Saturday 2nd July 2011, the feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, was a great day for our diocese as we celebrated the ordination of four new priests. Each had travelled a very different journey to bring them to this moment of life-long commitment. Below, each man describes something of his journey.
Fr Paulo Bagini
I come from Brazil. My family is part of the Neo-Catechumenal Way, and so I was brought up a practising Catholic, wanting to be a priest from an early age. I can even remember baptising my cat! Yet I turned out to be quite a rebellious teenager, and turned my back on the Church. But I soon found my life to be very empty and one day picked up the courage to go back to Mass. On that day I heard the words, “God loves you as you are” in a totally new way. God was speaking directly to me!
Since that day God has led me on an incredible journey which brought me to England at the age of 18 to begin my training for the priesthood at the Redemptoris Mater House of Formation and later at Allen Hall seminary. I have been helped by the prayers, wisdom and love of so many people over the last twelve years in the parishes and different communities to which God has sent me. I would particularly like to think my Neo-Catechumenal communities in both Brazil and London and everyone at Our Lady and St Joseph’s parish in Hanwell, where I spent my last two years before ordination. I would also like to thank my family who have had the faith and love to let me go and give my life to the Church in a country far away from them.
On my ordination day – a day of such joy that I cannot put it into words - my first feeling was of total unworthiness; that God should call me to announce his Good News! But it consoles me that God chooses what is imperfect to reveal His glory. Thanks be to God!
Fr Paulo is now serving as a Chaplain at Westminster Cathedral
Fr Andrew Connick
I was brought up in a loving family of deep faith and commitment to the Church. I first thought of becoming a priest as a young altar server in my home parish of St Edward the Confessor in Golders Green where I was inspired by the parish priest, Fr John Helm. However, as a teenager the priesthood was definitely not on the agenda! I studied Computer Science at university, and it was there that I came to realise that my relationship with God was the most important thing in my life. I began to suspect that He was telling me, gently, that it was in Him that I would find real fulfilment. When I plucked up the courage to really think about priesthood, it brought me a great sense of peace. It felt right.
As ordination approached, I was filled with different emotions – excitement, nervousness, anxiety about the responsibilities of priestly office. Most of all I felt (and continue to feel every day) a profound gratitude for my vocation. Receiving this gift of the priesthood has been a personal journey with the Lord, but it has never been solitary. I have been inspired and supported by so many. I am especially grateful to my family and friends, the people of Kingsland parish, where I served my year as a deacon, and for the friendship and encouragement of the community of Allen Hall seminary. God has blessed me so much.
Fr Andrew is now serving as the Assistant Priest at Our Lady of Mount Carmel and St George parish in Enfield
Fr Andrew Gallagher
I grew up in the parish of Our Lady of Lourdes in Harpenden. At the age of 7 I began altar serving and by the age of 14 I was the parish MC. This gave me the chance to gain a greater understanding about the Mass and brought me into contact with the priests in my parish, whose lives inspired me from an early age. In the years that followed, time spent as an intern at Westminster Cathedral, contact with the Faith Movement, pilgrimages to Lourdes and working with parish pilgrimages for Pax Travel helped to understand that God was calling me to put myself forward for formation to the priesthood.
In today’s society it can be hard to hear the Lord’s call, but people’s frequent prompts that I may be suited to the priesthood were a strong sign for me to listen to God further. My year serving as a deacon at Our Lady’s in St John’s Wood was a very affirming experience. I can definitely say that without the support and guidance of so many parishioners, priests, friends and family over the years I would not be in the place where I am now. I would like to express my deep thanks to everyone who has offered me a helping hand and words of wisdom, their prayers and friendship on the journey thus far – I will need this support more now than ever as I now make my first steps in priestly ministry.
Fr Andrew is now serving as the Assistant Priest at St Monica’s parish in Palmers Green
Fr Graham Stokes
My vocation was nurtured outside a traditional parish background through the University Chaplaincy at Nottingham and then later through friendships I built up in London through the Youth 2000 movement. These both gave me an environment where having a life of faith and discerning a vocation as a young adult was not something extraordinary. But then God led me to become more involved in parish life here in the diocese, such as when I joined the core group of the “At Your Word Lord” programme at St Peter and St Paul’s in Northfields. This parish involvement continued through my seminary formation, including my last year when I was privileged to serve as a deacon at Westminster Cathedral. Never a dull moment!
Approaching ordination, I felt both excited and daunted. Even after all those years of preparation, it is perhaps not until the ordination day itself that you begin to fully realise just how radical this commitment is – a calling to offer yourself totally to God and his people in imitation of Christ. Yet I know that this is the life to which God has been calling me all these years and, with the help, support and guidance of others, and above all with the grace of God, I freely and joyfully commit myself to this extraordinary calling of the priesthood.
Fr Graham is now serving as the Assistant Priest at Our Lady of Grace and St Edward parish in Chiswick