Brett's at home in Boston

It’s not every day a boy who grew up in East Maitland is ordained as a deacon at Boston College, but that’s exactly what happened for Brett O’Neill on 18 September 2021.

During his schooling years at All Saints’ College, Brett increasingly found himself being drawn to the idea of joining the priesthood. Following five years with the Missionaries of God’s Love, and then working in public policy with the Australian government, in 2014 Brett found his place with the Australian Jesuits.

“I knew the Jesuits were really involved in social justice works and trying to work for a better sense of justice in Australia,” Brett said. “So, I was drawn to that, especially how they work with the refugees and migrants.”

Brett described the Jesuits’ Ignatian spirituality as about finding God in every moment of each day. As part of his vocational training, Brett has been placed within a diverse range of environments, including East Timor and an Aboriginal community in The Kimberley.

“Ignatian spirituality is a distinctive spirituality, and we’re different from the rest of the Church as we’re called to work on the margins,” he said. “We make a vow in our training in obedience to the Pope in regard to missions. It expresses our openness to be sent wherever the need is greatest to the Church.”

In 2018, Brett began studying his Licentiate of Sacred Theology at Boston College. However, it wasn’t from his studies that he learnt the most, but rather the experience of living in a new country and with it, gaining a different perspective. “Living in the United States, particularly these past couple of years, has been really fascinating,” he said. “During the pandemic, there has been increased tensions in regard to racial justice and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, not to mention the issues on the southern border.

“The main thing that has happened to me has been getting a new perspective on these social issues I hadn’t been exposed to in Australia.”

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, unfortunately Brett’s family was unable to attend his ordination as a deacon in person, but there was no shortage of love and support through the livestream.

“For this ordination, there were 12 of us being ordained together,” he said. “These were all men I’ve become friends with over the past three years, so it was nice to share that together.

“I was very touched by the amount of support from family and friends. Becoming a priest is obviously a very different kind of pathway, but my family have been very supportive of that over the years.”

Currently, Brett is working on completing his Doctorate in Theological Ethics and working in a Boston parish on weekends. In July 2022, he will return to North Sydney to be ordained as a priest.

“I’m really looking forward to priestly ordination and eventually saying my first Mass in East Maitland. This is a time of transitioning to public ministry, so I’m loving the experience of preaching. I’m still learning the ropes and making mistakes and what have you, but it’s an enjoyable experience.”

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