POLISHING chalices, lighting candles, organising vestments for priests are all part of a regular day for Hayden Kennedy but that’s not all he does.
Hayden is a full-time sacristan at St Stephen’s Cathedral in Brisbane.
At 24, he’s young for the role although he’s not the youngest on the cathedral’s team of sacristans.
Another three young men on the team are under 25, but Hayden is the only full-time sacristan.
He’s had the role since May, after having been in the seminary with the Marist Fathers at Good Shepherd College in Auckland, New Zealand, for the previous two years.
And that followed three years of pre-seminary formation with the Marist Fathers in Brisbane.
He left the seminary with a Theology degree from the Sydney College of Divinity and a Bachelor of Arts from Australian Catholic University, majoring in Theology, and he’s almost finished a Master’s degree in Theology with BBI-TAITE (The Australian Institute of Theological Education).
“I had a choice when I left the seminary whether to do a Master’s of Education or a Master’s of Theology – … they’re my fields. That’s what I’d like to do,” he said.
“But I felt like if I was doing Education it would just be for money; it would just be for security.
“I love teaching. … I enjoy it immensely, and it was some of the best pastoral experiences I had when I was at seminary, but …
“It’s not exactly what I feel like I should be doing.
“I was thinking, ‘Okay, so, I have essentially two theology degrees, what is that worth? What do I do with that? How do I use that? What is that useful for for the Church?’
“There’s a lot of stuff in seminary that is excellent if you’re going to be a cleric, wonderful, and as soon as you leave though, it’s gone.
“It’s good that you’ve got it, but it’s not really a qualification …”
Hayden said a big drawcard for him with religious life was to live poverty.
“And so (after leaving the seminary), I felt really uncomfortable having conversations with people about jobs and money,” he said.
“That’s not what it should be about. I mean, you’ve got to live, like you’ve got to eat.
“In one way I still haven’t ‘de-seminaried’, in that sense, from poverty …”
Hayden found his answer on the Seek job-search site.
“I would type in ‘Theology’ into the search bar and it would come up with ‘choirmaster at St John’s’, every week,” he said.
“And I was like, ‘No, that’s not useful for me, at all …’
“And then this (sacristan job) popped up one day, and I thought, ‘That’s it. I’ve gotta go for it …’”
He was convinced it was right for him when he went for the job interview.
“The first thing Bishop Ken (Howell) said in the interview was, ‘This is a behind-the-scenes job. This is a job that thanks is not part of it …’,” Hayden said.
“And I thought, ‘That’s the charism I fell in love with …’
“I fell in love with Mary poking Jesus in the back and going, ‘Off you go, just do what he says and then wine will appear …’” (The Wedding Feast of Cana, John 2:1-11)
Bishop Howell’s words resonated with Hayden’s Marist formation with the priests as well as with the brothers at Marist College Ashgrove where he had been a student.
He also was keen to fill a support role for the priests as cathedral sacristan.
“I have such a deep respect for what they (priests) do,” he said.
“I have such a deep respect and I would love to help them however I can …”
His attitude in supporting the priests is “How can I help get the hubris of life out of the way for you so that you can do the beautiful, mystical stuff that needs to be done?”
Hayden’s week is full of looking after “vestments, chalices, polishing, rosters – pretty normal, run-of-the-mill stuff”.
“There’ a team of about six of us here as the sacristans, and I fit into that,” he said.
“It’s more about the group of us than me, and there’s so many volunteers on the weekend.”
But another part of the job is “to be open to God coming through that (sacristy) door” – to welcome the people who come to see the priests, for whatever reason.
Hayden said helping to “make a space for Christ” in the cathedral was the most satisfying part of his job.
He said working in the cathedral did not mean he had plenty of time to pray.
“You get to pray on the go, a lot, which is wonderful,” he said.
“It’s something that you couldn’t do in an office job …
“Because mine (work) is monotonous, in one sense – in a good sense – I can be praying while I’m doing that, and I often do.
“There’s not any extra time for deep, contemplative prayer but (there is time for active prayer).
“(It’s) kind of like praying in steps. Like, it’s a big liturgical dance and, once you know the steps, you can pray.
“You do get extra time to pray in the Masses.
“In the Masses you get a lot more time to pray, because there are four of them (each day during the week).”
Hayden counts it as a gift that his faith is “strong and firm”.
“Once it’s firm like that, anything makes it stronger – even doubting it,” he said.
“Once you’ve met Christ, once you’ve spoken to him and loved him, that’s it – you’re in love.
“You can fight all you want with him; you’re not out of love with Christ.”
He said being able to watch other people live their faith was what strengthened his.
It was part of his privilege to be in the presence of Christ in the Eucharist “all the time”.
“It’s part of every liturgical celebration … you’re facing or you’re bowing or you’re kneeling – everything is focused at that tabernacle or at the altar,” he said.
“You start to see how that, when in people’s lives, can kind of be seen further, how he takes over people and uses people – that’s when I feel closest to God.”