For the last two years, and especially for the last few months, Father Roger Gilbride, FSSP, felt a “holy impatience” to be ordained as a priest.
Scheduled to be ordained in Sydney on two different dates earlier this year, Covid-19 border restrictions meant these celebrations were postponed, so Fr Gilbride had to bide his time, working with Fr Antony Sumich, FSSP, in Te Atatu in Auckland.
But now Fr Gilbride’s period of “holy impatience” is over, as he was ordained by Hamilton Emeritus Bishop Denis Browne at St Benedict’s Church, Newton, Auckland, on October 3. Deacon Brendan Boyce, FSSP, was ordained to the diaconate at the same Mass, celebrated in Latin in the extraordinary form. Numbers present were restricted, with Auckland still being in Covid alert level 2.
“Holy impatience” was a phrase Fr Gibride read about during his seminary studies.
“One of the ordination booklets that they have in the seminary has some commentary on the ordination, and it talks about a ‘holy impatience’ for wanting to receive the sacrament. And probably the last two years in the seminary I have kind of had that. I want to get to work,” he said.
Returning to New Zealand from a parish in England earlier this year, where he had worked as a deacon, Fr Gilbride, aged 32, was only meant to be here for a couple of weeks, before being posted to Sydney. But the lockdown put paid to that. He ended up spending five months here, but viewed it positively.
“The postponements have been a little bit frustrating, but it has been nice to be back home for a good chunk of time.” He spent his time assisting Fr Sumich, preaching, teaching catechism and preparing for ordination.
However, after news of the second postponement came through in July, “when it was clear that we couldn’t get to Australia, Fr Sumich went to speak with Bishop [Patrick] Dunn and said ‘we are really stuck’.
“We have thought about the bishops in New Zealand who have offered the Latin Mass in their younger years as a priest and we are thinking about asking one of them if they would be willing to do the ordination. So he suggested – could we ask Bishop Denis Browne? And Bishop Dunn said – sure, that is no problem. So, Fr Sumich went to Bishop Browne and basically said to him, look, we are really stuck, we have got this problem, we can’t get to Australia, can you help us? He said ‘Yes’ immediately.”
Fr Gilbride said that, in the weeks leading up to the ordination, himself, then-Subdeacon Boyce and Fr Sumich helped reacquaint Bishop Browne with the “Old Mass”, “going through the rite of ordination”.
They all expressed their great gratitude for Bishop Browne agreeing to help them in this way.
“We are very appreciative that Bishop Browne has agreed to do the ordination. I want to thank everyone who has helped made this ordination possible,” Fr Gilbride said.
(According to their website, The Priestly Fraternity of St Peter (FSSP) is a clerical Society of Apostolic Life of Pontifical Right, canonically erected by St John Paul II in 1988. Their priests celebrate the traditional Mass in Latin (Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite)).
Originally from South Africa, Fr Gilbride grew up at Murray’s Bay on Auckland’s North Shore. But while his family were nominally Catholic, they did not practise their faith, apart from going to the occasional Christmas Mass.
While in Saudi Arabia, when his parents were there for work, the young Roger Gilbride watched the television coverage of the death of St John Paul II and the election of Pope Benedict XVI and this sparked an interest in the faith for him.
At Kristin School in Auckland (Anglican), he started to read the Bible.
“But it was when I went to university, and I was interested in the whole Catholicism thing, so I joined some of the Catholic student groups.”
He initially studied economics, and went on to study history and German, and did an extra year studying philosophy. He later spent time working for pro-life groups. But from the age of 18, he started to feel a call to the priesthood.
“In my first year at university, a priest of the fraternity visited New Zealand and I was invited along just by chance, and he spoke about the fraternity.
“A few months later, I did a semester of studies at a university in Germany. It just so happened that the university was an hour’s train wide away from the seminary of the fraternity. Because I had met this priest, I thought, I will go and have a look at their seminary. So I visited the seminary three times during my stay and when I came back to New Zealand, I finished my studies and worked. I had had this experience with this community, so my vocation was growing, and I thought, I like this community and that is where I’d like to go.”
His seminary studies took him to Sydney, USA and Germany. Initially, the Latin was something new to him.
“Once you are exposed to Latin liturgy on a daily basis, it ceases to become an obstacle,” Fr Gilbride said.
“At my seminary in Germany, there would have been seminarians from more than, probably, 15 countries. There was an entire French-speaking section and an entire German-speaking section, and there was no common language apart from Latin. So we all prayed, we all had different cultures, different languages, but we prayed together in the same language, and you could really sense the universality of the Church, when everyone is praying at the same time.”
Fr Gilbride expects to be posted to Sydney, whenever practicable.
“I hope to be a good priest and, being in a religious order, my assignments are given to me by my superiors . . . [wherever I am sent], I hope to be faithful to the promises, I have made as a deacon and a priest.”
In his homily at the ordination Mass, Bishop Browne gave thanks for the generosity of Fr Gilbride and Deacon Boyce in answering God’s call to serve God’s people, for which they would receive strength, joy and peace from the sacrament of holy orders.
“You will be known from now on as Father Roger,” Bishop Browne told Fr Gilbride.
“And what happens when you are ordained to the priesthood is that you are given almighty powers, amazing powers. The power to be able to offer the sacrifice of the Mass, power to be able to sanctify the People of God through your prayerfulness, through your love and service for the people, through your holiness and through your generosity in being called.”
“You will be known as Father Roger, so the people will respect you and honour you,” Bishop Browne said.
“As you accept that responsibility, know that the grace of God will be with you also. The power of the sacrament of holy orders will lift you up, and you will rejoice every day in the fact that God not only calls you every day, but gives you the strength and the power of the sacrament of holy orders.
“As Father Roger, you will be one who will sanctify the people, especially through the celebration of the Eucharist, but also through the celebration of other sacraments . . . .These are wonderful gifts that God gives you through the calling to the priesthood of Jesus Christ.
“. . . God will give you great joy and great peace in the wonder of knowing that you serve God’s people.”