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Seminarian friends ‘fair dinkum’ about serving the Church as priests

Fr Thomas Zaranski, Archbishop Mark Coleridge, and Fr Damien Everitt

Priestly service: Brisbane’s newest priests Fr Thomas Zaranski (left) and Fr Damien Everitt (right) with Archbishop Mark Coleridge. Photo: Maria Rose Anna Photography

TRUE friends share everything – even the emotional day they become priests.

Fr Thomas Zaranski, 32, and Fr Damien Everitt, 43, first met in 2015 as trainee priests for Holy Spirit Seminary Queensland.

They took their friendship to the next level when Brisbane Archbishop Mark Coleridge ordained both men priests on June 29, the Feast of Sts Peter and Paul, at St Stephen’s Cathedral.

“It’ll be a day we remember for the rest of our lives,” Fr Zaranski said.

The last priests to be ordained for Brisbane on June 29 were Fr Paul Eloagu and and Fr Odinaka Nwadike, who celebrate their third anniversary of priesthood this year.

“There’s so many guys who would be celebrating their anniversary tonight,” Fr Zaranski told The Catholic Leader before his ordination.

“You share this special day with them on a number of levels.”

Archbishop's ordination blessing

Momentous blessing: Archbishop Mark Coleridge imparts a blessing on Thomas Zaranski and Damien Everitt moments before their ordination. Photo: Maria Rose Anna Photography.

It was an almost surreal moment for Fr Everitt who has been thinking about his ordination day for more than 25 years.

The 43-year-old first entered the seminary as a young teenager in 1992.

“Having done four years of the journey at that stage, I just felt that I was a bit too young to be going forward for the priesthood at the time,” Fr Everitt said.

He left the seminary in 1996 to pursue a career in social work.

After establishing a solid career as a social worker, Fr Everitt took another break to drive buses for the Brisbane City Council.

The thought of the priesthood still lingered.

“I always felt the calling had never left me, I always felt I had something to offer the Church for me in the future,” Fr Everitt said.

In 2015, around 23 years after first entering the seminary, Fr Everitt returned to Holy Spirit Seminary Queensland to complete his priestly studies.

At that stage Fr Zaranski had already completed three years of priestly formation, having joined the seminary on February 5, 2012.

Having thought about becoming a priest as a young boy, Fr Zaranski said the decision became clear during the ordination of Brisbane priest Fr Nigel Sequeira.

“I remember my first ordination was Fr Nigel Sequeira, and that was just the year before I went to the seminary,” Fr Zaranski said.

“That was a real powerful moment for my own vocation discernment, to come to an ordination.”

Archbishop Coleridge lays hands on Deacon Thomas Zaranski

Conformed to Christ: Deacon Thomas Zaranski deep in prayer as the Archbishop ordains him a priest. Photo: Maria Rose Anna Photography.

As he prepared for his own ordination, Fr Zaranski prayed for the young men who might be watching him make the commitment to serve the Church for the rest of his life.

“I’m sure they’ll be, God willing, guys in the congregation who will be thinking about priesthood and thinking about coming to the seminary,” Fr Zaranski said.

“Hopefully this will be a moment for them.”

During their seminary days, Fr Zaranski and Fr Everitt formed a close brotherhood – they even shared a holiday to New Zealand together.

But their ordination day will be the most memorable date in their friendship.

“It’s a funny feeling though,” Fr Everitt said.

“The moment has come.”

Aside from the nerves that priests-to-be feel, Fr Zaranski said he also felt “a sense of inadequacy.”

“A lot of thanks too because just today on my phone and my email, people are sending me kind messages,” he said. 

“And all those people have played a role in getting me to this point. 

“You can’t do it on your own, you realise that from the very start and when you get to here, you think so many people have touched my life.

“It’s just so beautiful.”

Ahead of their ordination, both priests used their final day before becoming priests to catch up on what might be their last chance for a midday nap before the hustle and bustle of priestly life.

After winding up at the Mt Gravatt Lookout and grabbing a cup of coffee, Fr Everitt took the opportunity for an afternoon siesta in preparation for a nearly two-hour ceremony.

“I went for a walk and had a good sleep,” Fr Everitt admits.

“Sounds like your honeymoon,” Fr Zaranski says.

“It was fantastic,” Fr Everitt laughs.

Looking back on seven years of generosity and support from people across Brisbane, Fr Zaranski is just keen “to give back” through the sacramental life of a priest in Birkdale.

“I feel like in the seminary and the parish I’ve received more than I’ve given,” Fr Zaranski said. 

“People have been so generous and so I feel in my own way, as best as I can, to give back. 

“This is a role of service and (Fr) Damien and myself are fair dinkum about that.”

Fr Everitt said his ordination would be “a whole fulfilment of what we’ve been working towards throughout the diaconate”.

“It’s going to continue on because we’re staying in the same parishes that we’ve been appointed to,” Fr Everitt, who is appointed to Banyo Nundah parish, said.

“We’ve had that chance to build up rapport and all of that. It makes the transition easier.”

Both priests said they were warmly welcomed by Archbishop Coleridge, whose parting message to them before their ordination was, ‘I won’t leave you orphaned’.

“That’s heartening,” Fr Zaranski said.

Fr Thomas Zaranski saying communion prayer

In Christ’s image: Fr Thomas Zaranski concelebrates Mass for the first time during his ordination on June 29. Fr Zaranski celebrated his Mass of Thanksgiving at his home parish of Mater Dei Church, Ashgrove West on July 1. Photo: Maria Rose Anna Photography.

During his homily for the ordination, Archbishop Coleridge stressed the importance of nicknames in both Australian culture and early Christianity.

“One of the two Judases among the Twelve was dubbed ‘Thaddeus’, meaning courageous; and the other was called Iscariot which mean ‘man from Kerioth’,” Archbishop Coleridge said.

“…And of course we have the two great apostles we celebrate today – Simon whom Jesus nick-named Peter, the rock, and Saul who went by the common Roman name Paul, which comes from the Latin ‘parvulus’ which means small.”

As ordained men, Fr Zaranski and Fr Everitt would receive “a name that’s written in heaven and that they’ll bear into eternity”.

“As they come to be ordained, God says to them, ‘You will both be Peter and Paul, the rock and the little one’,” the Archbishop said. 

“As priests, these men will have to be both; they will have to be both strong and small. 

“To be strong they will have to be small, and to be small they will have to be strong: one demands the other.”

While finding strength in the priesthood comes from a priest’s weakness, smallness is found in the Crucified Christ.

“You too will have to become small in the priesthood,” he said. “The truth is that only if you learn to be small will you ever be great; and we need great priests.   The learning of smallness – call it humility if you will – is a slow and painful process, and it takes a lifetime. 

“It involves a bloody liberation from pride and egotism, from narcissism and self-promotion – from all those things which weave the dark web of clericalism.” 

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