FATHERS Josh Whitehead and Brendan Gormley became Brisbane archdiocese’s newest shepherds at their ordination to priesthood at St Stephen’s Cathedral on Friday, May 31.
Brisbane Archbishop Mark Coleridge celebrated the ordination, which was attended by dozens of priests from across the archdiocese, including Auxiliary Bishop Ken Howell and Sydney Auxiliary Bishop Tony Randazzo, former Holy Spirit Seminary rector.
Fr Whitehead said the ordination was full of joy.
“I had this amazing sense of joy throughout the whole celebration, from the point when the entrance hymn started and we processed in and I was looking to the left to all my friends and family – and I just had a few tears come to the eye,” he said.
“All these people had come to share the celebration with me.”
Fr Whitehead said that joy carried through the whole night.
Fr Gormley said the ordination was humbling and overwhelming.
“There was a great peace and deep joy about the whole thing; it just went seamlessly and beautifully,” he said.
The Litany of Saints was “deeply moving” for Fr Gormley.
“I just got a feeling during the Litany of the Saints that a lot of clergy that have mentored me in years past, two in particular, and grandparents that had passed, I just had a sense during the Litany of the Saints they were praying with me and for me,” Fr Gormley said.
For Fr Whitehead, the vesting carried an extra-special significance.
His mum Trish and one of his best mates Fr Ellis Clifford vested him.
“And I mean, what a beautiful moment to have – two of the closest people in my life doing that, helping me with that,” he said.
Family support was abundant in the cathedral.
Fr Whitehead had about 25 family members at the ordination, who he was “honoured” to have join the celebration, especially coming from faraway places like New Zealand and Perth.
Among his family gathered were his mum, his six brothers and sisters, his nephews and niece, a cousin, and his uncles and aunts.
Also supporting him were a few ex-army mates and their wives.
But his most numerous force of supporters were two busloads of parishioners who came to support him from two placement parishes over his formation – a busload from Maroochydore and another from Burleigh Heads.
Fr Whitehead expressed his gratitude for all those who supported him.
“The majority of them are non-churchgoers and some of them have never even been to a Catholic Mass, let alone stepped inside a church and it was an amazing experience for them,” he said.
“The choir, the music that the choir sang, really moved them and just the whole experience from start to finish was so new to them in that they just drank it in.”
For Fr Gormley, he had his parents and extended family there.
With them were representatives from his three parish placements and people who were with him when he studied in Rome at the Pontifical Beda College, including Monsignor Rod Strange who was the former college rector.
Offering first blessings was also a humbling experience for the new priests.
“People come up for the blessing, some people I hadn’t seen in 20 years,” Fr Gormley said.
“To see people you don’t expect, it all added to the joy of the occasion.”
Fr Whitehead said the Burleigh Heads crew unfortunately had to be on the bus back before the first blessings at the end of Mass, but many of those from Maroochydore had him bless them.
“All these people are coming up to me who I know and haven’t seen for a couple years,” he said. “I had a grin from ear to ear.
“It was so joyous; I’ve used that word a few times unfortunately but it was so joyous to encounter these people I know in this setting where I’d just been ordained and I could offer them God’s blessing.”
Perhaps the biggest changes for Fr Whitehead and Fr Gormley was just that – the transformation from “Deacon” to “Father”.
Fr Gormley said he wasn’t used to being called “Father” yet.
He said it was especially odd in the company of friends, but was forewarned by others it would take some time to get used to.
Fr Whitehead said he had gone out to dinner on the Sunday night with friends and was just walking to the restaurant by himself, thinking about how he was a priest now and thought it was strange.
“It’s going to take a while to get used to,” he said. “In a sense I’ve got a new identity now as a Catholic priest.
“I’ve spent the last six-and-a-half months forming and working out a new identity as a deacon and in a very short time that’s changed to another identity, so to speak.”
He said that identity was still Joshua Whitehead, but it was one integrated into his new vocation that God gifted him, “gifted to me into my own being”.
Fr Gormley said he had celebrated seven Masses between the Friday and the Monday, at the time of writing.
