When Brian Gregory Mascord was ordained to priesthood on 31 October 1992, he took those words as his motto: “For all things, give thanks.”
When Vicar General Brian is ordained Bishop of Wollongong on 22 February 2018, he will continue to give thanks for all – and hopefully the stampede of elephants currently occupying his stomach will have withdrawn by then!
Since accepting the invitation to be bishop in a diocese that bears more than a passing resemblance to Maitland-Newcastle, Bishop-Elect Brian was happy to spend some time looking forward and looking back.
If you were a student of St Joseph’s Primary at Cessnock and St John’s at Lambton in the 1980s, you may remember young Mr Mascord. While he enjoyed teaching, “I always knew there was something more, but I didn’t know what it was.”
The death of his Uncle Bill in 1985 was a turning point. Brian had the opportunity to bring the family together to have the conversations needed to prepare the funeral Mass – and something gelled.
Only after speaking to then Vocations Director, at the time, Fr Joe Tobin, and being accepted for St Patrick’s College, Manly, for the following year, did Brian tell his parents, Margaret and Ron, that he would take a year’s leave from the classroom and begin priestly formation. He was by no means certain this was the ‘something more’ – and for the first few weeks he lived out of a suitcase, not sure how long he would stay – but he was willing to give it every chance.
Fast forward six years and Brian is spending his pastoral year living at the Bishop’s House, as was the custom. It was an opportunity for Bishop Leo Clarke to get to know him. However, as months passed and there was no talk of ordination. When he finally enquired, he was told to write requesting ordination. He did, and on 21st March 1992 was ordained deacon, followed by ordination to priesthood on 31 October of the same year.
Parish ministry followed and the quality that allowed him to draw his extended family together served him well in the parish setting. After Brian’s appointment to Wollongong was announced, Bishop Bill wrote, “Over the years he has built up and maintained so many friendships and pastoral connections that it seems like the whole place is family to him. That capacity for friendship and connection with people of all sorts will now be a gift to the people, religious and clergy of Wollongong.”
In hearing the news, many members of the diocesan community have congratulated Brian warmly but also expressed regret at the loss to the diocese. However, remember St Paul’s words: “For all things, give thanks.”
A particular passion for Brian during his priestly ministry has been promoting vocations. He has encouraged young men to consider priesthood, and equally, has engaged with the religious congregations in the diocese. Bishop Michael Malone appointed him full-time Vocations Director in 2007 and he has happy memories of various encounters in schools, at conferences and through prayer and liturgy. He recalls assembling teams encompassing different members of religious congregations and embarking on a road trip to address – and listen to –secondary students.
This begs the question – what opportunities does being bishop offer in terms of promoting a willingness to hear the vocational call, whether it be to marriage, single life, religious life or priesthood?
“I take my example from Bishop Bill. He has a desire to encourage young people to discover their place in the church. Discovering their place means we have to honour where they stand and it’s not where we expect them to be. I recognised that at ACYF (Australian Catholic Youth Festival) in December in Sydney. Often we don’t give young people credit, for their place in the Church, because for many it’s not an involvement we expect or want, but it doesn’t mean they don’t have faith. We don’t always give them the experience of belonging either, because we think they’re not into church.” He cited Sr Hilda Scott osb’s ability “to hold 19,000 young people in her hand, leading lectio divina as they listened in silence”.
ACYF gave Brian the opportunity to meet some of the young people from Wollongong and he found it affirming. They too would have been affirmed, as he told them, “You are leaders in our community and I want to hear what you want to say about the church.”
Asked about his hopes and fears, Brian says, “The fears are obvious – I’ve worked for 25 years in this diocese, I taught for six years in this diocese, I’ve lived here all of my life – the fear is leaving the security of what I know.”
He’s somewhat chuffed that some of his parishioners at MacKillop have said, “We sent you to the seminary from here (Brian grew up in Charlestown) and now we send you to Wollongong from here.” There’s a sense of coming full circle, and then stepping out into the unknown.
“For all things, give thanks.”
Few bishops have both parents living and for Brian, Ron and Margaret’s support prayerfully and practically, has been critical. “Their wisdom and their calmness have been great gifts.” He is also very close to his brother John and John’s son and future daughter-in-law, Damien and Kate and the gift of a strong and large extended family and group of friends are all added gifts that are truly valued. No doubt the family will visit Wollongong regularly.
His aspiration as bishop is simply, “To be myself, to work with my brother priests and the people of the diocese to build the kingdom of God together. I hope I will be able to lead that community, build on what is there and move forward together. I’m going to make mistakes – that’s guaranteed – but we make mistakes together and we climb out of them together.”
Brian is very conscious of the need for good counsel. There are three contemplative religious communities in the Diocese of Wollongong – Carmelites, Benedictines and Poor Clares as well as many other religious congregations – and he will be calling on their prayers, as they bring an incredibly rich spirituality to the diocese.
Recalling Bishop Bill’s comment above, in fact Brian does have a family connection to the Diocese of Wollongong. “Dad’s family came from Corrimal. My grandfather and great-grandfather were born in Corrimal and my grandfather came to Newcastle when he was 19.” Those who know Brian well will not be surprised!
An important theme in Brian’s priestly ministry – literally and metaphorically – has been the notion of pilgrimage, and of course each of us is a pilgrim on a journey, facing many unknowns along the way. The magazine of the Diocese of Wollongong is titled Journey. While the elephants remain, it is in the nature of Bishop-Elect Brian Gregory Mascord to take willingly the next step on his journey, daunting as it may be, in hope rather than in fear.
He takes with him the confidence and prayers of his home diocese, remembering, “For all things, give thanks.”
Ahead of Fr Brian's Ordination on 22 February, we will be holding a special farewell party celebrating the 'Life of Brian'. Click here for more information about the event.