Blog People Deacon Callum David…


Deacon Callum David Scott

“God is calling us to a radical conversion and to a depth of trust in him which will allow God’s power to be released in our weakness, God’s wisdom to be revealed in our bewilderment, God’s truth to break through our disillusion” (God of Surprises, Gerard W. Hughes)

Our delegate Callum from South Africa tells us about his life and vocation.

Born to a non-Catholic, Christian family, having planned that I would follow a path of service, in education as a religious, I look back on my life – slightly different in how it has turned out – and detect the strong, guiding hand of Divine Providence at play. Perhaps I am rigidly unmalleable, or maybe unteachable, but my experience has been that abandonment to trust in God’s truth has had to be slowly learned through twists and turns, in humbling experiences of desolation, and in moments of joy, but wherein I have come to internalise the truth of the Jesuit Gerard W. Hughes’ insight into vocational discernment as an all-encompassing movement into a trusting encounter:

“God is calling us to a radical conversion and to a depth of trust in him which will allow God’s power to be released in our weakness, God’s wisdom to be revealed in our bewilderment, God’s truth to break through our disillusion” (God of Surprises, [1985]2008:160).

I was born of immigrant parents in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, a coastal city and the fourth biggest in the country, in the height of Apartheid. However, my good parents, by accident rather than design, enrolled me for pre-school in the local Dominican convent school, St Dominic’s Priory. I was supposed to attend a state school, which would have implied a school designated for “whites” only. However, that school was oversubscribed. There was no room. Through my maternal grandmother, herself a Scottish Protestant, who had a golfing friend who happened to be the secretary of the Dominican school, I was enrolled to begin my schooling under the wonderful tutelage of the Cabra Dominican Sisters. Indeed, the Cabra Dominicans left a lasting impression on my story of faith and indeed, on my choice of career. In fortuitously being placed in a Catholic school, my first encounter with Catholicism was ensured. And it is an encounter which has remained as a continuous event of beauty and truth in my life.

Deacon Callum Scott and his wife, Mary-Ann, on his ordination day. Deacon Callum Scott and his wife, Mary-Ann, on his ordination day.

There is, of course, also the political dimension of having attended a Catholic school in Apartheid South Africa. For the religious men and women – notably the Cabra Dominicans, Loreto Sisters, Mercy Sisters, Irish Christian Brothers and Marist Brothers – defied the state by “opening” their schools to children of all races in 1976. For the religious, the choice for justice and truth, which stood in direct contrast to the Apartheid laws of the land – resulted in much intimidation, some arrests, and even solitary confinements. Yet, as children in these schools, we were under the impression that it was normal for the yellow Apartheid police vans to “visit” schools. Sometimes, during riots, our friends could not get to school because the Apartheid machinery blocked off roads into “non-white” areas. Something was happening around us, but we didn’t know what. diverse cultures at in our school we had friends of diverse cultures and religions. This openness to all people has been a significant “colourer” of my life and has given me great freedom in my pastoral approach.

As a young child, in primary school, our convent chapel was always open for the children to go and pray in. I used to often spend part of my break time there. Something drew me. I could not put words on it. But I felt that there was a Presence – a warmth, a comfort – that I experienced nowhere else, and which I could not feel in our own Methodist church in which I had been baptised as an infant. As time passed, religious women (and men to a lesser degree), became a normal exposure to us. I continued my high school career in the same school’s high school. All the while I felt called to become a Catholic, but wisely, my parents would not let me convert until they deemed me old enough. I was invited in Grade 11 to form part of the Catholic Confirmation Class at school and had in the meantime begun attending Sunday mass and joined the choir in my local parish church. All the while, the indescribable Divine Presence – the Eucharistic Presence – kept pulling at me. And eventually, at the age of 17, on the Feast of Our Mother of Perpetual Help, I was joyfully received into full communion with the Catholic Church by an Irish Capuchin Franciscan friar, who would become a great friend and mentor in my discernment, an Irish Capuchin Franciscan, Bartholomew Prendiville, who has now gone to God. My sponsor for reception into the Church was an Irish Dominican Sister, Margaret Close, who has also passed away now. And my Confirmation sponsor another Irish Dominican Sister, Andrea Murray, who lives in retirement in Port Elizabeth, well into her tenth decade.

