In August 1991, Jaycee Napoles, then a boy of four, bid farewell to the Philippines and boarded a Melbourne-bound flight with his father, mother and older brother. Next September, the Old Paradian will be amongst the latest group of seminarians to be ordained as a deacon at St Patrick’s Cathedral.
What a journey it’s been for Jaycee, who found his true calling in the final years of College life, which ended with his VCE exams in 2004.
“I spent one year at La Trobe doing a Bachelor of Arts degree, but I always wanted to become a missionary – and the foundation of that desire really came in the last two years at Parade,” said Jaycee, in an interview from within the walls of the Chapel of the Holy Spirit at the Bundoora Campus.
“I can remember doing community service under the watch of Miss Donahoo and going to St Albans to help with the tutoring program for refugees. I was also involved with the youth group, so there were two elements helping me to really gear myself towards missionary life.”
Not surprisingly, Jaycee was adjudged winner of the Principal’s Award in 2004 – an honour bestowed “for a unique and sustained contribution to the ethos and spirit of the College across a range of significant fields of endeavour”. Significantly, he’s also maintained his friendships with old schoolmates from the Bundoora Campus – mates like Ben Calvitto, Vincent Falvo and Francis Lawrence, now a New York-based member of The Dance Theatre of Harlem.
In 2006, following his 12-months at La Trobe, Jaycee joined a missionary order for what would be a seven-year term, during which time he travelled throughout the United States and most of Southeast Asia, including the land of his birth to which he returned after some 14 years.
Jaycee found the Philippines to be “quite dichotomous in that there is quite a wealthy, socialite culture, and then there’s the poor – although things are on the improve now that the younger people are getting an education”.
As for his own personal recollections of the Philippines, he has but one from his childhood.
“I do remember a volcanic eruption happening at Mount Pinatubo. The volcano erupted very close to the family home and I recall going out into the street afterwards and there was so much ash,” Jaycee said.
“I suppose work brought my father and mother to Australia, and when I returned to the Philippines I found out more about my Dad. He was a welder by profession who got involved with steelworks on the ships, and he got an opportunity to find work in Melbourne. He and my mother came for the long haul and I’m pleased to say they’ve settled in well.”
By the time he set foot back in Australia, Jaycee was already recognised as a Brother of the Oblate Apostles of the Two Hearts– a Philippines-based order with whom he supported the many and varying churches and schools in the region. To quote Jaycee: “That was an amazing experience”.
On his return to Melbourne, he resolved to follow his vocation through the Catholic Church and in the years since has completed a Bachelor of Theology and Master of Sacred Theology at Catholic Theological College - and it’s also worth noting that another Old Paradian, John Vespa (2002) has just completed his first year at the seminary.
Jaycee didn’t need any reminding of the serious challenges facing the Catholic Church, particularly in the wake of the Royal Commission into Institutional Response to Child Sexual Abuse.
“The year has been such a challenge, particularly after the sentencing of George Pell,” said Jaycee, who is also pictured at front right with the fifth-year seminarians of 2019 at Corpus Christi.
“To be honest, when I came back from the Philippines and had that motivation to study for the priesthood for the Melbourne Archdiocese, I never knew what was going on in Australia because the Royal Commission was in the process of being established.
“In the Philippines I didn’t hear much about it (historic sexual abuse in the church) at all because people really loved their religiosity, but then when it all emerged here . . . wow.
“However, I do believe there is hope. I believe that the next generation of Catholics are here to remedy the wrongs of the past and that we should do it with the confidence that we can make a change. It will take some work to regain people’s trust, but if we do stick to the basics of ‘love thy neighbour’ then things will heal.”
For Jaycee, the key is relevance to an ever-changing community. As he said: “I found my vocation, not so much in religious expression, but through service”.
“I believe there is always a need to serve those less fortunate and for me the relevancy is in lending a hand,” Jaycee said.
“I really look forwarding to getting out there and meeting people – not so much to counsel them if they’re having problems, but to simply be a presence for them. I will really love hearing people’s stories and I do think listening’s a great skill.”
image - www.corpuschristicollege.org.au