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Missionary in his own backyard


When his first appointment as assistant priest of Tea Tree Gully and Dernancourt parishes was announced following his ordination last year, Fr Joshua Nash soon realised that while he was “heading home” he would still be fulfilling the Oblate charism to serve as missionaries around the world.

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“Our provincial announced my appointment to my home parish when I was celebrating my first Mass at St David’s,” he said from his office adjacent the church where he was ordained on July 22 2022.

“Of course, everyone was excited, particularly my parents, as this is the parish I was brought up in.

“However, in our community it is very rare for a man to be sent to his home parish as the Oblates are a missionary order – I could have gone to 62 countries around the world and they sent me home…but the need was here.

“Something I have learnt in these 12 months is that everywhere is missionary these days; mission fields are not geographical, they are very much existential.”

Reflecting on his first year as a priest, Fr Nash, 32, said much of his time was devoted to working with young people in the two parishes.

This is familiar territory for him as after his graduating from university – where he delved into law and international studies – he served as the Diocesan Youth Ministry development officer at the Catholic Office for Youth and Young Adults (COYYA), before discerning to join the Oblates’ seminary in Melbourne.

“Within the Oblate congregation, youth ministry has always been a really important part of our work,” he said.

“Recently, there has been a change in our constitution and rules, as we used to speak about ‘our mission to youth’, but now it has been reworded to ‘our mission with youth’.

“It’s about empowering young people to be their own evangelisers and to work alongside the priest. That’s a big game changer for us as an Oblate congregation as to how we are shaping our youth ministry around the world.”

Under his watch and with the support of a youth leadership team representing the three churches in the two parishes, the Oblate Youth group is flourishing.

Up to 20 members are enjoying the opportunity to share their faith at events held every two to three weeks. An added bonus is that they also get to enjoy the culinary efforts of Fr Nash.

“We’re embracing ‘table fellowship’ to bring people together,” he laughed.

“I really love cooking and growing up in an Italian family, food was everything. So at every event we hold we begin with food.

“Rather than running silly ice-breaker games we found that if we put some food on the table and everyone started eating together then naturally the walls come down, people start chatting and it’s a really organic way to get people to bond.

“Often I am cooking pasta, rice, a stew with a meat or vegie option, or one time we put together our own Vietnamese noodle bowls.”

In addition to the youth group, the young priest is also meeting with students in his role as chaplain at nearby Gleeson College and is driving the RCIA program at the two parishes.

Now in his second year as a priest, he says he feels a lot more comfortable in the different aspects of his priestly vocation.

“I did feel very nervous about celebrating the Eucharist for the first time but now I’ve gotten into the swing of things,” he said.

“Growing up, I didn’t recognise how much it takes for a priest to celebrate Mass, the amount of concentration involved and when you truly believe the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, when you are holding that and offering that sacrifice, that it’s quite emotional and draining.

“Some days when you have four or more Masses to celebrate – in the parish, at schools and at nursing homes – it can be a really full-on day and that was a learning curve for me.”

He added that he greatly appreciated the support from his fellow Oblates, family, friends and parishioners during the year, who had also provided similar support when he was discerning his vocation after returning from World Youth Day in Brazil in 2013.

“The vocation to the priesthood is a very personal call…and they all were so supportive of saying ‘you need to listen to this call and you need to make the decision for yourself, of what you feel is right’.

“There was no pressure put on me and it was the best support anyone can give someone who is discerning.”

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