By JACKSON SAUNDERS
THE country spirit never left Fr Jake Mudge in the eternal city of Rome.
Fr Jake is now back in Australia working with students for the priesthood at Corpus Christi College in Melbourne after almost four-and-a-half years studying theology in Italy.
“I’m still not quite used to the fact that I’m home yet,” Fr Jake said.
Fr Jake has been home since late January this year, and has been appointed as a Formator and the Director of Pastoral Work at the seminary.
As a seminarian himself at Corpus Christi College prior to his ordination to the priesthood in 2008, Fr Jake said that there was a great sense of familiarity and ease in returning to the seminary.
In his role as the Director of Pastoral Work, Fr Jake will co-ordinate pastoral placements for students. This will involve liaising with parishes, schools, hospitals and agencies within the Church, who will be helping seminarians to prepare for pastoral ministry.
Another major component of Fr Jake’s role will be to assist students acclimatise to parish life when they undertake their six-month parish pastoral internship.
Other responsibilities include supporting students with their human formation within the seminary program. This includes leading classes at the seminary and meeting with students at a one-on-one basis to debrief experiences and monitor progress with students for the priesthood.
While Fr Jake is primarily focused with his commitments in Melbourne at the seminary, he is looking forward to reconnecting with the Diocese.
“I know that it will be great to re-establish contacts with friends and parishioners and people in the Diocese,” he said.
“In Sandhurst we have a reputation for being a very friendly Diocese.”
Fr Jake said that the support of the people of the Diocese helped him to settle into his studies in Rome, despite the great distance between the eternal city and the Sandhurst Diocese.
There were many visitors who visited Fr Jake in Rome, which he said was a “great gift.”
“There is a great sense of community in the Diocese. I think that I held this in my heart and I could feel people’s prayers from a long way away.”
While Fr Jake cherished his time in Rome, he did miss Australia.
When asked what he missed most in Rome, Fr Jake laughed and immediately said: “Golf!”
Fr Jake said that golf courses in Rome are very few and expensive to play on. There was only one occasion where he was able to play.
During his time in Rome, however, Fr Jake was close to the Vatican.
“There was always an opportunity on a weekly basis to see the Pope with his two weekly audiences,” he said.
“He is very consistent with those.”
Fr Jake said that he was fortunate to be able to meet Pope Francis personally at a pastoral care conference.
“I was able to shake his hand, introduce myself,” Fr Jake said about his encounter with Pope Francis.
“He’s a very warm person, very attentive, and it’s very comfortable to be in his presence.”
Fr Jake said that he was grateful for the opportunity to have lived and studied in Rome, but that he was always thinking about people back home in Australia.
“It was a wonderful opportunity,” he said.
“I was very conscious of the Diocese back home. I was very conscious of the time that I had there.
“It was a special time and a privileged time.
“I often thought about parishes and the Diocese.”
Fr Jake, 39, is a product of the Sandhurst Diocese having grown up in St Liborius Parish Eaglehawk and completed primary school in the parish. His secondary education took place at Catholic College Bendigo, before he moved to Melbourne to study osteopathy at Victoria University.
He worked as an osteopath for a year in Wellington, New Zealand, before deciding to join Corpus Christi College as a student.
His first appointment as a deacon, prior to his ordination as a priest, was to St Joseph’s Parish Benalla where he worked for eight months under Fr Dennis Crameri and Fr Andrew Fewings.
Fr Jake was ordained a priest for the Sandhurst Diocese on the evening of Friday, September 26, 2008, at Sacred Heart Cathedral Bendigo.
His first Mass was held the next morning at St Kilian’s Bendigo, and his first Sunday Mass was held that same weekend at his home parish of St Liborius Eaglehawk.
After ordination, Fr Jake was appointed as an assistant priest at Wodonga where he ministered for four years. During this time, he also worked as a part-time university chaplain at La Trobe University in Wodonga.
This was followed by an eight-month stint as an assistant priest at St Kilian’s in Bendigo.
Another key component of Fr Jake’s ministry in Sandhurst, prior to accepting the invitation to complete further studies in Rome, was working with young people as the Diocesan youth chaplain and a member of the Diocesan Youth Ministry Reference Group.
Fr Jake left for Rome in mid-2013 to complete a short intensive course in Italian. He subsequently completed a license in Theology in the Department of Fundamental Theology at the Gregorian University in Rome. This was followed by studies for his Doctorate in Theology, which he hopes to have completed by mid-year.
Fr Jake said that he would continue to work on his doctorate whenever he was able to amidst his responsibilities at the seminary.
He said that the seminary had a great sense of community.
“There’s a great spirit at the seminary and a great enthusiasm among students, an openness to serving the Church,” he said.
The Sandhurst Diocese currently has five students in formation the priesthood.
Fr Jake invited other men to consider a vocation to the priesthood.
“I think an invitation always go a long way with a vocation,” he said.
“It’s a reality that God calls people.
“Whether it is to married life, single life, religious or priestly life, it happens!
“It’s not just an idea. It’s a reality that God does call us.
“If we can speak to God as that friend who knows us so well, in patience and over time, we can find our calling.
“Once we can hand the reigns of our life over to God in faith, there is a great freedom in that.”
For more information about a vocation to the priesthood, contact your local priest or Diocesan vocations director to discuss further.
This article was first published in the Sandhurst Diocesan newspaper, The SandPiper.