Humbly working in God’s vineyard and being able to draw people into new life through his priestly ministry are two goals the Wellington Archdiocese’s latest ordinand is looking forward to achieving.
David Dowling was ordained to the priesthood in Sacred Heart Cathedral on Saturday 1 September.
David was raised in Brooklyn, Wellington, and schooled at Marist Brothers, Newtown, and St Patrick’s College, Kilbirnie.
For 18 years after leaving school, David worked in the New Zealand Customs Service, initially as a customs officer, then in management roles, always thinking in the back of his mind that he would like to become a priest.
‘But I kept putting it aside because I thought I wasn’t good enough, not holy enough.
‘I thought that sooner or later I’d come up against a brick wall and then I’d say, “That’s okay, it’s not for me.”’
But every time he thought the door would close, someone, his parish priest or the archbishop, said ‘Come in, come further’.
The thought kept coming back to the point where David felt he had to do something about it.
He heard it in a dream
Almost at the point of talking to the archbishop about the possibility of entering the seminary, David was ‘going hot and cold on the idea’. Finally a dream helped him to decide.
‘I dreamt that when I died I came face to face with God and God said to me, “Thanks very much, David, I invited you in to priestly ministry, to this special ministry and you couldn’t be bothered to take a risk, to give it a go, to trust in me.”
And I thought, wouldn’t that be terrible if that were true.’
David thought about all those characters in the bible who struggled with their vocational call. They didn’t all just say, ‘Yep I’m with you, God’.
Faced with such a challenge, David decided to give it a go.
‘Sure I’ve had ups and downs on the journey but I’ve never had any regret or sense that it wasn’t for me.’
Keen to serve as one of the team
As to what happens for David after he is ordained, he has no great ambitions except to be there for the people he is called to serve.
He tells of a priest who celebrated his golden jubilee last year who told the story of his first parish appointment and asking the parish priest,
‘What do we do during the week?’
The old priest replied, ‘Just be about, Father, just be about.’
‘I thought that was quite simple advice, but really profound, the idea of being about, being visible and available for the people.
‘This is an aspect of priesthood that I think is really important.’
He is looking forward to working collaboratively, as part of a pastoral area team which is the way he worked in Customs.
‘I saw my role as one of supporting and enabling the team. If they were successful and effective in their roles, I was too.’
David sees his vocation as similar to the sense of commitment he had during his life in Customs where the mission was to protect the border.
‘It was more than a job.’
‘The best advice I think I ever received about priesthood was “be yourself”, don’t compartmentalise your life so that you’re playing a different role according to where you are.’
David is amazed at the number of people in the different parishes he’s visited who are overjoyed about his ordination. He quotes Pope John Paul II who said that ‘every vocation to the priestly ministry is an extraordinary gift of God’s love’.
‘I just see in the people their joy and happiness because of what they see in me—a tangible sign of God’s love for them.
‘Parents generate new life at the biological level. The priest generates new life at the level of grace. It’s only in the last few years as I’ve been in parishes that I’ve actually seen how true this is—that priestly life can be so incredibly life-giving.
‘I have come to a much deeper understanding of what Jesus meant when he said, “I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.”’