DEACONS Josh Whitehead and Brendan Gormley are to be ordained priests on Friday, May 31 – but between now and then, there’s still a lot of work to be done.
Deacon Whitehead said he was unsure about his expectations for the ordination itself, but he said he was excited to be ordained alongside his “brother” Deacon Brendan Gormley.
“I’ve been to plenty of ordinations, I’ve altar-served at more ordinations than I can count,” Deacon Whitehead said. “But when it comes to our ordination, it’s a bit surreal.
“It’s still a little bit in the distance, but it’s going to be here before we know it, and then it’s going to be over before we know it as well.”
Deacon Gormley, who did his seminary formation in Rome, compared organising the ordination to organising a wedding.
He said people would be coming together who normally would not come together except for a wedding and he said it was “beautiful” and “exciting”.
Deacon Whitehead said it wasn’t just about seeing distant family under the one roof, it was about seeing all the people in all the parishes that had helped and guided them over the years together for the celebration.
He likened the ordination to the Chrism Mass, saying “it’s the fullest sign of unity in the local Church and so that’s really exciting to be part of that”.
While the upcoming ordination represents the culmination of their journey, both deacons revealed their paths to this point weren’t always crystal clear.
Deacon Whitehead said on his first night at the seminary, February 10, 2013, he had finished Night Prayer and he was in his room thinking, “What am I doing here?”
“I remember those first few weeks, I knew exactly how many days I’d been in the seminary; and as the weeks wore on I knew how many weeks; and as the months wore on, things started to become normal,” he said.
“It was a new sense of normality. So sitting here, six years and three or four months later, it’s a bit surreal that this journey is almost – this part of the journey – is almost at a close.”
For Deacon Gormley, his call to priesthood came a little later in life.
He said he was in his mid to late 20s when he sensed the call and he was torn between discerning a life in a religious community and a life in the diocesan priesthood.
But in consultation with his spiritual director, he eventually determined the diocesan priesthood would be the best fit.
“Because I was slightly older than the normal age of a seminarian here at Banyo, the Archbishop (Mark Coleridge) asked me to study in Rome at a college he himself taught at,” Deacon Gormley said.
“So, that was an amazing experience, I lived in Rome for four years.
“And having that exposure to the universal Church, being able to live in a beautiful country like Italy, being able to travel to so many parts of Europe, I had a very … a very blessed – a very rich – formation that was a lot broader than just my theological exposure.”
And with their vocational goals almost at their fingertips, both deacons had so many people to be grateful for.
“This journey hasn’t happened by itself; even before I entered the seminary, there were people journeying with me, walking with me, companioning me along the way,” Deacon Whitehead said.
He thanked his family and everyone who had helped him to this point and praised Holy Spirit Seminary’s formation program.
“We’ve got an excellent formation program at Holy Spirit Seminary at the moment,” he said.
“It’s been built upon the hard work of many different people (over) many different years. It’s a program which seeks to gently break down, call it disempowering habits, (to) really build a seminarian towards becoming a priest – the formation process itself is geared towards that.”
Deacon Gormley, though, had never actually been in residence at Holy Spirit Seminary.
“All of my time was spent in Rome, my whole four years, so, I have yet to sleep a night in the seminary – but that will change,” he said.
Deacon Gormley and Deacon Whitehead were both at the seminary working with a canon lawyer to learn the “nuts and bolts” of the sacrament of Penance. And amid their last-minute formation and preparations, both deacons were looking forward to the major formation event before the ordination – a retreat. “So the Church requires every man preparing for ordination to the priesthood to do a pre-ordination retreat,” Deacon Gormley said. “So Josh and I are going down to a Jesuit house in South Australia called Sevenhill.”
The pair will stay there for a five to seven-day retreat about 10 days before the ordination to reflect on the “gift” of what they’re about to embark on. “And also, because it is so busy in the preparation leading up to priesthood, it’s really about getting our minds and hearts in the right space,” Deacon Gormley said.
“So that when it comes to the ordination itself, we’re actually in a headspace where there’s a certain level of spiritual preparedness within us.”
Both men have spent time in their placement parishes, and officiated at baptisms, weddings and funerals. They were both ready and eager.
Deacon Gormley said, on a deeper level, there was a joy and a peace and a sense of responsibility of the challenges that were before the Church in the modern day.
And conscious of those challenges, he said he was ready to do his best for what he had been trained to do.
For Deacon Whitehead, when the ordination was over, he said more than anything he was looking forward to celebrating Mass “with all my friends and family, and people I love”.