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Tuesday, 01 November 2022 22:58

Fr Des Welladsen 50 years of Priesthood

Fr Des Welladsen says he can take you back to the seat where he was sitting at Mass one day when he felt an overwhelming feeling that he needed to give priesthood a serious go.  “I had this very strong feeling that I just had to have a go,” he said.  

On his calling to the priesthood Fr Des said, “I guess there was always something rumbling in there; I had an uncle who was a Redemptorist priest, but initially confidence was an issue I think.”     

In order to enter the seminary, Fr Des needed a certificate in Latin. With the encouragement of his Parish Priest, Fr Des returned to his old high school, Champagnat College in Wangaratta, where the Marist brother who greeted him on his first day back said, ‘’I thought we’d got rid of you!”   “If he was joking, he didn’t have a smile on his face,” laughed Fr Des.

“Once it became clear that I was serious about the priesthood, the Marist brothers were very helpful and I managed to pass all the Latin tests I needed to get into the seminary – just in time for the first lecture in Latin.  Thereafter, all of the lectures were in English. So, I‘d spent all of that energy learning Latin and I didn’t need it!”  Seeing the humour in this ironic twist of fate Fr Des said, “I could say I was exasperated, but actually I was relieved.” 

Fr Des spent three years in formation at the seminary in Springwood, New South Wales and one month at the seminary in Manly.  “I didn’t really last long in Manly,” said Fr Des.  “In those days, they had so many seminarians, they didn’t worry if you left.”  Fr Des returned to Wangaratta and got a job delivering bread to Corowa where he stayed for twelve months, all the while keeping actively involved in faith and parish life.  Over time, with the encouragement of his Parish Priest, Fr Maurie Duffy, Fr Des found the courage to go back to the Seminary.  He said, "If you’ve got any courage at all, you’ll go back to the seminary.”   How could anyone argue with that? 

So, Fr Des entered the seminary at Werribee where he was in the last class to finish before the buildings and grounds were sold to the Police Force.  He then went on to complete studies in theology at Glen Waverley. 

Fr Des and his two younger sisters grew up in Barnawartha North next to the “Barney Pub”.  “I had a very blessed childhood,” he said. “We had a lot of freedom to do what we wanted, playing footie, riding horses, swimming in the creek; as long as we were home for meals there was no problem.” 

“Fr Des said he grew up in a “Catholic-enough” family and was an altar server until he was 18 which, in its own way, is kind of like a pre-apprenticeship. His father was a WWII Veteran and became a Catholic in Darwin during the war. “He wasn’t so much into the sacraments, but he was into social justice and all of that,” said Fr Des.  Fr Des recalls his father was emotionally overwhelmed at his son’s Ordination, more than anyone else it seemed.

Fr Des remembers being overwhelmed himself at his Ordination in Chiltern on the evening of 20 May 1972; especially giving his grandmother and mother a blessing.  “It was a very cold frosty night and I remember lying on those cold tiles thinking to myself, 'Well I’ve done it now!' ” he said.  

“My Thanksgiving Mass was at Barnawartha. It was a beautiful bright sunny almost Winter’s Day and even friends from the seminary in Springwood came down. Later my parish priest, Fr Jack Kiniry, was arrested by the bishop for allowing guitars at the Mass – what a sin!” joked Fr Des. “I was a bit late with the Latin and a bit early with the guitars.”

 “I well and truly embraced Vatican II,” said Fr Des while hinting that some aspects have taken a long time to happen.  “Inviting lay people to be involved is a very good thing,” he said.  

One of the most enjoyable and rewarding parts of Ministry for Fr Des has been working with the Rite of Catholic Initiation for Adults (RCIA) Program.  “Watching people prepare for their sacraments and seeing their faith grow and seeing the faith of their sponsors deepen is very rewarding,” he said. 

Fr Des said he also found working with the Charismatic Renewal movement incredibly rewarding.  “It initially took off like a tornado; we had ordinary people preparing scripture and looking after each other. Some clergy never really accepted it, almost as if it was meant to come and go. It did lead people into deeper faith,” he said. 

People in the Charismatic Renewal group also helped Fr Des. “After I was first ordained, I was literally sick before every Sunday Mass. They were very encouraging and helped me with that, to grow my confidence.”  Fr Des said in his younger years he had to work hard to become more confident. “I was off the scale introverted,” he said.  “Seeing so many people use their talents and abilities to be part of the Church is inspiring and encouraging.” 

“I found hospital chaplaincy very rewarding, personally taking the Eucharist to people. I also enjoyed Teams of Our Lady. It’s all the little groups, they are catalysts for something greater,” he emphasised. 

“The Men Alive Group is amazing.  Twenty or so blokes meet on a Saturday morning, we read the gospel and then share our week.  The blokes come up with brilliant stuff. The Men Alive retreats have been very worthwhile too – if you create the right environment people’s faith-life can flourish and we all learn so much from each other.” 

When asked what the biggest changes Fr Des has seen over the course of his half century of priesthood, Fr Des said it’s most likely secularisation. “Secularisation has as its good points and its bad points.  Australia, per capita, is more secular than any other country in the world,” he said.  “These days nobody’s coming out of World War II, they’re all busy, working, running a family, making money, playing sport. There’s no time for God in their lives. When I was a kid, people were more fixed into the earth, they were less mobile, there were not all of those distractions. Towns were smaller, communities seemed stronger.”

Fr Des said there are many teachings we can learn from each other.  He advises any young priest to listen to his flock. “Don’t think you have all the answers, and don’t impose your views on anyone either.” 

Fr Des said he has no particular advice for young people in general. However, he shared an exercise he prescribes to Year 6 children at the end of each year: 

“In summer, lie on your lawn, look at the stars, keep looking until you realise you’re not just looking up. After a while, you might feel like you’re falling off the earth and journeying through the cosmos. Open your whole being to creation. Don’t think. Just experience.”

For Fr Des, priesthood is about helping people to go the next step. “I hope people get faith out of their heads and into their body, into the rest of their life,” he said. 



Photograph above: Fr Des Welladsen after the Jubilarian Mass at St Kilian's.


October 2022