Teacher to preacher as CQUni alumnus takes divine path

18 August 2021

When Ashwin Acharya decided he wanted to change lives' the life-long Central Queenslander didn't have to look far for a role model.

"Going down the street in Yeppoon' kids would come up to my Mum' saying 'Hi Mrs Acharya!' Then their parents would follow close behind and say' 'Hi Mrs Acharya!' Such was the far reaching impact that teaching seemed to have. She impacted generations."

"Out of every profession' teaching seemed to have the most massive ripple effect in communities."

So' it was his mother's inspiration that helped lead the teen to studying a Bachelor of Learning Management at CQUniversity. But it was his family's faith that slowly redirected his career plans.

Recently ordained as a Catholic priest' 29-year-old Fr Acharya said he realised his calling after graduating from CQUni in 2012' and while teaching at St Ursula's College' Yeppoon.

"I was teaching Maths' and not that I have anything against Maths' but it didn't fire me up'" he laughed. "In class' I was far more interested in how the kids were' and whether they were happy and felt like they had purpose' than whether or not they could find 'x' in the algebra equation."

While his work included serving as campus minister' Fr Acharya said the priesthood "was not on the radar" initially.

"There were no psychedelic dreams about celebrating Mass or anything like that' but I was looking for avenues to fulfil my faith'" he said.

A passionate musician' boxing and Muay Thai enthusiast and active community member' Fr Acharya said he felt his skills were pulling him in different directions' until he realised they could all serve a greater good as part of his Catholic faith.

"For instance' in my campus minister role' I organised lunchtime Rosary sessions' and we'd get 30 kids there – that was incredible' and I could see so much joy and investment from everyone around me."

As more and more of his energy and imagination went into ministry efforts in the College' Fr Acharya said his eyes were eventually opened to the prospect of being called to serve the community as a Priest.

"A diligent discernment quickly led to Bishop Michael McCarthy accepting me as a student for the Rockhampton Diocese' which led to commencing studies and formation at Brisbane's Holy Spirit Seminary in 2015."

As well as studying theology over six years' Fr Acharya said his experience at CQUniversity also informs his ministry.

"When it comes to teaching the Faith' and how we consider our own faith' the subject matter is infinite!" he said. "You can't set out to teach it all' but you can pass on the passion to explore' and invite people on the journey – that's the role of any good teacher' so I am certainly using what I learnt at CQU."

"I remember even in the first couple weeks of lectures' we explored meaning-making' and how you put an idea in someone else's mind? As a priest I'm trying to shepherd people's knowledge' and their wisdom-gaining – but teaching anything' you can never fully know what's been learnt and what's made an impact' it is an act of faith to teach!"

Fr Acharya is a priest for the Rockhampton Diocese' and has recently moved to Gladstone to serve in Star of the Sea Parish. Preparing for ordination to the priesthood' he lives and served as Deacon in the parishes of Emerald and some of the Central Highlands. After six months' he went to St Joseph's Cathedral in Rockhampton' where he was ordained a Priest on Thursday 17 June.

Now he's looking forward to making teaching part of his ministry' not so much pedagogically in the classroom but mystagogically' or about the mysteries of the Faith' wherever the opportunity presents itself' especially amongst young people.

"There's a lot of 'pop culture' understanding of Catholicism' but so much is just stereotypes – actual catechesis' and the philosophy and wisdom of the Church' desperately needs to be part of how we live and impart our faith'" he said.

"I love how kids ask deep questions and want to know how Church teaching contends with science' and society' and philosophy."

"It's so disrespectful to say to young people' 'don't worry about that' just go listen to some nice Christian music!' If the Faith isn't tackling the big dark issues' then the Church can't engage the next generation – but actually' the Church does engage these topics' and think all can be prepared to talk about them."

The young priest said he sees so many young people looking for meaning' but stalling in life with too many choices' and not enough guidance about choosing the right path.

"We all need to blaze a trail that is intentional' coherent' that satisfies us and serves a greater goal. I am not sure young people are necessarily getting all the support they need to do that'" he said.

Fr Acharya is glad to be beginning his priestly mission on the "home turf" of Central Queensland' and said he'll keep his connection to fellow CQUniversity graduates who went on to be teachers.

"I have a great respect for teachers' educators; I hope to be a great support to teachers – teaching is a great mission' and a very demanding one!"

Fr Acharya shares his work on social media' follow here: https://www.facebook.com/ashwineacharya


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