National Vocations Awareness Week

WelCom May 2022 8–14 May 2022  National Vocation Awareness Week is an annual week-long celebration of the Catholic Church dedicated to promoting vocations to the priesthood, diaconate and consecrated life…

WelCom May 2022

8–14 May 2022 

National Vocation Awareness Week is an annual week-long celebration of the Catholic Church dedicated to promoting vocations to the priesthood, diaconate and consecrated life through prayer and education, and to renew our prayers and support for those considering these vocations. The following stories are about three people from the Wellington and Palmerston North Dioceses who are at different stages in their vocational journeys.

Another step for Kiwi monk

Br Jonathan Craven. Photo: Supplied

Br Jonathan Craven made his simple profession at the Cistercian Monastery – Southern Star Abbey – Kopua, in Central Hawke’s Bay, on the Feast of the Annunciation, 25 March, this year. Jonathan grew up in Marton and went to Palmerston North Boys’ High School, before university, work and time overseas. He describes his formation journey. 

My novitiate with the Cistercians has drawn to a close. 

As I look back on the two years’ programme – one year at our own monastery and one year near Melbourne at Tarrawarra monastery – I know it’s been quite a challenging time. I was comfortable living in a secular culture. The monastic culture is austere, which might sound tough. Perhaps better put, it is uncluttered. My formation is helping me understand the depths of that simplicity. 

I’ve greatly appreciated the tradition of the Cistercian Order which goes back to the Middle Ages. I’ve been helped to unlock the wisdom that’s there. I’ve come to grow in appreciation of the simplicity of our communal life, which seeks to illustrate what is truly valuable in life.

My spiritual life has grown much quicker than I imagined it would. That means immersing myself in our life: reading the scriptures, prayer, the liturgy of the hours, Mass, and also embracing the value and dignity of simple work. I’ve noticed the joy and peace I’ve gained and thank God for that. 

Solitude is part of the life of a monk. I know that sounds difficult. It isn’t easy but I can say I’ve benefitted immensely from the challenges and rewards of solitude, which have involved some self-examination and correction. 

Christ is all things to all people and in answering the call to monastic life, God has surprised me by providing everything I need in the monastery. While in many ways monks renounce the world, I now know we receive much too. I have been blessed with a generous increase in faith, in purity of heart, and in focus on God and what is good in life. Within the balanced environment of the monastery, growth of virtues is encouraged in an ongoing and sustainable way.

The underlying purpose of my novitiate, with my two other novice companions, has been ongoing, day-by-day conversion. Our aim is the hope that being formed in our tradition we will become fully professed Cistercian monks in three years’ time. Meanwhile, on the Feast of the Annunciation I made my simple vows of Profession. 

Maybe you could pray for me, and all of us here at Kopua, as I continue my formation journey?

Could God be calling me?

Monsignor Gerard Burns.
Photo: Supplied

Msgr Gerard Burns

My vocation started in the home, in my childhood. I grew up in a very ordinary Catholic family – we went to Mass every Sunday, and we prayed grace before meals. We were part of the local parish community, and I was fortunate to go to a Catholic school because it meant I saw priests in the ordinary day-to-day life, not just on Sundays. That made an impression on me.

Towards the end of my college years, a priest asked me: ‘Have you ever thought about being a priest?’ I said a quick ‘No’! But in fact, that was not true… I had thought about it, but I didn’t really want to admit it!

I couldn’t imagine myself being a priest. It didn’t fit into the image I had of myself. I didn’t think I was worthy, holy enough or even capable – there’d be lots of study involved and I was not sure I could manage all that.

So, when the priest said this to me, I was surprised! I thought oh, he thinks perhaps I might be worthy, I might be capable. I went away and thought about it. I was not sure if it was for me but eventually, I decided to give it a go.

During the seminary years I found it was a fulfilling thing. I wanted to do something good with my life. I could see a priest helped people at the very deepest part of their being. I could make a difference in a much deeper way than what I would be able to do through other jobs. I had thought of becoming a social worker, or a journalist. But then I thought if I really wanted to do something good in the world, perhaps helping people with their spiritual wellbeing was a very important and good thing to do.

And that was the way God called me… God called me through the invitation of that priest, through the sense of fulfilment I found in doing the studies for priesthood, through the pastoral practice work we did, meeting and interacting with people… in all sorts of ways, God’s love called me and drew me.

I didn’t always realise what was happening. It was more that I slowly started to think I could do this, this seemed good. There were moments of doubt – when I thought it was too much, that I could not manage it. Could I really do it for my whole life? Could I live without a wife and family? All those kinds of questions came up. But with the support of many others, I finally became a priest 35 years ago.

It gives me joy to see the grace of God in the people I’m sent to, especially those who are in any kind of need. When I was in seminary, I came to see one of the important parts of being a priest for me is not only to help individuals but to help people as a group, to change society. Social Justice became important for me. I worked in Latin America for eight years and later spent some time in East Timor.

Back in Aotearoa I have worked in multi-cultural parishes and now with Māori. Sometimes, especially in Latin America, I found myself in difficult and even dangerous situations. My life was under threat. It was an intense time of fear, but also of a deep encounter of God’s love as the people around us cared for us deeply.

My experience of priesthood – whether preaching the Word, celebrating the Sacraments, being with people in different moments of life – has been an encounter with the Lord Jesus, and a very great privilege.

This and other stories of local priests and seminarians can be found in the vocations booklet for schools ‘Dare to Say Yes’ and at – contact Fr Andrew Kim at or Lucienne Hensel at for more information.

Sister Ruth’s final profession 

Sr Ruth Pickering dolc.

Sisters of Compassion and friends were privileged to witness the Final Profession of Ruth Pickering as a Sister of Compassion. A very spiritual, quiet and joyous occasion, the ceremony was celebrated last November by Fr O’Hagan, Fr Rous and Fr Arms, and was the perfect moment to mention that religious life is also an act of service. In his homily, Fr O’Hagan said that the call to religious life was to love God and our response to God’s love.