Home' Aurora : Aurora May 2012 Contents 10
Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle www.mn.catholic.org.au
WHEN FR STÉPHANE Sarazin is
asked about his ministry, he plays
his cards close to his chest at
first. "The official version is that I work
for the military. We don't go into specifics,
mainly for security reasons. You always
have to identify who you're talking to, in
any circumstance, it doesn't matter who
"Later I will tell them I'm a military chaplain
at Williamtown's RAAF base with various
Units," Fr Stéphane continues. "Then their
next question is, 'what does a military
"I'm just like a parish priest but working in
a specialised ministry, similar to chaplains
working with police and fire services."
Yet Fr Stéphane identifies some significant
differences between his current role
and his former ministry as parish priest:
"Our youngest member on the base at
the moment is 18 and our average age
group is in their 20s or 30s. In a parish
you have very young children. You don't
have the middle group and you get the
"At the same time we're 'front line' ministry.
While staff are working on a plane or a car
or an engine we can go to them where they
are. In a parish, you only see people when
they come to Mass or for functions."
Fr Stéphane's role focuses on assisting
members of the defence forces with
"issues faced in their everyday lives like
relationship difficulties, conflict resolution
and financial planning. Sometimes we're
just a sounding board so they can talk
through their decisions or worries."
As part of a chaplaincy team serving over
three thousand staff, I asked Fr Stéphane
how he felt his Catholicism and priestly
vocation influence his ministry.
"I hope, when people are sitting in front of
me, they know that I am not judgemental. It
doesn't matter if they are atheist, Wiccan,
Anglican or Roman Catholic. They can
speak to me as God's representative."
In Canada and Australia, chaplains
have to undertake the same
training as our military
personnel. Like their military
colleagues, chaplains are
also often deployed. Fr
Stéphane has been to
Europe, the Middle East
On 11 September 2001 (9/11) Fr
Stéphane was on board a Canadian
Naval frigate as part of a crew of about
225. "At first we thought it was an exercise,
as we had no communication. Then after
about four days we realised what had
happened when someone posted a video
to the ship. We were in Europe and we had
to head straight to the Persian Gulf. We
had to do lots of training, and the anxieties
became really high."
What brought Fr Stéphane from his home
in Canada to Williamtown was one of a
number of unexpected turns in his life
which he has embraced willingly and with a
spirit of trusting adventure.
About the time of his fortieth birthday,
Fr Stéphane felt restless and was
considering what he should do next. Aware
the Australian Air Force was recruiting
chaplains, a role he had held previously in
Canada, he wondered if this might provide
the change he sought. "I said to God and
to myself: if I can sell my house and car
and if my Dad and the Bishop say yes, I'll
go to Australia."
Fr Stéphane sold the house and car in 72
hours and received his father's blessing.
The longest wait was for Napoleon, his then
two-year-old Chihuahua to be
accepted into Australia.
When he arrived in Australia,
event occurred. "When
I said yes to the posting,
I thought I was going to
Williamstown in South
Australia. I was a little
confused when we headed
north from Sydney. My confusion
increased when I found myself on the F3
Freeway with nothing around me. By the
time I got to Hexham I realised there had
been a mistake but it proved to be worth it."
The first major event which would shape
Fr Stéphane's future happened when he
was 19. Like many of his fellow graduates,
Stéphane was unable to obtain work after
completing his degree in political science,
so he enrolled in a Canon (church) Law
course he saw advertised. The dean
of the faculty laughed when Stéphane
approached him to ask why he had to study
theology for his civil law course.
Later, another significant situation shaped
Stéphane's future. Working as a canon
lawyer for the Diocese of Winnipeg, the
then bishop asked Stéphane to join the
priesthood. All was going well until, during
his seminary training, the bishop felt
Stéphane could improve his English by
moving to an English speaking seminary.
"Being French Canadian, French was my
native tongue and I was concerned about
studying theology -- which is so important
to the priesthood -- in English. I wasn't even
confident that I'd pass!"
His bishop was adamant and gave him an
ultimatum: change to the English speaking
seminary or cease his studies.
Stéphane phoned some friends for advice
and soon found himself in Ottawa speaking
to the Military Bishop of Canada.
The bishop welcomed him to his French
speaking seminary and recruited him for
the Defence forces. "I am very grateful to
the then Bishop for rescuing me after what
I call 'the fall!' Fr Stéphane jokes.
Having ministered to the military for almost
fifteen years, Fr Stéphane is down-to-earth
about the reality of loss and grief and its
impact on the military community and
beyond. "Losing one of our members is
like losing a member of your family. It's a
tragedy, whether it's due to a motor vehicle
accident in Port Stephens or active service
Fr Stéphane's contract as chaplain, on
loan from the Canadian Military Ordinariate
to the Australian Military Ordinariate and
the RAAF, ends in 2014. In the meantime,
like most visitors to Australia, he's seeing
as much of the country as he can during
his holidays. Next stop? Alice Springs
we're just a
so they can talk
Fr Stéphane and "Napoleon".
By CATHERINE MAHONY
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