Lessons from parish life: What my placement year taught me about priesthood

Last year I joined Fr Cristiano Braz at Our Lady and St Joseph’s Parish in Hanwell for an extended pastoral placement. The parish is located on the Uxbridge Road between Ealing Broadway and Southall. The original church was built in 1853 by Irish labourers who worked on the viaduct that connects the main line railway from Paddington. In 1967 the new church was completed on the site of the old one to accommodate the increasing number of parishioners. The parish community retains its Irish core but has diversified to become a truly multicultural parish. There are parishioners from Poland, Italy, France, India, Africa, Japan, America, the Philippines and the Middle East.

Fr Cristiano was appointed Parish Priest in 2018. Prior to this he spent six years on mission in Texas. When I first met him he told me that my role was to help him bring parishioners closer to God. The reality of this was far broader than I could ever have imagined. From the beginning Fr Cristiano got me involved in as many activities as he could, including hospital visits, house visits, school visits, cleaning the church, planning liturgies, administration, contacting contractors, liaising with the diocesan central services and so much more. At the centre of everything we did was prayer: no matter how busy things got we made time to say the Divine Office together. This practice helped us to keep our focus on God in all things. When I look back on all that we achieved together, I can see that without prayer none of it would have been possible!

My time in Hanwell provided a brief but very informative insight into the life of a priest. The biggest challenge for me was being publicly recognised in the local area, as I am naturally a private person. However, I soon began to understand the responsibility and privilege that goes with this vocation, which is part of the deal and something I have learnt to integrate into my life.

What I found most useful during my placement was the time spent studying scripture and philosophy. For many people, their knowledge of scripture is based on what they hear at Mass. I found that I would frequently draw on what I had learned in seminary to help the congregation look at the scriptures in a different way. Coupled with the philosophy, I was able to help people not just to understand the scriptures but, more importantly, to apply their faith to their lives.

In fact, helping the children and young people in the parish to understand the great gift that is our faith and how it can help shape their lives was definitely the highlight of my year. Being a small part in their journey towards God was an immense privilege and I pray that they learnt as much from me as I did from them.

Ultimately, my experience in Hanwell showed me two things: first, that the life of a priest is more than just sipping tea! Second, and probably most crucially, that I want to live this life that God offers to me. I am truly grateful to God, Fr Cristiano and all the wonderful people of Hanwell for my time with them, I have learnt so much and look forward to following the path God has set before me.

Dan Daley, 4th Year, Allen Hall Seminary