A Catholic Monthly Magazine

Fr Neil Vaney SM – Leaving a Legacy for the Church in New Zealand

by Anne Marie Thom

Catholic Discipleship College

The Beginning: The call for Fr Neil to become involved in the Catholic Discipleship College had many influencing factors.  Initially he went to a Conference in Hamilton in 2000 and heard Fr John Connolly, from the John Paul II Bible School in Canada speak.  Fr Neil was invited to join a Committee set up to explore the viability of a similar college in NZ.  He began discussing with his Spiritual Director to discern his involvement.  During a 20-day retreat in Canada he felt a powerful call to commit to the College and in 2006 he was asked to be the first Principal.

As a new initiative, there have been numerous challenges in the life of the College. One of the greatest of these continues to be funding for both establishment and ongoing costs at the College. The Lord has repeatedly answered the prayers of the Trustees, Board members, staff, students and our supporters in this respect.  

Another concern when setting up was the sourcing of staff; the College was very blessed with the extensive contributions of Mark Blackie, Jenny Trolove and Ruth Schaffers who, together with Fr Neil, formed the foundations of the curriculum and structure of the College year. Fr Neil’s extensive network of connections has brought in numerous excellent teachers.

Another challenge has been identifying and responding to the individual needs of the diverse students as well as the constant anxiety of bringing in new students each year.

The Fruits: One of the main highlights has been graduation at the end of each year where the extraordinary testimonies of students acknowledge how much they have changed and grown throughout the year.  “During the year the students give testimonies and share the gospel at parishes and on Outreach.  Their amazing experiences and the responses from parishes and schools is very encouraging.”

There have been some particularly powerful prayer evenings when some deep healing has taken place.

One of the most recent highlights for Fr Neil was going to Christchurch to concelebrate the mass when Katherine Pawson, a student at CDC in 2009, joined the Carmelites.

The most important fruit is seeing the students grow into a deep sense of their own identity, their call by God and the peace and joy He brings into their lives.  Many alumni work  in various dimensions of the church: in music, youth ministry and religious life.

The Future: After six years, Fr Neil is leaving for a time of renewal in Chicago, USA.  On return, he will be involved in a new ministry in the Hawkes Bay region as a resource person in spirituality. His legacy in establishing the College will be greatly treasured for many years to come.

The future for the Catholic Discipleship College is hopeful; building on solid foundations with a proven record of achievement of its mission: forming disciples fully alive in Christ.

All of us at CDC who have been touched by Fr Neil’s gifts will keep him close in our hearts and prayers.   

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