Local lad keeps the faith
PETER WOOD rates being a good listener as his greatest asset for his future vocation as a Catholic priest.
Mr Wood, who was born in Lismore 26 years ago and spent his childhood there, will be ordained a deacon tonight in Lismore’s St Carthage’s Cathedral, and will become a priest later next year.
He is the first local man to be ordained a ‘transitional’ deacon (on his way to the priesthood) at the cathedral since 1992.
“I feel a strong connection with the Lismore community,” he said. “I grew up here and was baptised and confirmed here.”
And he said, with one of his frequent laughs, ‘between the beautiful beaches and the rainforest, the North Coast really is God’s country’.
This evening’s ceremony is the culmination of six years’ study, and there is another year’s work ahead as Mr Wood completes three bachelor degrees at the Catholic Institute of Sydney.
His mother and younger brother have come from Sydney to take part in tonight’s Rite of Ordination, in which his brother will read the first Mass.
His extended family, in the Philippines, the US and Canada, are not able to attend the ceremony.
Mr Wood said his mother was even more excited than he was – though he was the one more likely to cry.
He credits his mother with being a strong influence on his choice of career. Her staunch faith had been a source of inspiration to him, he said.
And it’s a faith that needs to be strong, he believes, because choosing to live a life of celibacy and obedience is not for the faint-hearted.
It took him many years as a student at Southern Cross University in Lismore to become convinced that God wanted him to choose this path, and it was not until a priest suggested that perhaps he could join a seminary and find out that he took the ‘leap of faith’.
Six years later, Mr Wood has returned to Lismore, where he hopes to work as a diocesan priest working within the community when his studies are completed.
Pastoral placement, a kind of work experience, was a high point in his time as aseminarian, when he spent nine months at St Augustine’s parish in Coffs Harbour.
“It was a good challenge, to have the experience of living in a parish and testing myself. I needed that time and it was the best time of my formation,” he said.
However, he also faced his own sense of helplessness and limitations when he was confronted one night by a homeless man with mental health problems, and realised there was only so much he could do to help.
It helped teach him to not take too much responsibility for things beyond his control.
“You can burn out doing this if you don’t have abalanced lifestyle,” he said.
But while he has continued to examine whether the church is the right vocation for him, he is sure of one thing: although he enjoyed the social life when he was at SCU, he doesn’t miss it at all.
Mr Wood was at the Seminary of the Good Shepherd in Sydney with 40 other men from around NSW, and it seems he is part of a resurgence of interest in the priesthood. There were 63 men in Sydney seminaries in 2009, which compares with only eight in 2000.
And having become a deacon, Mr Wood will immediately face what may be a baptism of fire. In the seminary he practised with a doll, but on Sunday he will be at the font with a real-live baby and a couple of proud, anxious parents watching.