Driving nearly 1000 kilometres each week to meet with parishioners, being present with people at important moments of their lives, and joining the local footy team have been some of the joys and challenges for Fr Olek Stirrat in his first year as a priest.
Ordained alongside Fr Anthony Beltrame on March 12 last year, Fr Olek, 27, said it had been a year of learning as he continued to serve parishioners in the South East.
“Some of the greatest joys of being a priest is journeying with people in the most precious moments of their lives, be that at baptism, weddings or funerals, as well as the quotidian events that transpire in people’s lives,” he said.
“As a priest I feel privileged celebrating the sacraments, in particularly the Mass and reconciliation, and being edified by the deep faith of parishioners.
“Over the year I‘ve learnt the importance of patience, empathy and openness to those whom I serve; the generosity of the people of God; the importance of being present in people’s lives not just at church on a Sunday for an hour; and the importance that priests have in people’s lives.”
While Fr Olek took over as assistant priest at Penola last month he continues to assist in Masses throughout the South East resulting in plenty of driving each week, sometimes up to 1000km. He has also embraced the local community lifestyle and joined training with the West Gambier football team.
“I’m enjoying training with the fellas as often as I can and am hoping to play a few games…if I make the team,” he said.
In wishing Deacon James well for his ordination, Fr Olek suggested he enjoy the day and “not let the logistical supersede the deep encounter with Jesus”.
In reflecting on his first 12 months as a priest, city-based Fr Anthony, 31, admitted that prior to his ordination “a lot of my life revolved around me and what I thought I needed to grow in holiness”.
“But since becoming a priest, a spiritual father, I’ve had the joy of discovering more and more a life lived for others,” he said.
“Now I get to hear the first cry as the waters of baptism rush over a child’s head and the Holy Spirit comes and makes its home in them. I get to hear the tears, and pour my own, as a person bears their soul to the Lord in confession. I get to hold the hand of the dying, and to call upon the angels and saints to take them home.
“It’s quite the life, but it’s the life of a priest.”
Moving from the Cathedral parish to take up the appointment as assistant priest at Hectorville parish at the start of 2023, Fr Anthony said in his first 12 months he had found himself drawn even more to the teachings of St Therese of Lisieux.
“I’ve always had a soft spot for St Therese…at one time she said, ‘I know the distance between me and the great saints is like that of a mountain and a grain of sand, but I’m not discouraged, because Jesus can still take me to heaven’.
“I’ve really grown to appreciate this more this year – we don’t have to be someone else; we just have to be faithful to the little things God has entrusted to us.”
Fr Anthony said he was looking forward to attending Deacon James’ ordination this month and his best piece of advice to him was to look beyond the walls of the church and out into the parish community.
Preparing for ordination
“I quite like the moment in the Gospel when Jesus says, ‘Hey Zacchaeus, I want to have dinner at your house’. It’s a line I’ve learnt to use a lot myself in the parish, and it’s because the home is really the place where you get to know your parishioners,” he explained.
“It’s where you get to hear about their joys and hopes, sorrows and anxieties, where you learn what’s needed to help them with their faith.
“So my advice to Fr James would be to try and make this a big part of his priesthood. That and love the Blessed Sacrament, pray and stay close to Mary.”