Growing up in Madagascar in a community that could only celebrate Mass once every three months because of a shortage of priests, Andrianihantana Francois d’Assise felt the initial stirrings of a call to the priesthood.
It wasn’t until high school, when he joined a school holiday missionary activity conducted by a Divine Word Missionary (SVD) priest that he began to consider the idea of becoming a missionary priest.
Today, Francois is working towards making that vocational call a reality, having travelled across the world to take up formation for the Divine Word Missionaries at Dorish Maru College in Melbourne.
Francois is the sixth of eight siblings and says he comes from a very devoted Catholic family, “especially my mother who made sure that all the children went to Church”.
“My family helped me to know God,” he says.
“And then, when the parish priest would come to our community to celebrate Mass, I observed the way he interacted with people and I was attracted to his goodness.”
Francois says two decisive experiences led him to the SVD – a serious car accident and an almost-fatal incident where he accidentally drank poison.
“It was prayer that saved me,” he says. “It is because of God’s love that I am still alive.”
Francois joined the SVD in 2010, beginning with one year of pastoral training and from 2011-2016 he studied philosophy before being sent to Ghana to complete the novitiate program.
He arrived in Australia to study Theology in July 2016 and says he is enjoying his time in formation here.
“Formation is a time for me to deepen my knowledge, my wisdom, my relationship with God, and with other people around me,” he says. “I see myself as someone who has the heart to love, to serve and to understand people in their difficulties and various circumstances.”
Francois says he sees the SVD’s multicultural charism as “a coming together of men from various countries, living in harmony in the midst of diversity”.
“I feel happy and fulfilled in following God’s call,” he says.