Throughout his whole career, Dr John Collins has been accompanying people in ministry – whether it be married couples, those suffering loss, seminarians and even priests.
With a strong theological background, John’s calling to the permanent diaconate continues his philosophy of putting theory into practice and faith into action.
The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference (ACBC) details the diaconate as “fulfilling a key role in the ministry of the Church, and is an essential part of its structure.”
The permanent diaconate was restored as a permanent order within the Church following Vatican II, as a ministry of service in the midst of the deacon’s ministry of word, liturgy and charity.
A deacon is ordained by the bishop. Once ordained, he is permanently and publicly configured to Christ the Servant and shares in the pastoral responsibility of the Bishop to care for all the people in the diocese. A deacon will do so in partnership with priests.
“I’ve done quite a bit of practical work in adult faith formation, diocesan renewal, evangelisation, relationship education, grief education, parenting, and training of clergy, which, in a way, I bring to the diaconate,” John told Catholic Outlook.
John was admitted to candidacy to the permanent diaconate by Bishop Vincent Long OFM Conv, Bishop of Parramatta, during Mass at Christ the King Parish, North Rocks, on 22 August. As a candidate, John has completed the necessary formation required to be formally ordained.
John has a PhD in Theology, and currently ministers to seminarians preparing for the priesthood at the Catholic Institute of Sydney in Strathfield. “My vocation is as a theologian,” he said.
John previously worked for the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference in their National Office for Evangelisation – Catholic Enquiry Centre from 2007 to 2015. Before that, he was at Centacare (now known as CatholicCare) in the Archdiocese of Sydney.
John began his diaconate formation in the Archdiocese of Sydney, but then transferred to the Diocese of Parramatta.
“As a young man, I spent some time in the seminary, so I had this desire to serve in some way, but not as a priest. Priesthood wasn’t for me,” John explained.
“As a deacon, I hope to offer opportunities for people to grow and develop.
“The task isn’t to prepare people for heaven, so to speak, our task is to bring heaven to Earth.
“In a way, much of what I have been doing has been diaconal work. Ordination will bring this work much closer connected with the altar – the connection between this practical service becomes concretely and symbolically connected with the Eucharistic celebration,” he said.
Serving his pastoral placement at Christ the King Parish, North Rocks for two-and-a-half years, John has been involved with youth ministry, St Vincent de Paul Society, liturgical committees, pastoral council, and was a facilitator in the parish for the Plenary Council 2020 Listening and Discernment phase.
It’s a partnership
“We’re both committed to church ministry, that’s the reality of our lives,” John’s wife of 31 years, Dr Sandra Carroll said.
“I’ve been really happy with the program [in the Diocese of Parramatta], and I think John has too.
“The wives of the deacons in Parramatta feel very supported and very included in the formation program.
“I especially enjoy the weekends away together, as a community, where you really get to know people. The community has been important in terms of ongoing support, knowing that once John is ordained, there’s a sense of ‘you’re not doing this alone.’
“We’re very grateful to Fr Ian McGinnity [parish priest at Christ the King]. He’s been fantastic, very supportive, very welcoming,” Sandra said.
John and Sandra met whilst completing their Masters in Theology at the University of Sydney, and were married a year later.
Sandra, now retired, was a lecturer in Religious Education at the Australian Catholic University for 32 years. She explained that she is ready to back up the next step in John’s ministry.
“[When we were married], I had the job at ACU, so John resigned from his job and looked after the boys, while I kept working.
“He’s been incredibly supportive of me all those years, so I feel that it’s his turn now.
“This is something he’s wanted to do from when we first married,” she said.
Advice to others considering the diaconate
John’s advice to married men interested in becoming a deacon is to maintain a balance between their vocation of marriage and family life and that of the diaconate.
“We want 40-year-olds ordained as deacons, so join the program when you’re 35,” John laughed.
“Take care of your kids, keep your career going, be a deacon in the world that you are in and that you are doing that diaconate work in that context.
“You can be doing work in your parish, but make sure your primary task is your first vocation – your marriage.
“We need to make sure to guard that primary sacrament of marriage and family and as a married and family person, you do your ministry – it’s not something in the road,” he explained.
Sandra added, “There is no one way to be a deacon’s wife – there’s the way that you choose in your marriage relationship to support your husband, there’s what works for you and your family.”