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How a cathedral pulled this young man out of depression

Joe Grogan

Joe’s “home”: Joe Grogan at “home” in St Stephen’s Cathedral, Brisbane. The painting of the Prodigal Son in the cathedral resonates with him. Photo: Robin Williams

JOE Grogan believes film and communications play a large part in the new evangelisation of his beloved Catholic faith.

“We live in the information age and within this age the potential for communications, film and screen media is boundless to engage open minds and open hearts towards love, mercy and faith,” he said.

Originally born in Kiribati to an Australian Catholic missionary father and Kiribati-born mother, Joe’s early life was a study in contrasts.

“My journey is very complicated,” he said.

Joe’s first few years of life were largely spent in Kiribati where his father John chose to work in impoverished villages with legitimate needs.

The village’s infant mortality rate, and his mother’s developing psychosis, prompted the family to secure a base back in Australia, in Cohuna, a small country town near his father’s home town of Bendigo, Victoria. Here his sisters Alice and Caroline were born.

“For over a decade, my family moved back and forth between the hut in Kiribati and the house in Australia,” Joe said.

“I was raised in two cultures.”

Joe said his father was a notable teacher and was invited to teach at prominent schools.

“But his heart was as a Catholic missionary so he wanted to teach on outer islands where in one instance he helped found a school,” he said.

He said he now respected his father’s choice to work in “hard environments” but, growing up, Joe felt conflicted about his family’s “Spartan” situation.

Joe said his mother’s family was of the traditional royal lineage and his father could have moved into the more affluent branches of the family.

“But again he kept choosing some pretty tough places to live and teach in,” he said.

“The areas he gravitated to, and the parts of the family he gravitated to, were poverty-stricken.”

After attending numerous primary schools because of constant travel, Joe received an Edmund Rice scholarship to St Joseph’s Nudgee College, Brisbane, where he studied from Years 8-12.

This was another time of contrasting experiences.

“Nudgee was invaluable spiritually, academically and athletically. At the same time, I was also interacting with different socio-economic demographics, some of whom weren’t so kind to ‘the poor kid’,” Joe said.

“The Edmund Rice ethos of the staff and many students was great, (and) the principal Mr (Daryl) Hanly is a legend. But, as always, some students were a bit rough to handle.

“Visiting Nudgee’s beautiful chapel helped me a lot.”

It was during this time that Joe’s mother Riin’s degenerating psychosis led to the need for her care.

“So I had a lot of personal issues,” he said.

“Basically, through the trauma of the journey’s extremities, the dual culture, the admirable affluence I explored through Nudgee peers and parallel opportunities … and my own aspirations … I strayed (from my faith).

“I thought there had to be something more out there than Dad’s austerity and spiritual simplicity.”

Joe said the next chapter was a whirlwind and superficial, and could be categorised in two different phases.

“(In the) first phase I wanted to experience anything and everything,” he said.

“(In the) second I became disillusioned and depressed so withdrew from everything.

“It was Dad who, for my 24th birthday, invited me to come with him to Mass at St Stephen’s Chapel.

“Dad said this chapel reminded him of his favourite chapel in the islands – ageless spiritual solemnity, austerity, tranquility.”

Joe joined his father for Mass and his life changed again.

Joe Grogan

Transformed: “I felt a deep communion with Christ within the sacred environment of St Stephen’s Chapel.”

“I felt a deep communion with Christ within the sacred environment of St Stephen’s Chapel,” he said.

“I was blessed that night because (Marist) Father Michael Rego was saying Mass and he is a very holy gentleman and he celebrates Mass in a very personal, particular way.”

Joe said after the Mass Fr Rego led those gathered in a sharing of the hymn Hail Queen of Heaven, the Ocean Star, by Fr John Lingard.

“I felt I was struck by a lightning bolt,” he said.

“This is where I am supposed to be, so I just kept coming back and people gradually asked my name.”

Since rediscovering his faith, Joe has been involved with the Verbum Dei School of the Word, who provided a “wonderful foundation for a deeper biblical journey”.

He was also invited by friends to explore the St Stephen’s Young Adults Ministry (YAM) and then the Young Order of Malta Qld, and has found an “extended family” in both.

“Cathedral parish is definitely my home parish, has been ever since my dad introduced me to St Stephen’s Chapel,” he said.

“I sleep on the northside (of Brisbane) as my dad is anchor while I study but beyond my graduation I look forward to moving closer to my second ‘home’,” he said.

“Dad often says our potential is God’s gift to us, what we do with our potential is our gift to God.”

Joe’s advice to other young Catholics struggling with their faith comes from his personal experience.

“The most important thing is to ask yourself: ‘Am I happy, am I deeply joyful in a meaningful sense?’,” he said.

Joe recommended following those questions with others such as: “Does my joy endure beyond the thrill, beyond the excitement?

“What is the cause of my happiness, how does my joy inform my life decisions, my future?

“Above all, ‘How does my joy serve my family, my friends and my community, the poor and sick?’”

Joe said when he asked himself those questions he found that he wasn’t really happy.

“I was seeking a deeper happiness, joy and purpose,” he said.

“I have found, through my Christian upbringing, but also through my analytical study and fierce exploration, Christ’s love is the source of my solace, summit, the salvation that introduces me, and hopefully others, to that sense of authentic joy and truth that endures even in sorrow.”

Joe hopes other young adults or adolescents who have strayed from their faith know there is hope and that they are not bound to the path they are on.

“That in the Year of Mercy blossoming around us, there is always the opportunity to come to a church, come to the cathedral,” he said.

“You don’t have to be a believer … come in, light a candle and even if you are not comfortable praying, perhaps just share a kind thought for someone in your life or for yourself and see where God leads you.

“The visibility of the cathedral means that it is one of the first places international students, visitors or young adults who don’t know where to start, come to, so it’s a great place to be welcomed with open arms.”

Joe was the winner of The Community Leader, 2015 Volunteer of the Year Award.

This year he will pursue a Doctorate of Philospohy in Film and when he is not studying he can be found volunteering for the St Stephen’s Cathedral YAM group, the Young Order of Malta Qld, listening to the homeless with Rosies, being a Blue Angel (volunteer) at St Vincent’s Private Hospital, serving food in soup kitchens, praying outside abortion clinics, and filming for youth conferences and the Archdiocese of Brisbane.

“Serving Christ and my family through volunteering allows me to repay Christ for the un-payable,” Joe said.

Written by: Emilie Ng
Catholic Church Insurance

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