Three different paths to the priesthood

3 Three new priests

Being with God’s people and ministering to them is what three new priests from Christchurch diocese are looking forward to most about their futures. Fathers Graeme Blackburn, Anthony Huynh Van Tran and Alister Castillo were ordained as priests by Christchurch Bishop Emeritus Basil Meeking at a packed St Mary’s Pro-Cathedral on July 1. Auxiliary Bishop of Vinh, Vietnam, Bishop Vien Nguyen, was among the principal concelebrants.

Different vocational journeys brought the three men to their ordination day.

Fr Tran blesses a person at Holy Communion.

Fr Tran blesses a person at Holy Communion.

Fr Tran first had an inkling of a vocation to priesthood when he was very young. Preparing for first Communion and learning the catechism drew him closer to God, he told NZ Catholic.

“I thought I should do something for the Lord,” he said. He received encouragement from priests and nuns.

“The call was coming, not regularly, but gently and day by day. It was not like Jesus sent me a text and said please come to me. I feel he called me by life, in my experience and faith.”

Fr Trans studied electronic engineering in Vietnam, but came to New Zealand with three other men and they entered Good Shepherd House in Christchurch and then Holy Cross Seminary. His three companions are already priests in Christchurch diocese.

Bishop Meeking lays hands on Fr Blackburn.

Bishop Meeking lays hands on Fr Blackburn.

Fr Blackburn grew up in Auckland, but it wasn’t until he moved to Christchurch that thoughts of a vocation began.

“When I was 23 or 24 and — I don’t want it to sound too crazy — but it was quite an instantaneous thing when I felt, wow, this is something I should consider. And then it took me three years to join the seminary after that,” he said.

Fr Blackburn studied political science at university and also worked as a flight instructor.

“I went into the seminary thinking — at some stage I’m going to leave. But everything kind of just started falling into place bit by bit, the formators would confirm your call and then your family might say, yeah you look like you are doing right.”

Fr Castillo, a New Zealander of Filipino ethnicity who grew up in Christchurch, said it was in the year after he left school, studying at the University of Canterbury, that he sensed a gradual call.

Deacon Alister Castillo before the Mass. Photo: Peter Fleming.

Deacon Alister Castillo before the Mass. Photo: Peter Fleming.

“During that year that this idea of priesthood popped into my head. I kept saying ‘no’. At the end of that year at university, when I was looking at what papers to do next year, I had started to do a Bachelor of Music, filling out forms, there was an unrest and I thought I’ve got to do something about that.”

During his years at the seminary, Fr Castillo, 27, had a similar experience to Fr Blackburn.

He asked himself “is this the right thing because I’m young, should I go get experience and all that”.

“But everything ends up falling into place like formation and feedback and that sense of peace I suppose that grew over time, especially nearing diaconate, that sense of peace.”

All three new priests are looking forward to working with God’s people in their future ministries.

“I will try to be as close as possible to the people,” Fr Tran said.

“Because I came to New Zealand as a stranger and had to learn a lot of things, the language and studied language and culture and tried to get more friends. And I don’t have family here. So my aim is to try to become a part of their family, so I don’t feel lonely here. Hopefully, I will do it well.”

Fr Blackburn is looking forward to “the relationships in the future with people, people I guess are going to suffer, people who are suffering and being able to help them in a unique way”.

Fr Castillo likewise is looking forward to “the relational ministry with the people”.

“But I’m also looking forward to getting involved with youth ministry, within priestly ministry.” Fr Castillo is also keen to promote and foster vocations.

All three noted that their ordination day would have a poignant note in that Bishop Barry Jones would not be there — at least physically.


In his homily on July 1, Bishop Meeking spoke of a type of individualism in which “someone’s goal in life is to be his own person”.

This “is largely the mentality of our Kiwi culture. It is the culture from which our seminarians come. It is the culture in which our priests have to live and exercise the priesthood of Jesus Christ”.

But, Bishop Meeking said, “a Catholic priest cannot draw the map of his own priestly existence, his life is already defined by a deep relationship with God the Holy Trinity, with Christ the Son of God, with the Church, which is Christ’s mystical body”.

“The Catholic priest then, always, in an unchangeable way, finds the source of his identity in Christ the Priest. That’s what it means to say, the priest is not his own.”

Bishop Meeking said that a priestly relationship with Christ brings with it other relationships, notably a new and deeper relationship with the Virgin Mary.

“She, of all human beings, is the most Christ centred.”

The bishop recommended that during their ministry, the three new priests have a devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

“Every priest needs . . . a devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, that is strong and tender, not simply sentimental, but is called forth in your hearts from the love Christ has for all of us priests and his people.”

Bishop Meeking added that “having such a profound mercy on a poor human being to make him a priest, God shows us the depths of his love for the whole human race”.

“God chooses us imperfect human beings as priests because he wills that his Church might know the love of Christ, our saviour, for the sake of the world.”

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Michael Otto

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