Around the time that I was received into the Church, my dad took a job in Johannesburg, the economic hub of South Africa. I really did not want to move, but I had no choice, being just out of school and unemployed. My parents decided to live in Pretoria rather than in Johannesburg, both because we had relatives in Pretoria and because it is a less daunting city than Johannesburg. More than two decades later, the two cities have grown together and have a combined population of about 8 million people. With exposure to religious life as a norm growing up, and seeing the great good that the sisters and the friars had done for those they encountered and served, I had the idea of becoming a religious. The parish to which I belonged at the time in Pretoria was served by a secular priest, who would go onto become an archbishop before his untimely death due to Covid in the early stages of the pandemic. I often spoke to him about my discernment. At the same time I began extended visits with the Capuchin Franciscans who had opened a student house in Pretoria around this time. My time in that house exposed me to the experience of fraternity of brothers coming from all over Africa, as well as Italy, India, and Ireland, witnessing to the Gospel way of St Francis. In this time I started my tertiary education by enrolling for a BA degree at the University of Pretoria.

University life was ordinary. I made friends, went out, enjoyed life, and had a few girlfriends. All the while, I continued the discernment process. It was never far from my mind. But I enjoyed University too much, and the University continued to offer me bursaries to carry on studying, so I continued at the University of Pretoria until I finished my MA in Philosophy. Towards the end of the MA, I decided that if I was to give the consecrated life a chance, I needed to do it then. This began a three-year period of formation in the Capuchin Franciscan Order.

Perhaps I should mention something about Saint Francis and myself: for although I had read about Saint Dominic and heard many tales of his great preaching adventures to the Albigensians and was aware of the rich Dominican tradition and customs, I never really felt drawn to becoming a Dominican, despite my academic inclinations. While in school, and before I became a Catholic, I had wondered about the Capuchins – distinguished by their brown habits – I saw in the parish I attended, and asked the Dominicans about them: a group of Franciscans, I was told. So I borrowed a biography of St Francis by Elizabeth Goudge from our school library, and could not put it down. The Franciscan ideal of fraternity touched me deeply, as did the vocation to live the Gospel regardless of what work one was engaging in. “Francis” became my confirmation name. And as I came to know more of the friars, I began to detect the characteristics of Franciscanism lived out. However, in South Africa, as in many “mission countries”, religious are needed by the bishops to be parish priests as the local church is still in the stages of establishment. I was sure that God did not want me as a parish priest: He had given me other gifts and talents. Reflecting upon my own draw to Franciscanism and then the call of God out of Franciscan religious life, I believe that the preoccupation with parishes and its consequent impact upon the living of consecrated life was one of the principal reasons that I needed to leave. In consultation with my spiritual director, I had to choose the life that was most life-giving for me. Leaving consecrated life was much harder than entering. I felt as if my dreams and hopes had been shattered. Certainly, I had to take time to reorient myself out of a period of desolation. And I was very privileged that my parents welcomed me home. The time after I left religious life was not easy for them or for me. But during my novitiate and in the post-novitiate in Cape Town, I came to know two permanent deacons assigned to the parish within which I lived. At the time, the diaconate was an idea I knew existed – a thing – but permanent deacons are not particularly common in South Africa and I had next to no experience of them. I observed that very often the deacons were the ones that the parishioners went to; they were the first port of call, and exhibited an intimacy with the people that we, who were supposed to be the “brothers of the people,” did not. I clearly remember sitting in the friary chapel before I left religious life, praying about this, and having the diaconate on my heart.

After leaving religious life, I was employed by another Capuchin, Donal O’Mahony, also now deceased, as a research and communications officer in his non-governmental peacebuilding and conflict resolution organisation. I worked there for almost a year before I was employed as a Junior Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of South Africa. Fortunately, before I entered religious life, I had taught for two years in two seminaries in Pretoria, and so had some teaching experience. And today, fifteen years later, I remain as an academic in the same University, only now, I have climbed through the ranks, and have reached professorship. I undertook my doctoral research on a Thomistic solution to the oftentimes problematic relationship between science and religion. So, back to Dominicanism!