But the first Mass was different to what he expected; he said he was much calmer than he thought he would be.
“I just found it just felt right,” he said.
“It just felt right, it just like, ‘Yep, at last I feel like I’m doing what God’s called me to do’ and the time’s right and the place is right and it feels right – as simple as that sounds.”
Fr Whitehead celebrated his first Mass, after the ordination, on the Saturday night at Stella Maris Church, Maroochydore.
He said it was “chockers” with people coming from all four churches of the parish community.
And while he said celebrating the Mass was a profound honour and a privilege, there was something deeper he couldn’t quite explain.
He said in a sense it wasn’t Fr Whitehead celebrating the Mass, “it was the whole congregation celebrating the Mass”.
“There was a real sense of joy that it was not about me,” he said.
“It was about us together as the Body of Christ celebrating the sacrifice of the Mass.”
Fr Whitehead echoed Fr Gormley’s sense of calmness.
“I thought I’d be really nervous for that Mass but, I don’t know, when you’re surrounded by people you know and love it puts a different spin on things,” he said.
“I wasn’t nervous in the way I thought I might be. There was a feeling that I was exactly where I was meant to be and this is exactly what God called me to.
“Why be nervous if you’re doing exactly the thing God’s called you to do?”
And his first homily came with the same assurance.
“It felt exactly as it should – it just felt right,” he said. “I had a sense that the (Holy) Spirit was moving in me and my hope is that the people who receive my homily felt the same thing.”
Fr Whitehead’s homily was for the weekend of the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord and centred on his vocational journey.
“I remember when I heard my vocational calling, I was thirty at the time, and I remember two times in my twenties that I’d forgotten about,” he said.
“When I heard my calling, I remembered those times and I remember thinking ‘I hope I’m not meant to be a priest’. I shared that and here I am – God calls, we listen.”
But being ordained was not the final step, Fr Whitehead said.
He said he still had a lot of learning ahead.
And after a brief break holidaying with family, Fr Whitehead would begin a two-month placement at St Stephen’s Cathedral.
While he had been stationed at St Stephen’s for a while already, as a priest he could now celebrate the Sacrament of Penance.
Many people come from around the archdiocese to St Stephen’s for the sacrament and Fr Whitehead said he was looking forward to getting experience with it.
In mid-August, he would begin placement at Caloundra parish.
“I’m really looking forward to going to Caloundra, but it’s a big parish and there’s a lot to do and I’m just really looking forward to meeting and learning from and ministering to the people of God in the Caloundra parish,” he said.
Fr Gormley was assigned to the inner-city Jubilee Parish – where he had already spent 10 months – for three years.
He said he was happy with the appointment, being a smooth transition from diaconate to priesthood.
And in the future, Fr Gormley said he just wanted to be “good in whatever’s asked of me”.
Fr Whitehead thanked everyone who had helped in his formation, especially the staff and fellow students at Holy Spirit Seminary, Banyo.
He said he was also grateful to Archbishop Coleridge and the Brisbane archdiocese for the opportunities they had given him.
He said the kiss of peace at the ordination embodied how welcomed he felt.
“The kiss of peace was a very significant moment for me and although technically it’s a sharing of God’s peace with the other priests, it’s also a welcome into the presbyterate,” he said.
“And I’m grateful to be part of the presbyterate here in Brisbane, especially since I’m not from this country.”
He joked there could be a time in the future where he might even support the Wallabies.
Fr Gormley also wanted to express his gratitude for the people of God who led him to where he was now.
“I just think a priest is never ordained for himself, he’s ordained for the people but it is the people of God that actually get him to the ordination itself,” he said.
“And there’s just been so many people that have been a part of the journey, some deceased, and I feel great debt of gratitude towards those people that have been a part of my long journey.”
Ahead, Fr Gormley recognised the many challenges facing the faith.
“I think people need hope,” he said.
“For me that’s one of the biggest things that faith offers is hope.
“So where you find faith lacking, you’ll generally find hope lacking as well.
“So I think as pastors we’re called to be in that space to help people in their faith.”