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An interrupted vocation

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After attending a junior seminary in his teenage years, the decision to follow the path to becoming a deacon nearly half a century later seemed like a way of tidying up unfinished business for Arturo Jimenea.

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But even on the night before his ordination he admits he had doubts and he was not quite “100 per cent” sure that he was doing the right thing. As he attended the prayer vigil held at the Cathedral, Arturo still felt unsettled about the events that were going to take place the next day.

“At that time I was afraid. I thought, ‘this is it – if I get ordained there is no going back’,” he recalled.

“I couldn’t get myself to go to the front where everyone was and so I sat in the last pew in the Cathedral. Fortunately, Fr Philip (Marshall) saw me and came over and sat with me and knelt with me throughout the prayer vigil – and this act of compassion gave me impetus to carry on – that’s why I am now ordained,” he told The Southern Cross, referring to a sense of calm that washed over him at that time.

Nearly four years later, he described his work as a deacon in the Salisbury parish as very fulfilling and said he enjoyed being able to support people from a wide range of backgrounds and help them wherever possible.

“It’s very different to engineering,” he laughed, adding that during his preparations to become a deacon he had to go that “extra length” in order to learn how to relate and work with people so he would be productive in his new role.

Born in the northern part of the Philippines in Tagudin Ilocos Sur, Arturo, now 63, recalled a childhood where his mum worked hard to support her eight children and a father who was rarely there.

After finishing at the local Catholic primary school he was asked by a recruiter from the Congregation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary if he would like to attend the minor seminary for his high school studies. A financial sponsor was secured and Arturo spent his teenage years at the seminary, always entertaining the idea of eventually entering the priesthood.

“I did have some yearning towards becoming a priest but the clincher was that I lost my sponsor and I couldn’t afford to go to the major seminary. I had to leave the seminary and stop any studies for a while,” he said.

After that hiatus, Arturo instead went on to put himself through university with studies in engineering. There he met his future wife, Mary and after graduating went to work in Manila for a short while, later returning to teach at the university and settle into married life.

To supplement his salary he started his own company in the construction services industry, which unfortunately heralded the start of a downward spiral in his life.

He spent long hours at work, less and less time with his family – which now included daughter Arlene and son Michael – and found himself drinking more and more with his fellow workers.

“I was very busy and that’s the time when my faith started wobbling,” Arturo said. “The one thing that saved me was coming to Australia.”

His sister, who was already living in Adelaide, offered to sponsor his family and Mary was keen to move and start afresh. So in January 1991 they arrived to begin the next chapter in their lives.

The transition was difficult for the family as Arturo (and Mary) were unable to find work initially. They found support by getting involved in the growing local Filipino community and joining a prayer group.

“They brought us back to the active practice of the faith and we started going to Mass again. Another blessing found and received was that, due to my driving (being on P plates), I had to severely curtail my drinking.”

He likens that time in his life as “being in a speeding car that is about to fall off a cliff – and someone suddenly turns the wheel away”.

With Arturo becoming involved in the Church community, he was continually being invited to take on a leadership role, but always resisted because his priority was finding work.

It was at this juncture that Fr Philip again played a part at a significant moment in his life.

“He was the celebrant at a Mass at Holy Family Mass Centre in Parafield Gardens and in his homily he was expounding about being called to service and ‘seeking God first’ and that then ‘everything will be given unto you’. Something struck me, it was as if he was speaking directly to me and at that moment in my mind I said, ‘Okay Lord, you’ve got me, I’ll be more active now’.

“That was on the Sunday and guess what, on the Monday there was a call for me about a job. It was simply amazing.”

Employed as an engineer, life got busy again, but true to his word Arturo began taking a more active role in the Church. He helped to establish the Filipino Catholic Community in Salisbury. He and Mary became leaders in Couples for Christ, became members of the Parish Pastoral Council and foundation members of the Filipino Catholic Pastoral Support Committee for the community’s chaplaincy. They also became team leaders for setting up for Mass at the Holy Family Mass Centre.

Some years later, he realised his work was affecting his health. Suffering from stress, he resigned and presented himself to Fr Roderick O’Brien to help with anything that needed to be done in the parish.

Arturo had maintained contact with the young men who had been with him at the junior seminary and they suggested he take the opportunity to begin studies in ministry formation. Two years into the course, Arturo felt a renewed calling, this time to serve as a deacon.

“I guess that for a time, I was torn between dedicating myself fully to serving in Church ministry and continuing a career working in industry as an engineer. To me, it has always been a question of ‘either/or’, not a question of ‘and’.”

Fortunately for those in the Salisbury parish, his vocation to serve God finally came to pass and Arturo was ordained a deacon in November 2013.

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