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National Vocations Week: Young seminarian twins find common ground in call to priesthood

Called: Seminarians Thomas Popovic (left) and BJ Perrett.

BJ Perrett and Thomas Popovic, both twins, have formed a strong friendship among the brotherhood of Holy Spirit Provincial Seminary, Banyo.

Thomas, whose twin Matthew’s also in priestly formation, first met rural BJ, a twin to Eve, at the Quo Vadis (Where are you going?) discernment weekend in 2017.

A recent mid-semester trip in BJ’s home parish of Stanthorpe, in Toowoomba diocese, meant parish priest Fr Brian Connolly and the congregation appreciated their presence.

The seminarians were visibly pleased to witness to their faith, evident from the steps of St Joseph’s Church sanctuary to across the table at a local, equally limited-access (due to the COVID-19 restrictions) restaurant afterwards.

BJ said there were distinctions between the Popovic twins.

“Thomas and Matt certainly are different, I don’t know if I can put it into words,” the 20 year old said.

There are also many similarities between the brothers.

Thomas said their names were intentionally biblical while Popovic means “son of a priest”.

Theirs was a blissful childhood immersed in the faith from birth in the suburb of Strathfield, Sydney.

“We’d go to Mass every weekend as a family,” the 23 year-old said.

“Mum’s parents, Nan and Pop, are particularly faithful, with a very deep prayer life, and they’d look after us as babies and young children.”

Tony and Lorraine Grace lived 800 metres from their grandchildren – Damian, Melissa, Christopher, Anna and the twins – and with busy working parents, Mary-Jane and Steve Popovic, their grandfather encouraged sportsmanship and a sense of purpose.

“When our eldest daughter informed us she was having twins, we had a very inspirational priest, Father Timothy Deeter, pray powerful prayers over her womb,” Tony said.

“At night the boys wanted me to pray over them before going to sleep.

“I placed my hands on their heads, prayed for the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, the seven Beatitudes, and the seven virtues, and that they’d have dreams about Jesus, Mary, the angels and the saints.”

Such was the backdrop for Thomas and Matthew’s individual inklings of a call to priesthood, although neither admitted it.

“My earliest memory of the thought of priesthood was when I was 10 years old,” Thomas, who was educated at St Patrick’s College, Strathfield, in the Edmund Rice tradition, said.

“I was in the front yard of Nan and Pop’s place, catching lizards with Matt.

“I stood up and the thought came (to me) that one day I’ll be a priest but I didn’t tell anyone.”

Thomas described the developing “call from the Holy Spirit” as “deep down”.

Matt said the timing of his call was similar.

Mr Grace said he was unaware of their inner stirrings, but simply “tried to influence them to be good people, good Catholics and always put God first”.

“Lorraine knew otherwise as they asked her lots of questions about the faith and she always gave them excellent answers,” Mr Grace said.

“In hindsight, we believe it was praying the Cenacle and their repeated Consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary that had the biggest influence on their lives.”

From Strathfield, the family moved to the Gold Coast, the then teens completing high school at Marymount College, Burleigh Waters, from mid-Year 10, with fond memories of youth group and faith expression.

With a sense of “being different to others” the call to priesthood continued although Thomas initially felt it “was to be at some stage centred on military chaplaincy”.

He first met Fr Morgan Batt when in Year 12, Thomas saying the friendship “began with a vocations football”.

The twins first attended Quo Vadis in 2016.

Spending discernment from the following year, in Canali House, Brisbane, God led towards priesthood for the archdiocese.

Thomas described the family’s reaction to formal seminary formation as “super supportive” especially in the footsteps of their uncle, Fr Andrew Grace, parish priest of Griffith in Wagga Wagga diocese.

Mrs Popovic said her sons were “very brave to respond to God’s calling” and priesthood is “the perfect vocation for them”.

Her daughter Anna said her brothers’ call and response was “natural and right”.

While Mr Grace “had a vision” for the twins to be professional athletes, their chosen path continues to inspire, Thomas saying, “Pop said to me he realises we’ve chosen the better path.”

Next year Thomas will complete a Bachelor of Theology and move into the third year of the Discipleship Phase, with 2022 offering an Internship, or pastoral phase.

He’s enjoyed moral theology among other study areas at the seminary and what’s broader than Thomas’ developing knowledge is his joy in the priestly pathway.

