by ROWENA OREJANA
After seven years, Fr Stephen Lowe has stepped down from his role as formation
director at Holy Cross Seminary and has returned to Christchurch to his
first love, being a parish priest.
Being formation director is not an easy appointment, he said.
He described his role as being an agent of the Holy Spirit. As formation
director, he has taught two classes. Towards Priesthood gives the seminarians
a vision of priesthood based on papal documents on the priesthood for the
particular circumstances of the Church in New Zealand. And Vocational Growth
looks at the man himself and what helps him grow in his call and what are
the challenges to be overcome. In the light of those classes, he had one-on-one
sessions with seminarians, helping form them to be better men, Christians
and, God willing, priests.
“We try to do it with prayerful reflection. Here in Holy Cross, we have to
assess the man’s suitability for priesthood,” he explained.
“For the formation director, the role can be at times like a policeman, which
doesn’t easily fit in with a priest,” he added.
The hardest part of the job, he said, is when he has to tell a seminarian that
he is not suitable to be a priest. “It’s the worst part of the seminary work.
That’s when we have to, as I say, red card them,” he said.
“Whenever someone comes into the seminary, we try to give them the best
shot at going through, if that is what we believe is God’s will for them,” he
said. “But in the end, we have to make that decision. Is this actually going to
be good for the guy in the long term? Is he going to be able to live his vocation happily and healthily for the rest of his life, and is it going to be good for the people of God? Is he going to be a gift for the people of God?”
Fr Lowe said while some sadly had to leave, other seminarians broke through the obstacles impeding their journey.
“We’ve seen some guys come in with pretty big things to work through, but
they’ve done it. That’s a great joy. And so we’re always trying to understand
how and why God called this man and to work with that,” he said.
Fr Lowe said his time at Holy Cross had been very enriching in his own
journey. Working with the staff and students had been a great gift.
He said he becomes emotional during ordination. “It’s wonderful to see
guys growing, and suddenly they’re grasping what priesthood is all about
and it’s evident in their lives,” he said.
“The seminary is an intense time for both the seminarian and the staff member. It’s a time when they are both called to confront realities in their own
life. I think for the health of the staff and students, it shouldn’t be a forever assignment,” he said.
He acknowledged there would be an adjustment period for the seminarians and the new formation director, Fr Michael Gielen. “I think that’s just the nature of the seminaries,” he said of the change.
“A big thing for the students is the level of trust they feel in the formator.
So it’s often a matter of listening first. The more the student can be honest
with the formator, the better. It takes time to build that relationship,” he said.
To this end, Fr Lowe said patience is the key.
He also advised seminarians to be totally honest. “Priesthood is a beautiful
vocation. If this is what God is calling you to then it means being totally
honest while you are in the seminary, opening up so you can be totally free as
possible so that you can give yourself to God and to his people as much as
possible,” he said.
These are, after all, he said, the two great loves of a priest: God and his people.