.
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It was never a path Deacon Duncan had considered. “And I thought, ‘No way, that’s not me’,” he said. “I was always in trouble at school and I guess I was seen as one of the naughty boys, and it just seemed so opposite to what I was like. “And I pushed that idea away. “But the more I pushed it away, the more it came back and it was a niggling thought. “And the more I sort of avoided it, the more I felt like I was lying to myself somehow, which is quite an unsettling feeling.”
Eventually, he gave in and consented to the Lord, saying, “Lord, if that’s what you want me to do, make it happen because I have no idea.” Deacon Duncan had never heard of a seminary or a seminarian at that point. “When I accepted it and thought ‘Okay, well maybe that’s what I’m going to do’, I imagined myself as a priest in the future, and I felt the opposite of that emptiness,” he said. “There was this fullness and this fire in my belly that was also startling because I didn’t know that was possible.”
Once he committed, he ended up at Canali House, a house of discernment in Brisbane, and seven years later, he said that initial calling had deepened considerably. It was a very different life from his small hometown of Miles, about two-and-a-half hours west of Toowoomba – but still within Toowoomba diocese, where he currently has his diaconate placement.
But between his time in Brisbane at Marist College and in the seminary and his time in his country town of Miles, Toowoomba felt like a good middle ground. “It feels like home even though it’s very different from where I come from,” Deacon Duncan said. “I feel at home here with the people here, and I have a sense that these are the people I’m called to minister to. “It feels like coming home.”
Deacon Duncan had learned a lot about the importance of the people of God in his diaconate too. “In some ways it’s obvious, to be a priest, it’s a life oriented towards God’s people and service but I didn’t realise how much I needed them in my own spiritual life until now, really,” he said. “Like my own prayer life is nourished by the relationships, the ministry relationships, I have in my parish, which was unexpected.”
Over the course of his formation, he said he had many role models but none more influential than Bishop Anthony Randazzo, who was rector at Holy Spirit Seminary for about half Deacon Duncan’s tenure there. “He was very personally invested in each one of us, deeply,” he said. “And we – I say we because others felt the same – we knew that he cared for us, genuinely.
“Something about that allowed us to connect in a special way, but allowed me to learn from him more deeply because I was more open or I could value more what he had to offer.”
Deacon Duncan said Bishop Randazzo was a bloke who knew what he was talking about and that he had learned a great deal from that. Looking forward into his own priestly ministry, Deacon Duncan said his prayer life was at the core of who he was. “The centre of my life is my relationship with Jesus,” he said. “Being with Christ all day every day, I’d say that is my life and that’s something I hope will characterise and shine through in my day-to-day ministry.
“Because it’s that time I spend in prayer each day that nourishes me but not only nourishes me but gives me energy – it’s the core of who I am. I feel like I’m not myself when I don’t have the opportunity to pray, and I certainly don’t feel like I’d be a real priest if I didn’t have that.”
Published in The Catholic Leader, 16 May 2019
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