A faith leader’s perspective: Fr Phillip Fleay, new rector for St Charles Seminary
By Natashya Fernandez
9 March 2017
It’s only been a month since Father Phillip Fleay took on the role of Rector on 1 February at St Charles Seminary in Guildford, but he’s already proving to be a natural at it.
Having been a Parish priest at a number of parishes across Perth, Fr Fleay is now in his 20th year of priesthood.
“I hope this will be a place of discernment, peace, happiness and most of all a place where we come to understand that we are becoming part of a fraternity of men serving God’s people,” said Fr Fleay as he takes on the role.
A vast and varied role, Fr Fleay says that while his role is three-fold, the most important is the first one as faith leader.
“I have to show the example of prayer and life as a disciple of Jesus Christ.”
“This teaching is done through our celebration of the Mass which I share with the Vice-Rector, Fr Jean Noel, and our breaking open of the word of God to give them [the seminarians] a perspective for the day – simply put, it is to teach, to nurture and to show them God’s love.
“It’s just like being the ‘Parish Priest’ of our Seminary community,” said Fr Fleay.
“It’s a challenging, yet spiritual role because I am dealing with their lives, in the sense that they believe that they have a vocation which they are testing here. And that is what it is, a place of testing – am I really called or is it just my want.”
“I have to be very careful how I engage, what I say, how I do it, I don’t want to turn them away if they truly have God calling them.
“In this particular role, I can’t come with any perceptions of a person because they are different to me and the way I see God. I have to be aware to treat them as that unique person who has a sense of God calling them. That’s a huge responsibility and I take it very seriously,” he said.
“While the second role is just as important as the first, being mentor and director, understanding their needs, guiding them on the path toward their priesthood, helping them discern if this is the role for them or not and just being there on the journey, are just some of the things that his role entails.
“The third is the on-going administration side of things and ensuring the seminary runs smoothly.
Speaking with sincerity, Fr Fleay says that taking on this role and being responsible for the three new seminarians and the 11 others at St Charles, is to get them to start reflecting [on our lives] in this modern world.
“We live in a society where it’s a catch-grab – we do one thing and move on quickly to the next.
“We never think about what we have done. And, it’s exceedingly important, particularly as leaders in faith communities to be reflective about what’s happening. You can call it living in the now, and being an understanding person. When you get to that position in life, you begin to listen to people and you listen with a compassionate ear.”
“The challenge always with a new place is first to get the feel of the place and make it your home.
“The students came back on 22 February, so it’s been quite new for all of us.
“As with all new things, the challenge for me will be to try to understand each of the seminarians and their hopes and to accompany them on their journey toward priesthood. It’s essential that you’re there as a positive human experience for them,” said Fr Fleay.
Setting an example through his own life of prayer and the way he treats people, Fr Fleay said that sometimes a little bit of admonition is required.
“I am a great believer in self-formation in which we provide structure and each of the seminarians will have to build their own discipline to work within those structures. And, the admonition comes when they don’t do it.”
“The structure can come in the form of prayer and study, to bring academic work back and to take it from that head thing into a heart thing so that they can begin to live what they learn about – the mission and work of Jesus,” he
The day at the seminary starts with Morning Prayer and Mass sometimes early in the morning before the seminarians head off for their lectures at Notre Dame. This is followed by meditation and quiet prayer, Mass in the evenings and a community meal where all seminarians share their day and reflect on what they have learned, Fr Fleay said.
As a disciple of Jesus, Fr Fleay is very conscious of getting people to be inclusive, to not just serve people who follow the thinking of Christ but to serve all people, the children of God.
“Sometimes this means going out of our comfort zone into difficult places, help those who are at the fringe of society, people who don’t care about God. We still have to deal with them,” he said.
“As Archbishop Costelloe said recently, we are not there to force people to become like us, we are there to show them what it could be. And I think that’s important. That means as priests, we have to be more flexible in being open to others; to listen, to hear, to have compassion and understanding, particularly with people we sometimes would rather not deal with, and there are a few of those people out there in the world.”
“From my congregation of the mission background, one of the principles of St Vincent de Paul taught us is that, sometimes we had to leave God to find God.
“In other words, when our lives are interrupted and we need to leave and meet them at the door, we must see the face of Christ in the people we meet,” Fr Fleay said.