A decade of building up the faith in Tasmania

By Catherine Sheehan

After ten years as shepherd of Tasmania’s Catholic flock, Archbishop Julian Porteous said his goal had remained the same over the past decade—to bring the Gospel to every Tasmanian.

“That does remain my goal,” Archbishop Julian said. “That every Tasmanian has a chance of discovering Christ and coming into a life in Christ.”

“There’s an awful lot of powerful forces working against the proclamation of the Gospel, but that always remains at the heart of what I believe my responsibility as bishop is, not just to myself alone, but the Church—to be a luminous witness to Christ.”

On 17 September this year, it will be exactly ten years since he was installed as Archbishop of Hobart. This month also marks 49 years since he was ordained a priest, and 20 years since he was ordained a bishop.

Archbishop Emeritus Adrian Doyle, Archbishop Julian Porteous and Cardinal George Pell at Archbishop Julian’s Mass of Installation as Archbishop of Hobart in 2013. Photo: Supplied

In seeking to bring the Gospel to all Tasmanians over the past ten years, Archbishop Julian said he had focussed on three key areas—fostering vocations to the priesthood and religious life, building up and strengthening the faith of Catholics, and creating a missionary Church.

When he arrived in September 2013 there was a severe shortage of priests in the Archdiocese, and several parishes were without a resident priest.

With no local seminarians at the time, Archbishop Julian began to source priests and seminarians from overseas. It was the power of prayer however that he believes broke the drought.

“I prayed about it and asked the Lord to send labourers for the vineyard, and it happened,” he said.

Reflecting on the past 10 years, Archbishop Julian said his main focus has been increasing vocations and strengthening the faith of Catholics. Photo: Josh Low

“Basically, it continues to be the case that priests do offer themselves… I’ve felt that the Lord has provided the priests rather than me actually go out and actively recruit.”

Executive Director of the Archdiocese, Chris Ryan, said within a couple of years of Archbishop Julian’s arrival, the number of seminarians for the Archdiocese increased from zero to five.

“What he’s done to rectify the shortage of priests has been highly beneficial,” Mr Ryan said. “If we didn’t have these priests, I don’t know what the parish structure would look like now. It would look completely different. We just wouldn’t have the parishes.”

Over the past ten years Archbishop Julian has ordained nine men to the priesthood, and he hopes to ordain one more in the near future.

Archbishop Julian’s visit to the Middle East in 2015. Photo: Supplied

“If I can have one priest a year ordained, that really does secure the future of the diocese,” he said.

As the first priest that Archbishop Julian ordained for the Archdiocese, Fr Anthony Onyirioha, Parish Priest of the Central Tasmania Parish, considers himself the “first fruit” of the Archbishop’s efforts to boost priest numbers.

Fr Anthony, originally from Nigeria, described the Archbishop as a “good shepherd”.

“God used him to call me to this order of service. I am happy that he accepted me into the diocese and that I was the ‘first fruit’. And after me, there has been so many, and many are still coming.

“We thank God for that opportunity and for using him to do this great work.”

Archbishop Julian with Fr Anthony Onyirioha following his ordination to the Priesthood in 2015. Photo: Supplied

Archbishop Julian also brought several religious communities into the Archdiocese, including Mary’s Little Children Sisters at Bridgewater, the Sisters of the Congregation of the Lovers of the Holy Cross at New Norfolk, and the Benedictine monks at Colebrook.

Another of his main goals over the past ten years has been strengthening the faith of Catholics.

“According to the last census, Tasmania has the highest number of people who claim to have no faith at all,” Archbishop Julian said.

“Participation in the sacramental life of the Church in Tasmania is one of the lowest in Australia as well. So, I’m very conscious of the great challenges in keeping the Catholic faith alive.”

He instituted the annual Corpus Christi procession through the streets of Hobart, and encouraged adoration of the Blessed Sacrament across the diocese. He also set up a pastoral team to focus on evangelisation and catechesis.

St Mary’s Cathedral Restoration: Archbishop Julian anoints the new altar with Sacred Chrism Oil, 2022. Photo: Tony Lomas

Launceston parishioner Mary Sexton said the Archbishop had made in-roads in addressing the low rate of Catholics practising the faith.

“With rapidly falling numbers of church-going Catholics in our state ten years ago, to turn this around was to be no easy feat,” Mrs Sexton said.

“The Archbishop has a long history of engaging youth and young adults, strengthening them in their faith.”

Youth Minister Sam Excell said Archbishop Julian had “reinvigorated” the youth of the Archdiocese.

“He always makes an effort to show up to important Church events, such as the St Patrick’s Pilgrimage and World Youth Day,” Mr Excell said.

Archbishop Julian with the youth in the lead up to World Youth Day Lisbon 2023. Photo: Josh Low

“He’s there to offer support and guidance when needed and encourages the youth to get involved in the life of the Church.”

Part of building up the faith involved reminding Catholics of their baptismal calling to bring others to Christ, Archbishop Julian said.

It was vital for the Church to see itself as having “an outward looking missionary focus”. This was the impetus for his successful Evangelium Project.

“It really is a baptismal responsibility of every Catholic to seek to spread the faith and bring people to know Christ,” he said.

Archbishop Julian leading the Walk with Christ for the Feast of Corpus Christi in 2021. Photo: Mark Franklin

“The focus needs to be on helping people have a personal encounter with Christ.”

A vital aspect of the missionary focus, he said, was that the celebration of the Mass be “inspired by our faith” and “deeply reverent”.

“That when people come to Mass, they have a chance of being spiritually nourished and inspired in their relationship with Christ,” Archbishop Julian said.

Pastoral Associate at St Mary’s Cathedral in Hobart, Sr Monica Shelverton, said the way Archbishop Julian celebrated the Mass demonstrated that he was “Christ-centred”.

“He’s really absorbed in saying the Mass, he prays the Mass,” she said.

Archbishop Julian hopes that every Tasmanian has a chance of discovering Christ and coming into a life in Christ. Photo: Josh Low

Sr Monica said the Archbishop was a shepherd who “puts himself out to fulfil the needs of all the people”.

“He’s trying to get people to come together and to fulfil their own journey as disciples of Christ,” she said.

Reflecting back over the past decade, Archbishop Julian said the fruit of his ministry would only ultimately be known by God.

“I think in the end the fruitfulness of your ministry as a priest or bishop is really only known to God.”

“I prefer to continue carrying out my mission as bishop here, as best I can, and leave the fruitfulness to God, to the grace of God.”

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