Holy Cross Seminary has welcomed three new seminarians this year.
Seminary formator Br Mark McKeon, FSC, said it’s always good to work with young men who are discerning their vocational journey.
“They are open to formation. That’s an important quality. . . we are basically leading them to be conformed to Christ,” he said.
Ignatius Tung Tran, 23, is a seminarian from Christchurch diocese. Mr Tran said his brother, Christchurch priest Fr Tranh Tran, invited him (Ignatius) to be a priest in New Zealand in 2017.
“At that time, my vocation was not so strong, and I said ‘no’,” he recalled. “A lot of things happened during that year. That could be a way God was talking to me; through experience and through reality. Then my vocation. . . grew stronger,” he said.
A pivotal event was the death of his uncle, whom he (Ignatius) took care of in the hospital in the last three months of his (uncle’s) life.
“I thought about the purpose of life, what is the point of the end of life. Then it came to me that God created me, so he must have a plan for my life,” Mr Tran said. “I might become a priest to serve his chosen people.”
He left his family in Vietnam to pursue his vocation here.
“My dad is really supportive, because he is also quite a faithful Catholic. Actually, he was very happy when he heard that I agreed to come to New Zealand. And so was my mum,” he said, adding “the day I left, she cried a lot. But I think they were tears of joy.”
Mr Tran said he has six sisters (one of whom is a nun) and three brothers.
Mark Bond, 31, is studying to be a priest for Auckland diocese. He is a third-year entrant, having entered the seminary in 2012 and left in 2014. Br Mark teasingly referred to him as the “recycled” seminarian.
“I was quite immature at the time. I think I clashed a lot with the discipline of seminary life,” Mr Bond said. He thought he was done with a priestly vocation, until the beginning of last year, when he volunteered at a Lifeteen summer camp.
At a homily about Jesus’ presentation at the Temple, the priest said Jesus had two choices: he (Jesus) could have stayed at the temple and become a teacher of law, or be obedient to his parents and go home.
“The way he had phrased it, I could hear almost to the very core of my being this, not an audible voice, but certainly, a very clear message, ‘you need to go back’,” Mr Bond said.
“I think the reason I can safely say it wasn’t wishful thinking or my own voice was I was quite startled by it. It came right out of left field. But at the same time, there was kind of an excitement to it. It was quite scary and joyful and . . . a mix of emotions that I’m still trying to process.”
Mr Bond did his masters and PhD in English, and taught at the University of Auckland, as well as at the University of Waikato.
“I was in the middle of finishing my thesis, and I was in the middle of teaching. The wheels were turning at that point. The momentum was there. It was quite a shock to kind of receive that [message],” he said. “It took me a while. I was hesitant, but I finally contacted Fr Sherwin [Lapaan] halfway through last year.”
Mr Bond hopes to become a priest “who points less and less to himself and more and more to God and the love and generosity that he has to offer”.
Gerson Badayos, 31, is a seminarian for Wellington archdiocese. He said he had often been mistaken for a seminarian — which led him to decide to be one.
Mr Badayos said that, while still at Holy Cross University of Davao in the Philippines, he worked as a pastoral assistant to a hospital chaplain and therefore was exposed to the life of a priest. He was also involved in many religious activities in his Catholic university.
“I had several encounters with people who were telling me, ‘you will end up becoming a priest. We can see and we can say that’. These moments were the factors that led me to discern. And I came to the conclusion that, really, maybe my life is for priesthood,” Mr Badayos said.
He recalled one instance when a nun from the Society of St Paul asked if he wanted to become a priest.
“She said, ‘you know what, it could be the Holy Spirit. I don’t normally talk to people about vocation. You are the second one I have talked to. The first one, he’s a priest now. You could be the second one,” he recalled. “I had that goose bump experience.”
But Mr Badayos said Pope Francis’ message to youth about vocation made him [Mr Badayos] serious about becoming a priest.
“I cannot verbatim remember what he said, but the thought was, if you are seriously considering a religious vocation, try to cultivate that, because it must be God who is putting that in your heart. It really struck me, and I got so emotional,” he said.
He said he joined the candidacy programme of the Society of Jesus in 2017, but he didn’t feel prepared at that time. He met Auckland-based Fr Sam Pulanco in the Philippines and that was when he has the idea “that it’s possible to be a priest in another country”.
“Every day is a discernment for me,” he said, when asked what kind of priest he thinks he will be. “I want to be a priest that God wants me to be. I want to be a priest for the people.”