Fr Dean celebrates his first Mass at St Kilian's, Bendigo

By Jackson Saunders

About 400 people attended the first Mass of Fr Dean Bongat at St Kilian’s Catholic Church, Bendigo, on Sunday, September 16.

Priests from across the Sandhurst Diocese and other newly ordained priests were also present at the Mass of thanksgiving, which coincided with Bendigo’s Sunday night parish Mass.

Fr Dean said that he was grateful to all those who had supported him in his journey towards the priesthood. He was also delighted to be able to celebrate his first Mass at St Kilian’s where had completed his pastoral placement in fourth-year and served as a deacon.

Fr Justel Callos, who Fr Dean studied with at Corpus Christi College, gave an inspiring homily during the Mass.

The Bendigo Filipino choir provided the music ministry and about 10 seminarians from across the Sandhurst Diocese and beyond were in attendance at the service.

After the Mass dinner was shared in the St Kilian’s Parish Hall with about 150 people staying for a meal and some fellowship.

Fr Dean will now enjoy a holiday with his family from the Philippines before receiving his first parish appointment in the Sandhurst Diocese.

Slideshow Pictures: Jaycee Napoles, fourth-year seminarian for the Melbourne Archdiocese.

Homily at Fr Dean’s First Mass

By Fr Justel Callos

More than twenty years ago, a Redemptorist priest on a mission campaign to promote vocations visited a classroom in a remote country town in the Philippines and asked this question: “What will you do if God is calling you to be a priest?” Thank God the question did not fall on deaf ears, because out of the fifty boys in that one room, one boy took to heart this question. It was not an easy question with easy answers; it meant having to leave his family behind to pursue a dream: God’s dream for him, and his dream for God. Dear friends, that boy is here among us- no longer a boy, but a priest of Jesus Christ.

Fr. Dean dreamt of becoming a priest and that dream became a reality yesterday when Bishop Tomlinson laid his hands on Fr Dean, uttering the words of consecration, forever committing him to a life of prayer and service. How blessed are we to be present here today in this church as we witness Fr Dean celebrate his First Mass of Thanksgiving. In this Eucharist, Jesus will be truly present through the hands of Fr Dean.

But today’s joyful celebration is not about Fr Dean; in fact, it has never been about him nor about anyone else expect for one person:  Jesus Christ, who for two thousand years has been calling ordinary men to drop their nets and follow him. Fr Dean dreamt of following this call and God made that possible for him. Yesterday’s ordination was truly a display of God’s sanctifying and miraculous act of calling men who, despite their human frailty, are called to become sharers in his own priesthood, a “bridge” between God and man and between man and God.

Many of you would know that Fr Dean’s journey to the priesthood has not been easy. When he was about five years old his mother died suddenly in her sleep, forcing his father who was incapable of looking after him to send Dean to live with his aunt. Dean’s aunt was unsupportive of his plans to join the seminary. So, not taking a “NO” for an answer, the 17-year-old Dean packed his bags, left his aunt and trekked his way to the neighbouring island to find a seminary. He got accepted in the seminary but his time there was short-lived because he could not pay for the seminary tuition fees. Not giving up just yet on his dream, he ventured his way to the mainland, to Manila, to look for a seminary and benefactors to support him. Because he didn’t know anyone in Manila and not having any money in his pocket, Fr Dean was at one stage forced to sleep on the streets until a Good Samaritan offered him food and accommodation. He persevered and studied Psychology in University whilst working as a waiter and cleaner to help support himself financially. Dean was heavily involved in the Student Council, which opened up a lot of opportunities for him. Due to his incredible talent and charisma, he was eventually elected as the UN Regional Coordinator in the Asia Pacific Region and represented the Philippines in overseas conventions. Despite his apparent success, Dean reverted to his first love, the priesthood. He initially joined a seminary in Manila but his path led him to study for the Sandhurst diocese in Australia.

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I always joked with Dean that his life would make a good Hollywood movie; sort of like a rags to riches story. But I think his vocation story is a great reminder for us of God’s faithfulness and love.

Dean, yesterday at your ordination your life has been changed forever, you are now configured to Christ, the good shepherd. As an alter Christus (another Christ) you are profoundly united to the Word of the Father who, as St Paul says, in becoming incarnate took the form of a servant (Phil 2:5-11). You, dear brother, are a servant of Christ. Because you belong to Christ, you are radically at the service of all people.

