New calling for the ‘shepherd to the shepherds’
For Fr Stephen Hackett MSC, his April election as the Australian provincial superior to the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart may bring a sense of homecoming.
He has been the general secretary of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference since 2016, a role akin to being a “shepherd to the shepherds”, he told the Catholic Voice.
Those duties included supporting the plenary meeting of Australia’s bishops and their respective committees and commissions that cover the full range of church life in the country.
However, this will change in a few months when he leaves Canberra for Sydney to head up the order that has been a pivotal part of his life since he first professed to it in 1982.
His new role follows his election on the first ballot at the MSC’s recent provincial Chapter meeting at Douglas Park in NSW.
“I have to say I was quite at peace with being elected,” Fr Hackett said.
“While at that moment in my life, I wasn’t desiring to become the provincial superior, if that was what my confreres believed God was asking and if that was how they voted, I was willing to accept it.”
Fr Hackett takes up the new role in July and says his priorities will be guided by the Chapter’s outcomes and decisions that are currently being finalised.
Common to all Australian religious orders, attracting new entrants will undoubtedly be a significant concern for his attention.
While he said God had not stopped calling people to religious life, he believed the greatest challenge confronting vocations was the plethora of “voices” in society, be they from the traditional media, social media, or other sources.
“There are so many voices speaking out there; it can be hard to hear the voice of Jesus and identify the promptings of the Holy Spirit,” he said.
In Fr Hackett’s case, he first discerned a calling to the priesthood while a student at Monivae College in Victoria, which he attended after primary schooling in Canberra.
Monivae is one of the MSC’s four Australian schools, the others being Daramalan in Canberra, Downlands in Queensland, and Chevalier College at Bowral, NSW.
Over a dozen Catholic parishes throughout Australia also fall within the MSC’s responsibilities, including the ACT’s St John the Apostle parish at Kippax.
“We have a long tradition in Australia,” Fr Hackett said. “We’ve been here for well over 100 years.”
“We’ll continue to shape our mission…in accordance with our constitution, the Chapter’s directions, and our tradition of being on mission, in and from Australia.”