Notes for Farewell of Rev Michael de Stoop as Vocations Director
Invented in 1983 the 'slap band' was a steel plate embedded within velvet or pvc which is 'slapped' around the wearer's wrist or ankle. It can come in all sorts of colours and decorations and so was a favourite for children and adolescents developing their own fashion sense in the '80s and '90s. Apparently Apple used the technology in its recently released iWatch.
When on behalf of the Cardinal I asked Fr Michael to take my place as Vocations Director for the Archdiocese at end of 2004, I suggested he focus his attention on encounters with young people in schools, universities and youth groups. I knew that his guileless enthusiasm and magnetic personality would impress them. Little did I know that another kind of magnetism would be invoked, as a slap band in black with a white clerical collar was developed by Fr Michael for use at careers expos, schools visits and the like: on several occasions I've had one wrapped around my wrist! Instead of a pious lecture on the priesthood, the slap band draws people's attention and amusement and says loud and clear: you can be normal and fun and even a bit fashionable – and a priest – at the same time!
One of the places where he first got to display his clerical collars for the wrist was at the World Youth Day 2008 Vocations Expo at Darling Harbour which he helped to organise and which saw 2500 people per hour visiting stalls for scores of seminaries and religious communities at the Exhibition Centre. Young people were then and have been ever since pleased to meet an engaging and humorous priest who uses these slap bands as an ice-breaker. As the preparations for World Youth Day gradually ate up all my time I relinquished the role as Director of the Vocations to Fr Michael and he has been stuck with it for the decade since. He has lived up to his original commission from the Cardinal and me with great aplomb. In trying to plant and grow a culture of vocations Fr Michael employed new staff in the Vocation Centre and expanded its works to include:
• establishing, training and resourcing a network of lay vocations promoters in parishes
• providing various vocations forums and other resources for schools
• working with university chaplaincies, youth groups and communities to promote vocations
• offering three well-attended vocations expos in Martin Place
• ensuring priests and religious are present at youth events so that young people get to meet the real thing
• providing retreats for women discerning their vocation and supporting religious communities in their vocations ministries
• establishing the 40 Hours for Vocations Prayer event at the Seminary of the Good Shepherd
• offering training for priests on how to assist with vocational discernment
• engaging more actively with print and electronic media to spread the good news of vocations, including the new vocations that we look forward to being launched soon.
Though he has been given several other jobs to do concurrently, I know that this one has had the lion's share of his attention and it has borne fruit in the many young people considering priestly or religious vocations in our Archdiocese.
As Bishop of Parramatta I used to joke with my Vocations Director and priests that when it came to the seminary I wasn't interested in quantity: what mattered was quality; all I asked was that we got one more than Sydney each year! Now the shoe is on the other foot. But I stand by my thought that having the right seminarians is more important than having many – though ideally, of course, I want both quality and quantity. That means I need not just a good promoter of the idea of priestly vocations but a good discerner of whether those who express an interest are well-suited. Of course that often emerges later, which is why the Church in her wisdom takes years before ordaining a guy. But it helps to have someone who is both an enthusiast for promoting the priesthood and spiritually discerning…
Michael has of course had several other tasks to perform over the years. He was at one stage the Cardinal's Master of Ceremonies and driver. I had thought of asking him to hold open the book for my speech like a good MC, but then I knew from experience that he might be absent-mindedly staring at the ceiling when I needed his attention! There are many stories to be told of his MC and driver activities for the Cardinal, sometimes the less said the better; suffice it to say it drove the Cardinal to prayer! In fact, Fr Michael used to encourage the Cardinal to say the Rosary with him on the long drives along one of the motorways turned into a parking lot that is Sydney whenever you are trying to get to Confirmation Masses. With his unaffected, completely natural prayerfulness and good humour he has done his best to encourage even prelates to be a little holier!
He has, of course, also done work as Parish Priest of Broadway, assisted at the cathedral, been chaplain to school boys and others around the cathedral, written books on confession and spiritual direction, engaged in an ongoing course of study in that arena at the Institute for Priestly Formation in Omaha Nebraska, and other activities in or from Cathedral House. We will miss him there. But we will also miss him around the Polding Centre where he has been such a presence this past decade. Here as elsewhere he has been a source of calm and good humour amidst the stresses and busyness of Church work. We will miss his “dad jokes”, his extremely realistic sound effects, his helpfulness, prayerfulness and boyish joy. He has been and is a great witness to the vocation of the priesthood and after a decade he will at last have a big parish in which to exercise it. We thank him and wish him well in his future ministry.