Overview of National Meetings (1994-2005)
OVERVIEW OF NATIONAL MEETINGS OF DIOCESAN DIRECTORS
In this first meeting there was a full attendance with representatives from every diocese in the country. Some of these were already Directors of Continuing Education in dioceses where the Ministry to Priests program had been adopted, others were equivalent persons bearing different titles in their dioceses or no title at all. There was an air of excitement and anticipation in the meeting and a readiness for "hanging out one's washing", which was threatening to some. The written report to all bishops and directors/representatives made negative reading. Yet at the meeting itself there was a strong sense of hope for the future of priestly ministry.
A consultant psychologist, Mr Bryan Gray, was invited as for the first day of the meeting to comment on the "symptoms of pain and hope" identified in 1994. He diagnosed symptoms "associated with helplessness, inadequacy and depression" that point frequently to "an underlying sense of impotence" and are often linked with "states of emotional dependence". His valuable comments produced mixed reactions. There was a strong desire to be recognised as priests. All non-priest members of the National Commission accepted invitations to be present for the last half of this meeting. A decision was made for mid-year meetings on a regional basis.
With input from Fr Gerry Arbuckle sm, a cultural anthropologist, on ways of promoting the ongoing formation of priests in the present time of change in the church and society, and in a process facilitated by Mr Bryan Gray, a consultant psychologist, "signs of liminality and chaos" in the church and in our priestly lives were considered, and the need to "grieve" for what has been lost. Ways were discussed of ministering best to brother priests in situations of bewilderment and a loss of the predictable, drifting without goals and objectives, feeling weariness, at a time of scapegoating and witch-hunting, and of a marginalisation of innovators. All non-priest members of the National Commission accepted invitations to participate in the entire meeting.
A response to the urgent need for a spirituality that really energised and motivated priests in times of dramatic change. Lively discussions in small groups and in general sessions followed talks from three invited resource persons, one each day, who addressed spirituality from different perspectives: Mr Robert Grant, a psychologist, on negotiating loneliness, sexuality and intimacy; Mrs Bernadette Florence, a teacher, on how a practicing Catholic saw priests in the Church today; Fr John Thornhill sm, a theologian, on rooting one's spirituality in the gospel, the "dazzling darkness" of God. There was appreciation of a better integration of liturgy and prayer into the meeting. The general conclusion was that we needed to probe priestly spirituality more deeply.
This fifth National Meeting sponsored by the Commission chose to reflect on priestly spirituality from the two perspectives of priestly identity and priestly celibacy. Fr David Ranson was invited to give input and each day offered challenging insights on "Imagining Priesthood Anew" by (1) Retrieving Our Imagination of Priesthood, (2) The Imagination of Community, (3) The Imagination of Celibacy. Lack of time prevented sufficient discussion of these insights. Many felt that there was no opportunity in the meeting to discuss issues and experiences raised by DCEs themselves. For next year's meeting, suggestions were made for a change from the Canberra venue, used from 1994-1998, and its overall style and planning.
The content of this sixth National Meeting, held in Sydney, came from issues and concerns raised in written "Updates" on continuing education activities in the different dioceses during the previous year, prepared by all Diocesan Directors. Fr John McKinnon (Diocese of Ballarat), a former DCE himself, was invited as facilitator. Some of the participants were asked to give short prepared talks to open a topic and raise questions for discussion in small groups and open forum sessions. These various topics were grouped under three main headings: Factors Strengthening Morale, Being a Better Diocesan Director, Ongoing Education of Priests as Adult Learning. Participants liked the process and found the topics relevant to their ministry.
For the seventh National Meeting, held at Clayton in Melbourne, 17-21 January, the focus was Adult Education for Clergy Today. Sr Rosemary Crumlin rsm from Melbourne was consultant for preliminary planning, and also facilitated the opening sessions of the meeting when issues for discussion were evoked from participants at the meeting. Four main areas of concern emerged: (1) Relationship of the DCE with his Bishop, (2) Integrated Ongoing Formation and Pastoral Care, (3) Energy for Mission, (4) Evangelisation of People and Clergy. Some felt uneasy without a previously set agenda, but there was general agreement on the relevance of the issues that surfaced for discussion and the spirit of trust that was evident at the meeting.
