WHEN Hayden Kennedy turned 21, he dialled the number of a priest living in Sydney.
Fr Bob Barber, provincial of the Marist Fathers’ Australian province, answered the call.
Three years before his 21st birthday, Hayden had knocked on the door of the Marist Fathers with a feeling he couldn’t shake.
He wanted to be a priest, and more specifically, a Marist Father of the Society of Mary.
“At school when you’re an adolescent, and there’s this mystery of the Eucharist there, I loved that, and it drew me to the priesthood,” Hayden said.
“I couldn’t shake it.
“People talk about a call and I struggle with that because I don’t feel it’s a pull as you can’t get rid of it, not that you want to get rid of it but it’s there with you.”
At 18 and only just beginning university, Hayden was considered too young to embrace the Marist community life.
The provincial prescribed a period of six months in accompaniment with Brisbane Marist priest Fr Gerry Hall, who was also Hayden’s lecturer.
Hayden discovered the Marist way of life embodied the same quiet presence that the Virgin Mary had among the apostles, and that a priest’s time was not his own.
The charism stirred a greater peace within Hayden and so the next step was to write to the order’s provincial for approval to join the community.
“I wrote to the provincial and he said, ‘We’re happy to have you but I really want you to wait until you’re 21, or to a point where you’ve finished your degree and you feel comfortable still’,” Hayden said.
When his biological clock struck 21, Hayden called in to Fr Barber to remind him of his deal.
“And I said, ‘Guess what day it is’,” Hayden recalls, laughing.
Hayden has since spent a year living with Fr Hall at a new community home in Rosalie, known officially as the House of Welcome.
The community also welcomed Oceania province Marist Father Chris Ketsore, who has been appointed the new chaplain at Marist College, Ashgrove, starting last week.
Hayden’s pursuit of the priesthood comes at a time where vocations to the Society of Mary have been considerably low in recent years.
This year, the society’s seminary in New Zealand welcomed just one new Australian seminarian.
“I couldn’t imagine when I went to the seminary that I’d be the only one, I really can’t – it’s outside of my realm of imagining all the possibilities,” Fr Hall said.
But despite being in an aging order, the Marist Fathers just want to continue to be “Mary in the midst of the apostles”.
“We would certainly not be true to who we are if we put a big focus to put everything we have to make sure in 50 years we’ll still be here,” Fr Hall said.
Fervent prayer for vocations
Around the corner, in Bardon, there is a different concern for the lack of vocations in Australia.
Sr Frances Drum, community leader for the Brisbane Verbum Dei community, prays every day that more people would take up a call to consecrated life.
Sr Drum worked as a physiotherapist before becoming a consecrated missionary with Verbum Dei.
She has been with the community for 18 years and still has one priority, to help others, especially Australians, find their purpose through a relationship with Christ.
“People are dying spiritually everywhere, so out of love for Jesus and his broken body, for me it’s a big concern,” Sr Drum said.
The past two years have been hopeful.
Two young women joined the community in the past two years, including Gold Coast Catholic Tamara Gilles, who is in the novitiate in San Francisco, and registered nurse Teresa Gasparin who will be headed to the London novitiate this year.
But the slow trickle of new vocations is no reason for Sr Drum to stop praying.
“And that’s why I’ve invested my life, full time, in helping people listen to God because God hasn’t stopped calling,” she said.
“God is calling just as much as he is over in Africa where he’s getting lots of vocations or wherever else, he’s calling just as much.
“He doesn’t discriminate against Australians but Australians from my experience many times have no idea how to pray, have never been taught how to listen to God through the Word of God, don’t make time for God – it’s considered by some a waste of time to pray because of a mentality of productivity – but it’s a real battle.”
Not just for the young
While young women have taken up the call to missionary life in Verbum Dei, the Sisters of St Joseph in Australia have been journeying with both men and women.
Congregational leader Sr Monica Cavanagh said two women had been received into the novitiate, and there had been three professions in the past two years.
They are women in their 30s and 50s and have felt the call to continue the mission of St Mary of the Cross MacKillop 150 years since the Australian saint started the order.
“Women today who are looking to join already have a profession, and most are in their 30s,” Sr Cavanagh said.
The Josephites also have a pathway for men and women, known as a covenant of affiliation.
It does not involve living a vowed life but members are associated with a local community of sisters.
“We have been looking at vocation in a broader context,” Sr Cavanagh said.
“With our journey, you don’t begin with, ‘Are you gonna be a sister?’ but whether you have a call to live the Gospel with a Josephite heart.”
Still discovering your calling to consecrated life or holy order? Look out for our Vocations Feature in August.
By Emilie Ng