In formation

Born in Brisbane, as a Sisters of Mercy initiated St Joseph’s School, Stanthorpe, student, BJ spent formative years living in Blackwater, west of Rockhampton in central Queensland, the family moving to the Granite Belt in 2010.

He shares with Thomas, lived and expressive family faith from childhood, among siblings twin sister Eve, Sonya, Neil and Mya, the latter two also twins.

BJ said their parents Linda and Clint were “a huge part” of his strengthening faith, especially his father “among the family as a whole”.

Recreating parental love in a priestly way, he hopes to “emulate both a tender and strong love … to show such tenderness for the sheep”.

Not only blessed by meeting Thomas and Matthew at Quo Vadis, BJ also credits his priestly journey to ongoing encounters with Fr Tom Duncan “who kept up the invitation to events”, Fr Batt, “a very real role model of priesthood”, all priests he’s “ever encountered and many holy people along the way”.

After completing his schooling in 2017, the kind-spirited young man “took a year off working on a broccolini farm”.

“That year wasn’t just a job, it was a period of discernment,” BJ said.

Mrs Perrett is grateful for her son’s decision.

“We’ve continued to see BJ’s personal love of Jesus grow in these past months, through the love and witness of his community,” she said.

“We’re grateful for the shepherdship of (Seminary rector) Monsignor (John) Grace and the blessings of BJ’s fellow seminarians.”

The family delighted in the recent, mid-semester visit too, Mrs Perrett saying, on behalf of the family, “It was amazing to share our lives with such humble and loving young men, willing to share their faith and their love of Jesus.”

Also with Marian-inspired prayer Cenacles in their home, she credited Stanthorpe’s Fr Connolly for the “great strength and peace” he has extended to BJ over time.

Fr Connolly was also inspired by the recent visit.

“It’s obvious to me that today’s seminarians are receiving and responding to all the opportunities for the human and spiritual formation that is being offered to them,” Fr Connolly, who marked 50 years as a priest last year, said.

“I hope I make it to 60 years ordained to see all these fine young men ordained and settling into their vocations as young, enthusiastic priests which I’m sure they will be.”

BJ aspires to “developing the vision of being a priest” allowing him to “mature and become more faithful”.

He reflected on COVID-19 restrictions as “opportunities for growth in holiness, prayer and sacrifice”.

The seminarians spoke of appreciation for shared prayer and scriptural reflection in their communal home during such months.

“Lectio Divina has been very fruitful… to share each other’s insights and the richness of the Word of God,” Thomas said.

Such reflections were with seminarians William Iuliano, Sang Duc Bui, Anthony Gawlu and Brian Redondo.

The twins are in “separate houses for good reason” Thomas said.

“Matt and I have been inseparable growing up and if we were living together now, we’d be too inseparable,” Thomas said.

The twins and others enjoy “kicking around the soccer ball” in spare time, ever conscious of the need for physical health and activity.

BJ said the “main difference between the seminary and a football club is that a football club is a group of guys getting together for a common goal”.

“In the seminary, our goal is to be conformed to Jesus Christ, that’s the difference.

“Jesus Christ is the centre of our lives and hopefully makes us more selfless, bringing the community together so we aren’t just a giant football club,” he said.

The priests of the future are conscious of and grateful for financial and prayerful support among 22 seminarians, 19 of which are “living in” while the remaining three are in parishes.

“We really are supported spiritually by a lot of people who give what they can,” BJ said.

“Through their prayers and their sacrifices I certainly feel supported.

“I hope our benefactors know that whether or not they give or don’t give, it’s the sacrifice that matters.”

Appreciating studies in Church history during formation, BJ said he was looking forward to a visit to fellow Toowoomba diocesan seminarian Nathan Webb, serving a pastoral placement, as well as last month’s seminarian retreat.

Focused on studies resuming, both trust in the power of God moving in and around them.

“The Holy Spirit guides where we need to go, who we minister to and be ministered by,” BJ said.

After visiting Stanthorpe, BJ spent time ministering in Goondiwindi parish, on the border of Queensland and New South Wales, while Thomas was busy among the faithful in Dalby, north west of Brisbane.

Seminarians Bradley Davies and Michael Tran were other welcome guests in Stanthorpe last month, Fr Connolly ensuring electric blankets were available.

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