Rector goes to new heights

20 Taranaki

Before starting his term as rector of Holy Cross Seminary in Auckland, Fr Mathew Vadakkevettuvazhiyil went on a mountain-climbing adventure in the North Island. NZ Catholic asked him about this and about his new role.  

NZC: What led you to decide to climb Mt Taranaki and Mt Ruapehu recently? 

Fr Mathew Vadakkevettuvazhiyil on Mt Ruapehu.

Fr Mathew: I love mountains. They stand for majesty, vitality, strength, graciousness and closeness to God. I tried twice in the past to climb Taranaki, but I could not reach the summit thanks to poor weather conditions. Friday, January 14, 2022, gifted me with excellent weather which, above all, is an important aspect for climbing mountains. Crossing Tongariro in 2019, and doing the Tongariro Northern Circuit this year, made me come closer to Mt Ruapehu. Walking around Mt Ngauruhoe, I was drawn by her “charm” and beauty. 

NZC: Can you describe the experience of climbing the mountains – was it easy or hard? 

Fr Mathew: Mt Ruapehu was easy to climb, though I could not reach the crater. Since the temperature was getting high, we were warned not to go to the crater. Mt Taranaki is a unique mountain, and needs climbing experience. When I went to check the weather conditions, the information centre in Whanganui told me that they would not like to see my name in the newspaper! Just to say how hard it is to climb Taranaki. The scoria, its conical shape, the loose, round pebbles that make it harder to get a good grip on solid ground, and the unpredictable weather, are challenges that you face. I found it easy to climb up. While climbing down, I fell down a few times due to lack of grip. However, my back bag, which had empty water bottles, helped me land softly! 

NZC: Did you have to do any training to get fit for these climbs? Have you climbed mountains this high before? 

Fr Mathew: I climbed Rangitoto, which was taken as my benchmark in preparation for Taranaki. I realised much training is needed. Covering the Hunua and Waitakere Ranges, climbing the Pinnacles in Thames, crossing Tongariro, climbing smaller peaks such as Mt Albert, Māngere Mountain, Mt Wellington, Mt Roskill, Mt Hobson and Mt St John, and the Big King, gave me courage to attempt Taranaki. Walking backward from the gates of One Tree Hill to the top and back was an important part of the training, and lockdown gave me long hours to walk daily. 

NZC: Having climbed these two famous North Island mountains – what is your next goal in terms of outdoor adventures when you have the opportunity? 

Fr Mathew: Tracks around Mt Taranaki, Round the Mountain Track, Mt Hikurangi in Raukumara Conservation Park, Pirongia Mountain, visiting Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre in Mt Cook Village and, if possible, the Milford Track is my dream. 

NZC: Since the announcement that you were to be seminary rector, what ministries have you been doing? Have you had to do study or training for the role of rector? 

Fr Mathew: Before my responsibility at the seminary was announced, I was appointed parish priest of Papatoetoe, where I continued to serve until I joined the seminary staff. Fr Brendan Ward, whom I succeeded as rector, was my main source in training. He spent numerous hours talking, sharing and reflecting with me about his experience. He introduced me to such important documents as “The Gift of the Priestly Vocation” (Ratio), Pastores Dabo Vobis – on the formation of priests in the circumstances of the present day, “Receiving the Gift of the Priestly Vocation in Aotearoa New Zealand” (Ratio NZ), seminary reports to NZCBC, and volumes of documents and correspondence that were important. I also had opportunities to meet with Br Mark McKeown, FSC, the then-formator, and the seminary formators and staff, and I joined the seminary community for coffee and meals; and there were occasional informal meetings with the seminarians, which gave me valuable insights. Meeting the bishops during their conference in Hamilton last April was a unique experience, as I listened to the expectations of the conference. Bishop Patrick Dunn has been extremely kind in sharing his vision and passion for the formation of the future priests of New Zealand. Though the pandemic meant that I could not attend any course designed for seminary formators, I feel that the shared experience and wisdom of many people, such as Bishop Michael Gielen, and the ongoing learning while in service, has been helpful. Attending various meetings like the Project Group Meetings, finance committee meeting, vocations directors meeting, were also unique learning experiences. Can we forget prayer and the Word of God? 

NZC:  Can you confirm when the students are arriving at the seminary this year?  

Fr Mathew: The three year one students reported on Sunday, February 13, and are enjoying their orientation programme. The ten returning students arrived on Thursday, February 17. Two students from Dunedin diocese are advised to remain in Dunedin awaiting approval of their residence visa. 

NZC: What adjustments will seminary staff and students have to make because of the leaky building remediation work going on at the seminary at present? When will this all be finished? 

Fr Mathew: I admire the capacity of the staff and students to adapt to the situation arising from the remediation work. We are grateful to Ponsonby parish for giving us access to the church for prayers and the celebration of the Eucharist. Much of the basic facilities like the kitchen, dining room, chapel, meeting rooms, gym, music rooms are operating from our garages; bedrooms have been converted for offices and other needs. Meals have been contracted out for collection. The meals have to be warmed up. We know that the students are very accommodating, and I thank them and the staff for their large hearts in bearing up with the inconveniences arising from the remediation work. Our appreciation goes to Fr Brendan who identified the issues of leaky buildings, and the bishops’ conference that supported him to set out to address them. 

NZC: How will the Covid-19 Protection Framework setting (currently red) impact the programme at the seminary (for example, parish visits, pastoral work etc,)? 

Fr Mathew: The Covid Protection Framework currently under “red” has made it hard for the students, especially, to get to their pastoral placements like rest homes, schools, hospitals, prisons etc. However, a new opening with the Salvation Army and New Dawn, along with the City Mission and Vinnies, help the students in their pastoral formation. 

NZC: How are you feeling about the year ahead? 

Fr Mathew: Students are returning to the seminary after a long break since August 17, 2021. Though the intellectual formation, as far as the lectures were concerned, were given importance, the other aspects of their formation were probably not easily imparted. Having a new formator and a new rector, and a spiritual director and a pastoral formator who could serve only half of their year of appointment means that we are all rather new. Thus, there is a double task of building the team of the staff and imparting the formation as required by the Ratio and its New Zealand adaptation. Since the Holy Spirit is the real formator, we trust the Spirit of God will renew all things, including our current situation, and the Spirit will help the students in their growth and formation. 


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