However, as soon as he spoke to the person on the other end he relaxed and knew he had made the right decision. Pat’s future was in God’s hands and he had started the ball rolling on his journey to becoming a priest.
Years of discernment, prayers, advice and support followed that phone call in 2012 and four years later Pat began studying at the Pope St John XXIII National Seminary in Boston.
Speaking to The Southern Cross during his holiday break in hometown Adelaide, the 58-year-old former lawyer said the seminary was a perfect fit for him as it caters for mature aged students.
He studies alongside men from a range of professions, cultural backgrounds and ages.
“There are grandparents and parents…it’s a wonderful dynamic.
“There are a lot of different life experiences and we bring that to the seminary. We have colonels in the Army, a Federal Court judge, architects, nurses, firemen, accountants, lawyers – a real mix of people,” he explained.
Like his classmates, Pat’s journey to the seminary followed his ‘other life’ as a lawyer, but he believes his calling to the priesthood started when he was a boy attending St Margaret Mary’s School in Croydon.
“Sr Anna Maria was the Grade 1 teacher and Father Michael Murphy would come around once a week and came into the class and asked who wanted to be a doctor, who wanted to be a nurse, a lawyer, and then he said who wanted to be a priest – and my hand just shot up, without me even thinking about it,” he laughed.
Brought up in a strong Catholic family he recalls attending the Italian Mass with the Scalabrinian Fathers every Sunday and said the thought of becoming a priest remained strong until his teens when he decided he could also help people by working as a lawyer.
He studied law at the University of Tasmania, was a judge’s associate for a couple of years and then moved back to Adelaide and worked in private practice, later joining the Crown Solicitor’s Office.
It was in the mid 1980s that his mother, only in her 40s, was diagnosed with stage four breast cancer. Given just months to live, the family decided to fulfil her wish to visit Lourdes in France, the world’s most famous healing shrine and the site where Bernadette Soubirous reported seeing 18 apparitions of Our Lady in 1858.
Arriving on the eve of the feast of the Immaculate Conception, Pat said the experience was amazing. Visiting Medjugorje afterwards, where six Herzegovian children claim to have seen apparitions of Our Lady in 1981, further increased his love for the Blessed Virgin Mary.
“Up until then I was Christ-centred and had no real Marian direction, but that changed. I liked what the volunteers did for my mother and decided I would be a volunteer at Lourdes if I could.”
So for a couple of weeks of his annual leave almost every year thereafter, Pat went to Lourdes as a hospitality volunteer.
“Pilgrim groups from dioceses arrive by train or plane and the volunteers take them off in stretchers and wheelchairs at the railway station. We have a special room and loading dock where buses pull in and we load them and take them to our hospitals where they are cared for by their team of doctors and nurses.
“I’ve met some wonderful people doing this and I’ve also seen their faith journeys.
“They arrive and are completely different when they leave four days later – they’ve received spiritual healing and an acceptance of their illness, and they are very joyful.”
Such was the case for Pat’s mum who lived for another five years after her visit to Lourdes, far exceeding doctors’ expectations.
After she died, Pat moved to Sydney for 18 years, pursuing a career in the academic side of the law and undertaking further study.
“When I got back in 2012 from visiting Lourdes, Medjugorje and Fatima it was a crossroads in my life,” he said.
“I thought I would go to the three Marian shrines and think about my vocation seriously. I thought, this is the time for me to think of what I want to do in my second half of my life. I always had this thing (of becoming a priest) that kept nagging in the back of my mind.
“When I got back to Sydney I did some research and went online and looked at different religious orders and discovered the vocations director for the Franciscans was right there in my parish (Edgecliff).
“So I had to pick up the phone and make that call – and that changed the direction of my life. I was nervous but it was a good thing as the Franciscans had a 40 year age cut off and so he could talk to me without ‘pushing any barrow’ and then I met with him the next day.”
Pat said he knows now that becoming a priest is his calling and is looking forward to returning to the Adelaide Archdiocese when he is ordained.
“I don’t miss the law, that’s my past life. At the core of whatever I did back then there was this hollowness, it wasn’t quite satisfying.
“In that first year as a seminarian I was suddenly satisfied, I felt complete and that completeness hadn’t been there throughout my whole professional life.”Jump to next article