Four years after leaving religious life, I met Mary-Ann, who would become my wife. She was not a Catholic, having been brought up in the Calvinist tradition, as her late father was a minister in the Dutch Reformed Church. I played open cards with her from the beginning of our relationship: despite having left the religious life, I still felt that God was calling me to something. And I was blessed, because she had the experience that most Catholic women would not have, of growing up beside a church with a dad as a minister. She understood about the sacrifices required by the families of clergy. We married and this year celebrate our tenth wedding anniversary. The “God of Surprises” hit again, as we were married in the chapel of the Capuchin Friary in Pretoria, and the presider was my former vice-provincial minister who had received my vows as a Capuchin!

Having eliminated the possibility of consecrated life, because I was now married, my prayer life and discernment turned again to the permanent diaconate. I needed something more than just going to mass and being an active parishioner. More prayer, more fraternity, more service. The Archdiocese of Pretoria has had deacons since the early 1970s, and had a formation programme in place, which I sought admission to join with the support of yet another group of religious, the Comboni Missionaries of the Heart of Jesus, who served the parish that Mary-Ann and I joined. I was admitted into the formation programme. A few years after we married, Mary-Ann decided that she was called to become a Catholic, too.

The vocation to the diaconate is a difficult one to discern because it is not easy to describe: the diaconate is far less about doing than about being. A diaconal candidate cannot say that he is called to serve by running a parish or celebrating the sacraments, or to be a missionary in a foreign land. In fact, there is nothing that a deacon can do that anyone else in the Church cannot do. But, there is a particular way in which the deacon can do these activities – by being living signs of Christ who came to serve (Mt 20:28; Lk 22:27) – and a way in which he can be among God’s people which is unique to the diaconate. Inserted as a family man, in the work environment, we are clergy who are “at the coal face” beside our lay brothers and sisters. The deacon’s ordination does not elevate him, for it is a horizontal spiritual empowerment that enables him to be a non-threatening sign of Christ in the world as he lives out the ordinary life of husband, father, and worker, but with the added intensity of intentional Christianity.

Feeling called to a more intense Christian way of life – which naturally stands in contrast to my own failures and shortcomings – I discerned the vocation to serve God’s people as a permanent deacon. And, as Divine Providence would have it, I was ordained on the 24th November 2018 by our then Archbishop, Liam Slattery, who happens to be a Franciscan Friar! I could not escape Franciscans even in the moment I was incardinated into the local church as a secular cleric!

Rev. Deacon Callum Scott and Father Raul Tabaranza MCCJ greet one of our youngest parishioners before mass Rev. Deacon Callum Scott and Father Raul Tabaranza MCCJ greet one of our youngest parishioners before mass

Since ordination, I have served in many different ministries in the parish community to which I am assigned, St Augustine’s, Silverton in the Archdiocese of Pretoria, alongside the Comboni Missionaries. I have been privileged to accompany parents with their infants to the font of baptism, to journey with adults who are seeking to become Catholics, to prepare couples for marriage and to witness their marriages, to assist at funerals and burials, visits to the sick and the bereaved, to give counsel and direction, and to work with the youth and young adults. The Church has also made use of my academic background. I am appointed as the coordinator of initial formation of the diaconate formation programme in our archdiocese. In this apostolate, I work with other clergy, religious and laity in forming men who feel called to the diaconate, assisting them to discern their vocations and to prepare them spiritually, pastorally, intellectually and psychologically for ministry. I have also served on the Synod team for our Archdiocese, which ran from 2020 through to the launch of the pastoral plan for our Archdiocese in 2022. I have recently been appointed to the Archdiocese’s Commission for Evangelisation, part of the responsibility of which will be the execution of the pastoral plan in the 72 parishes and pastoral districts of this local church.

Having grown up in Apartheid South Africa, my “initial formation” in a Dominican “open” school was providential for my initial encounter with Christ and my later living out daily of the vocation to be a deacon among people in diverse pastoral settings. The hand of Providence has clearly been present throughout my life, leading me to the diaconate, through winding paths, which whilst on the path did not feel like it had any direction at all! Of course, discernment is a daily happening. I am fulfilled in living out my vocation as “only a deacon” in the context of the vocation to marriage, accompanied by Mary-Ann and our daughters, Clare (for the Franciscans) and Catherine (for the Dominicans). What a sacred thing to be among others “… as one who serves” (Lk 22:27).

And by way of showing Providence once more: as a deacon, I sought a means by which to deepen my spiritual life. I was led back to… Franciscanism, as I was received as a candidate of the Secular Franciscan Order (OFS) last October.

“And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time” (T.S. Eliot, Little Gidding).

Back …


More articles on "People"