QUEENSLANDER Fr Gerard O’Dempsey says it is “breathtaking” to be elected leader of the Australian province of the Capuchin Friars for the next three years.
“It’s a great responsibility and I hope I can live up to what the friars expect of me,” Fr O’Dempsey said as he packed his single suitcase and many boxes of books for his move from the Good Shepherd Parish, Plumpton, in Sydney’s west, to the Capuchin Mission office in inner-city Leichhardt.
His leadership position as provincial minister is immediate following a majority vote at this month’s Capuchin provincial chapter meeting in Sydney.
St Mary’s, South Brisbane, parish priest Fr Lam Vu was elected as second councillor on the order’s provincial team, but will remain in the parish.
Fr O’Dempsey said he hoped to “animate the lives of the friars in Australia – to make them minister faithfully and effectively in the Church” and to “discover what God is asking of them in their particular fraternities and ministries”.
Growing up in Ipswich, the eldest of 11 children, Fr O’Dempsey said he first encountered the pastoral work of the Capuchin Friars working in the southern highlands of Papua New Guinea.
He knew immediately this would be his vocation.
“It was their joyful approach to life, their simplicity and their enthusiasm for evangelisation, and that has stuck with me ever since,” he said.
Fr O’Dempsey first went to PNG after seeing an advertisement in The Catholic Leader requesting lay missionaries to teach music.
He trained singers, played the organ and was director of music for the papal liturgies when Pope John Paul II visited Port Moresby in 1984.
Fr O’Dempsey joined the friars when he returned to Australia in 1986 and was ordained nine years later, serving at Plumpton until 1999, then becoming the first Queensland-born parish priest of Guardian Angels, Wynnum.
He then went on sabbatical in Boston and later served in the North American novitiate of the Capuchins as formator and part of the novitiate formation team.
In 2014, he was elected vicar provincial of the Australian province of the Capuchin Friars.
With the Church in Australia under many pressures, Fr O’Dempsey said his message to friars was to “trust in God’s providence with hope for the future”.
“We are at the position where we want to consolidate our work over the last few years, animating the friars in their ministries and locations, that’s key for the next three years,” he said.
“And certainly I am asking the friars to have an eye to the Plenary Council in 2020. It will be important that religious orders have a voice in that.”
Under new provincial arrangements Fr John Spiteri, parish priest at Guardian Angels, Wynnum, will transfer to South Melbourne’s St Peter and Paul’s Parish, where the Capuchins operate a soup kitchen for the poor.
“It’s a very big ministry to the homeless, “ Fr O’Dempsey said.
Capuchin priest at Newton in Adelaide, Fr Severino Bustamante, will move to Wynnum.