This month’s Companions in Ministry: A Triduum of Prayer was a pivotal moment for the Adelaide Archdiocese, being the longest period in memory that so many of the ordained took time away from their busy ministries in parishes, migrant communities and other areas of Church life to be with each other in retreat.
It demonstrates the Archdiocese’s commitment to the development of a strong ‘presbyterate’ – a term used to describe the collegiality of priests with their bishop – as recommended by US consultant Fr David Couturier OFM following his visit to Adelaide in 2014.
Fr Michael Trainor, convenor of the Intentional Ordained Ministry working group, said the gathering was one of the largest held in years with 85 participants.
“It was also the longest time – three full days – we have been together,” he added.
“I would characterise the experience as a wonderful moment of communion with each other as the ordained of the Archdiocese, and especially in communion with the Archbishop,” he said.
“The prayerful spirit and the moments of levity and celebration were memorable.
“I think we all came away with a renewed sense of our mission and commitment to the Church of Adelaide.”
Facilitated by Fr Steve Curtin SJ, from Melbourne, the program included prayer, reflection and personal stories of ministry by several clergy while Ewa Starrs, former pastoral associate at Noarlunga, provided a lay perspective.
Fr Alan Winters described the retreat as an “absolute winner, the best thing we have had for years” while Fr George Nader said participants had appreciated the personal stories, in particular Mrs Starrs’ contribution which was “very courageous and inspiring”.
Deacon Andrew Kirkbride said the experience had been very “positive” and was an “opportunity to listen and spend time getting to know one another”.
“To have our bishop here the whole time reflected the importance of being together as ordained ministers,” he said.
Deacon Tim Grauel said it was good to mix with priests outside Adelaide and from overseas and there had been a “real appreciation for a sense of inclusion” which reflected the cultural diversity of the Archdiocese.
Fr Brian Angus said it was “tremendous to see the depth of talent that we have amongst ourselves, we have so much to offer, it’s affirming and encouraging”.
He also referred to “the multicultural group of priests we have become in a short time” and said that with all the shocking revelations of the Royal Commission, “now is a great time for us to reinvent ourselves as a Church”.
Fr Anthoni Adimai said it was humbling to hear people’s stories and “bring our depth of who we are, so we all can learn and grow as one presbyterate”.
“The Church is not dead,” he said. “There is hope and our ministry is greatly valued. There is a positivity and growth…the people need us.”
In his final reflection at the retreat, Archbishop Wilson gave thanks to God for the fact that “we’ve arrived at this moment together”.
He said the Adelaide presbyterate came into existence in 1842 when the first bishop was appointed: “You can imagine what it was like for them as they gathered from all over the world and looked at this wild countryside that was given to them for their pastoral care,” he said.
“Soon after they arrived, they had an extraordinary clergy gathering where the bishop told them all to go away because the people had gone and there was no money to look after them…they all had to go and find ministry somewhere else in order to survive in their priesthood.
“At a later time, in the 1970s, the clergy of the Archdiocese would have gathered together in a cloud of cigarette smoke – in a place where the English you heard would have been expressed by people with different accents.
“In 1970 this presbyterate would have been comprised of a large number of Irish priests, but also Australian priests, many of whom were coming out of our seminary which was begun in the 1940s and they were becoming much more important in the life of the diocese – another threshold moment in the development of the presbyterate.
“And then there’s today – these days are threshold days as well because what the Lord has asked us to do is to look at ourselves and see what He has done.
“We are here because he has brought us here, we are together because he has called us together, we are all different in so many ways but all of us are meant to love him, love one another and love other people, so I am most grateful for those who have made this possible.”
The Archbishop finished by speaking openly of his love for his clergy.
“When I came to this diocese I told the clergy who gathered together that I had come to love you and for all the ups and downs that there have been in our life together, I have never stopped loving you,” he said.
Ewa speaks from the heart on priesthood
“And as Archbishop of this Archdiocese, in these days, I have had my love go through the roof because we have revealed to each other the real quality that there is in our lives of faith and in our life of ministry.
“I think that’s incomparable and really beautiful.
“So I give thanks to God for the fact that I am the Archbishop of this Archdiocese and working with you in this pattern of holy orders that we share together.”