The eighth National Meeting of Diocesan Directors was held in Sydney, 15-19 January. The focus was Lifestyle of Priests Today or the Human Context of Priestly Ministry. A Hypothetical, moderated by Fr Gerry Gleeson of the Catholic Institute of Sydney, introduced the topic. Short personal reflections from different Diocesan Directors, later discussed in small groups, included the changing nature of diocesan priesthood, rural ministry, healthy celibate sexuality, supervision and evaluation of ministry, and the permanent diaconate. Looking at difficult questions together gave new strength. Though contexts differed all felt they were on the same inner journey.
The focus of the ninth National Meeting of Diocesan Directors for Clergy Life and Ministry, held 21-25 January in Sydney, was Ministering to the Well-being of our Presbyterates. Four prepared stories of ministry to their brother priests by Fr Terry Lyons (Townsville), Fr Adrian Noonan (Port Pirie), Fr Paul O'Neill (Maitland-Newcastle) and Fr Dave O'Connor (Brisbane) gave momentum to the meeting and set its tone and direction. Ample time was provided for prayerful reflection and for sharing experiences with one another and plans for the future, which again was the central activity of the meeting. Sr Gail Colquhoun smsm unobtrusively facilitated. During the final meal many warm tributes were made to Fr John Reilly sj who, after nine years, was finishing up as the Commission's Executive Officer.
The theme of the gathering, organized this year by the Queenslanders, was "Christ be our light". An opening liturgy established the atmosphere for the meeting. Three diocesan directors shared their stories (Patrick de Silva, Broome; Barry Ryan, Ballarat; John McGrath, Wagga Wagga). Fr Richard Lennan explored issues concerning the mission of the Church in our world. Self-selected groups met to discuss the following topics: Meeting Jesus in Prayer, Good News in the Little Church, Accountability, Professionalism and Peer Review, Creating New Ways of Living Diocesan Priesthood, and Loneliness. Fr Peter Brock, presented A Jigsaw... A Mosiac - A National Overview, his summary of clergy issues he had encountered in his first year in the position. On the final afternoon Paul Cashen (Adelaide), Greg Bennet (Melbourne), John Daly (Rockhampton) led a reflection on the meeting. During the Conference Dinner, special votes of thanks were made to Bishops Michael Malone and Justin Bianchini, at the completion of their terms on the Commission.
The theme of this meeting was a phrase of Blessed Mary MacKillop: "We are but travellers here". Diocesan Directors or their representatives from the Military Ordinariate and the Ukrainian Eparchy and 26 other Australian dioceses were joined, for the first time, by two representatives from New Zealand (Frs David Tonks, Auckland, and John Fitzmaurice, Christchurch). As usual, members of the National Commission also attended the meeting. Formal input sessions were given on spirituality in Australia (Fr David Ranson) and ministry appraisal (Ms Janice Haydon, Ms Natalie McNamara and Mgr Vince Redden). A highlight of the meeting was the Wednesday pilgrimage to Mary MacKillop's shrine in North Sydney. After a tour of the museum, Bishop Joseph Oudeman OFMCap presided at the celebration of the Eucharist, and Fr Peter Brock gave a talk on "Mary MacKillop and the Clergy of Australia - Then and Now". As always, the whole meeting was relaxed, prayerful and fruitful.
Attending this year's National Meeting were 26 Diocesan Directors from Australia and two representatives from New Zealand; Fr Steve Hancy (Palmerston North) and Fr Gerard Aynsley (Dunedin). As usual, members of the National Commission also attended the meeting. NSW Diocesan Directors formed the planning committee for this meeting. Three priests gave 10-minute talks on "What the Eucharist means to me", followed by feedback from the whole group. Fr Peter Brock then gave the keynote address on "What the Eucharist means to me". Later in the week Fr John Usher spoke on issues related to healthy living. A "fish-bowl" process raised the following issues: preaching about what I believe; parish liturgy without a priest; challenges of trust; culture of appraisal, assessment and supervision; and priests in the twilight zone (those marginalised because of abuse issues). The meeting concluded with a plenary session discussing "What will I take from this meeting?" Sr Carmel Pilcher rsj, who had helped with liturgy preparation, attended the final Eucharist prior to the Conference Dinner.