As an instrument of God’s saving action, you will administer the sacraments to people from all walks of life and be with them in good times and in bad. You will experience the joy of baptising infants, welcoming them into the community of faith. There will be plenty of funny moments like trying to control a big crowd full of crying babies or in my case a 4-year-old girl splashing water over me to express her displeasure! In the Sacrament of Reconciliation, you will be the conduit between God and man and experience the joy of seeing someone coming back home to God, for some after many years. In the Sacrament of Matrimony, you will witness a man and a woman professing their love for each other, a sign of the love between God and his Church. In the Sacrament of Anointing, you will share in the suffering of the sick especially the dying whose soul you help return to God. In the Sacrament of the Eucharist, heaven and earth unite every time you utter the words of consecration, “This is my body;” This is my blood.” 

 Fr Dean Bongat consecrates the bread into the Body of Christ during Mass for the first time.

Fr Dean Bongat consecrates the bread into the Body of Christ during Mass for the first time.

In our priestly ministry, we often forget many people because of the number of baptisms, confessions, weddings, masses and funerals that we do each year. But I assure you, people never forget! One day you will be walking down Safeway and someone who you’ve never met before will approach and thank you for that corny one-liner you said in your homily that changed his or her life forever. One day you will randomly receive a thank you card from an elderly woman in the nursing home whose family had abandoned her, thanking you for your visit. One day you will get a big hug from a couple thanking you for crying with them in their time of grief as they mourn their stillborn baby.

Dean, I’ve only been a priest for three years and I will be the first one to admit that our life as priests can be challenging at times but it is in and through these moments that I would not exchange my life for anything and I hope and pray the same for you. Coming from a vibrant Catholic community in the Philippines, I know we can easily be discouraged by the low Mass attendance and negative attitudes of some people towards the clergy in Australia. Understandably, the revelations and the horrors of the child sexual abuse severely tarnished the image of so many good and faithful priests. But as Pope Francis reminds us, “we are called to be joyful priests, with the joy of the service of Christ, even in the midst of suffering, incomprehension, of our own sins.” We need to be men of joy and integrity making sure that the sins of the past are never repeated again.  When we make ourselves small and not allow ourselves to be overcome by our selfishness and greed, then God truly makes something extraordinary out of us.

In the gospel reading, Jesus posed this question to the disciples, “Who do you say I am?” This, I believe, is a question that you need to ask yourself every day. The disciples first took the answers of others; but as we heard, Jesus was interested in what their hearts contained: who do YOU say I am? Who am I for YOU? In moments of desolation and loneliness, the times when the weight of our priestly ministry is too heavy to carry, who is Jesus for me? It is not enough to say he is the Christ. For us, he is not merely a title: He is a person, living and active, One who loves us and befriends us, and walks with us even in the darkest nights. And the invitation is clear: “If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Dean, you are no stranger to suffering. I find it very fitting that your ordination falls on the memorial of Mary, the Mother who stood at the foot of the Cross. She too is no stranger to suffering. She will teach you how to find God in the difficulty of our priestly life, in the moments where we doubt ourselves or find ourselves overwhelmed with the pain of the people we meet in ministry, or as in the life of so many country priests, when you have that sinking feeling after spending time writing a Sunday homily and driving for hours to the countryside, only to find a church filled with 3 faithful parishioners.

 Fr Dean Bongat addresses the congregation after his ordination at the Cathedral as Fr Justel Callos looks on from behind. Picture: Joseph Nguyen.

Fr Dean Bongat addresses the congregation after his ordination at the Cathedral as Fr Justel Callos looks on from behind. Picture: Joseph Nguyen.

Dean, yesterday, as I looked at you from the Sanctuary, I noticed that the pew behind you, where your family sat, had an empty spot. I couldn’t help but think of your mother. Even though she is not with us physically, I believe she is with you- that she celebrates and rejoices with us today, that she was right beside you as you lay prostrate on the floor, that she is here in the person of all the “mothers” you’ve encountered all through life. I want to recognise her today, and in the person of all present here, I honour her and thank her for the gift of you.

Dean, thank you for making us a part of your dream, and it is beautiful to see how your story with God has unfolded before our eyes. Before you here are all the people who will continue to see that dream unfold, and it is to their prayers and support that we confide you today. Love them with a shepherd’s love, and you will not fail to see in them the face of Jesus our Love, the Reason for all our hope.

May your priesthood enjoy many, many blessed years!

·        Fr Justel is a priest of the Archdiocese of Melbourne. He was ordained in 2015 and studied with newly ordained Fr Dean at Corpus Christi College. Fr Justel was the homilist at Fr Dean’s first Mass.

 Fr Dean Bongat with his aunt and uncle (left), Vergie and Mario Catulong, and his dad Eddie Bongat (right). Picture: Jaycee Napoles.

Fr Dean Bongat with his aunt and uncle (left), Vergie and Mario Catulong, and his dad Eddie Bongat (right). Picture: Jaycee Napoles.