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Brisbane seminarian fighting chronic fatigue syndrome returns to the seminary after four years

Queensland seminarians

Road to priesthood: Rector of the Holy Spirit Seminary Monsignor John Grace (back), new seminarians Gino Manabat (left), Sean Woods, Chris Ledwich, Nathan Webb and Louie Jimenez on Sunday 14 February 2016. Chris Ledwich is returning to the seminary after a short absence. Photo: Alan Edgecomb

CHRIS Ledwich believes if he can write one essay, pray for longer than five minutes and exercise without collapsing this year, he’ll make it to the priesthood.

The 29-year-old Brisbane man suffers from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, or Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (CFS/ME), a condition that developed after catching Whooping Cough and forced him to take a leave of absence from his priestly formation at Queensland’s Holy Spirit Provincial Seminary nearly four years ago.

“One particular reason Chronic Fatigue was so frustrating for me was that one of my major symptoms was a cognitive impairment that affected my working memory,” Mr Ledwich said, “which drastically affected my ability to study, pray, reflect and engage with others, and without which I felt lost.”

He had little focus and energy to pray beyond a simple and repeated cry for help and sleep became a losing battle.

“I learnt to cling to the liturgical life of the Church as a way of carrying me when I had neither the focus nor the energy to pray,” Mr Ledwich said.

“I learnt to pray with Christ’s body, the Church, when my own was failing me.”

After a fortuitous course of certain medications Mr Ledwich’s health turned a dramatic corner, and during an overseas trip through the United States and Canada found his energy levels rise and the fog that had been clouding his mind and thoughts lift.

After 6 months of preparation, Mr Ledwich re-entered the seminary last week to complete his fourth year of studies, joining 17 other men from Queensland and the Philippines.

“I’ve been waiting to return to the seminary for a long time,” he said.

“Throughout those years my deep sense of calling and vocation never left me, but facing the prospect that perhaps that was no longer possible was a difficult one that involved its own process of grieving.”

Though his illness is still in many ways mystery to himself and the medical field, Mr Ledwich hopes to use the past few years as a stepping stone to a fulfilling year in the seminary.

He’s also given himself three goals for his year, which he said would be completed “taking slow and steady steps”.

“Mentally, being able to write up an essay approaching the level I was before,” he said.

“Spiritually, being able to reflect beyond the superficial again, which I couldn’t do for a long time.

“And physically, being able to exercise regularly without fear of collapsing into a heap afterwards.”

Mr Ledwich said he had hoped that returning to the seminary might prove the right environment for a fuller recovery.

“Just being here for a week, immersing myself into the seminary’s spiritual and communal life, I am remembering once more how to ‘have life, and have it abundantly’ (John 10:10), exceeding anything I might have hoped for, praise God” he said.

By Emilie Ng

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