Being a priest these days is not a popular choice, and the young men at Holy Spirit Seminary swim against the tide in many ways. They’re following a calling that many of their friends don’t understand, which can be a bit lonely.
Of course, there are places in the world where this is not the case. Where the vocational callings are as strong as ever – we see this in our multi-cultural congregation, our priests and here, at the seminary.
Young men like Michael My Van Tran, who will be ordained to the diaconate later this year, joined us six years ago when he arrived in Brisbane.
My role as rector is to be present and accessible for these men. I was recently seated next to Michael at one of our seminary dinners. We started talking about his journey to Brisbane, and Michael shared some of his background with me. He is one of our seminarians from Vietnam and grew up in a very devout and religious family. In fact, three of his uncles are priests and two of his aunties are nuns!
When I asked him when he first felt a calling to priesthood, he could not quite put an age on it, but remembers sitting in the pews as a seven-year-old, admiring the priest’s vestments, and hoping to one day be worthy of them himself. This calling never changed, and at the age of 25, Michael was about to enter the seminary in Vinh, his province in Vietnam, when he received a call from his Bishop, asking him to consider coming to Australia to be a priest for Brisbane.
We are facing a critical shortage of Catholic priests in Australia, and in Queensland. Data from the Australian Catholic University, with whom we share a campus, shows the number of priests in Australia has declined by almost 50% in the past 30 years. In 1991, there were approximately 4,500 priests serving the Australian Catholic community. By 2016, that number had fallen to just over 2,400. This shortage of priests has a significant impact on our ability to provide the services and support that our community needs. We are stretched thin and need dedicated and committed young men like Michael.
The decision to pursue a vocation in the priesthood is a source of great hope and inspiration, and I am so grateful for your prayers and support as we continue to invest in these men.
For Michael, the idea of coming to Australia was foreign and something he never even considered. “I was surrounded by family and friends, had plenty of support and could not speak much English. When my bishop asked if I would consider formation in Australia, to be a priest for Brisbane, I immediately said ‘no.’ He told me to take my time and pray about it.
In the end, the answer in my heart was that “the vocation to priesthood is very strong in Vietnam. There is no shortage of priests or seminarians. This is not the case in Australia, and so, this is where God is telling me he needs me most.”
Despite the challenges of leaving his home and family, Michael felt that this was where God was calling him to be. Archbishop Mark travelled to Vietnam to visit Michael at his home, met his family, and attended Mass at his home parish. Despite the language barrier, Michael knew then that he had made the right decision.
He arrived in Brisbane six years ago and has since become an integral part of our seminary community. Michael has been on placements to various parishes and communities throughout his time here, including a year-long placement at Ipswich Catholic Community, where he enjoyed getting to know people from all walks of life and found them to be supportive and generous.
Michael has also been working hard to complete his studies at ACU while learning English in the evenings. He has faced many challenges along the way, but he has persevered with faith and determination. Michael says, “These are the challenges God gives me to help me grow – I’ve had to learn not to feel discouraged or upset when I get stuck, but rather to focus on the positive way I am developing as a person and a priest.”
Throughout his time at the seminary, Michael has been nourished by the sacraments, particularly the Eucharist. He explains that “through this sacrament we are one – we belong as people of God.” He has also found solace in Adoration, which has deepened his relationship with Christ and strengthened his vocation.
Michael’s journey to the priesthood has been made possible by the generosity of donors like you. He is grateful for the support that he has received and recognises that his formation is possible only through your support. As he says, “I cannot say thank the donors enough – it is so good to know that they care for us, and want us to be good priests for Brisbane.”
On behalf of Michael and all the seminarians, I want to express our heartfelt thanks for your ongoing support. Your generosity is making a real difference in the lives of our future priests, and we pray that God will bless you abundantly for your kindness.
Fr Neil Muir