Three young men, two of them Maori, are currently studying in the Society of Mary’s seminary in Auckland.
Hemi Ropata, SM, 36, is in his third year with the Marists. His iwi is Ngati Raukawa/NgaTai.
Born into an Anglican family, he was walking along a street in 2013, when he felt the need to go to church.
“I didn’t always go to church. And I thought, I’ve never been to a Catholic service before. I found the biggest Catholic church I could, which was the cathedral in Auckland,” he said.
“I went to a Mass, and then I went to another one and then, another one. There came a point when I realised this is where God wants me to be. This is the Church that God wanted me to be in.”
But God’s call didn’t end there. Watching a priest handing out Communion at a Mass one day, he heard a voice saying, “you can do that”.
“My first response was, ‘no, that’s ridiculous.’ But the idea was planted and it never really went away,” Mr Ropata said.
This led him to explore his options with his parish priest, Msgr Paul Farmer. “I always say it’s his fault that I became a Marist,” he said with a laugh.
He talked to a few religious groups, but the Marist traditional phrase “hidden and unknown” really struck him.
“That captured me. There was something about that phrase that really spoke to me. So, I took that. The more it deepened, the more it became clear that God was asking me to come to the Marist seminary,” he said.
Mr Ropata has four to five more years before he is ordained a Marist priest and hopes to be in the Maori missions in the future.
“The decision is up to my superiors and up to God. But you are open to that. Wherever you are sent, you know that it’s ordained by God and so things are going to be ok,” he said.
Tom Manihera, 23, was brought up in Whangarei, but his iwi, Tuhoe, is in the Bay of Plenty.
Mr Manihera said he was the third generation who lives up north. “[I have a] . . . very large multi-cultural family: Maori, Tongan, Samoan, Cook Island, Kiwi . . . very big extended family,” he said.
He said he believes he was called at an early age, around 11 or 12.
“I think it came through an attraction I have to the Eucharist. When I was a kid, I’ve always been drawn to it, when others weren’t,” he said.
“There’s no question if I were to join the Marist. I grew up in a Marist school and a Marist parish. I took up my inspiration from the priests of the time: Tom O’ Connor, John Mori, Thige O’Leary. They were the parish priests when I was growing up,” he said. “They just seemed so humble and they freed themselves at God’s service and I wanted to be like that.”
Mr Manihera wanted to join the order immediately after college, but was discouraged by the parish priest then.
“To be honest, I was upset by that, a bit disappointed and angry at God,” he said.
He took on different jobs and did some travelling in Europe and America, but he felt called back.
“I started going back to Mass. In the last couple of years, I felt it was really Mary, the mother of Jesus, who called me back to this Marist way of life. And the other feelings got stronger and stronger. It got to the point when I couldn’t ignore it anymore,” he said.
Mr Manihera said if God wills and he becomes a priest, he hopes to “just to be free to be wherever I’m needed. I think that’s a beautiful way of the priests to be free and available to do God’s work”.
Joseph Mijares, 23, was born in San Francisco of Filipino parents but grew up Tawa, Wellington.
“I didn’t go to Catholic schools in New Zealand. I went to primary school right through college in Tawa. But my family was the foundation of my faith . . . just going to Mass every Sunday in my local parish. That was it,” he said.
Mr Mijares got a Building Science degree at the Victoria University of Wellington and worked as an asbestos building surveyor for two years.
But he said, he felt restless in working a “normal job”. “I realised that my faith was a big part of my own life. I was working as a surveyor, I was spending the whole day not doing, I guess, it (working for my faith),” he said.
Mr Mijares gave credit to Youth for Christ and Singles for Christ for nurturing his faith and leading him to his vocation.
“It was really YFC and SFC that really got me into the faith,” he said.
He said he had an accompaniment with a priest at the Wellington archdiocese, but it didn’t go far. Then in 2019, he went to Hearts Aflame and met the Marists.
“[The] accompaniment was a huge help. Accompaniment is when you walk alongside a priest and you get to just internalise stuff. I joined accompaniment last year and it was really good,” he said.
“I fell in love with what they do and their charism and that really helped me be where I was at right now.”
Mr Mijares said the idea of him pursuing the vocation wasn’t too troubling for his parents. His mum’s brother, after all, is a Franciscan friar.
“I just want to be a humble servant, willing to serve others. I guess that is really the primary aim of the vocation . . . to share Christ with others and help others discover Christ within themselves… wherever we are sent,” he said.