by Gordon Nary
Gordon: Please share with our readers some information on the challenges that you faced being born blind, how you addressed your disability, and how your disability affected your faith.
Father Justin: I have never known what it is like NOT to have extremely limited vision (I have nystagmus so the world is a fuzzy blur, since my eyes do not focus). This has meant that I have had to find other ways to do anything involving vision. I have a very good memory, which I have found invaluable given my interest in law, music and languages. From the perspective of faith, I learned very early on that all of us are both limited and dependent on others. I learned very early on that, while we have gifts and strengths, we are always reliant on others and others are reliant on us. It was a lesson hard learned - I was bullied most of my way through school and so I had to find ways of both dealing with this and with the physical limitations that came with having only residual vision. Late in my school life I acquired a set of telescopes to get around. These inflate the blur in a small area to make it usable and they pair nicely with a cane - which allows me to find out what is going on at my feet.
Gordon: Who were some of the people who influenced you life and in what ways did they influence you?
Father Justin: My parents and grandparents were invaluable in giving me a loving home background and support without pressure to live the life to which God has called me. They gave me an excellent home education and an introduction to languages, literature and taught me to both think and examine my world, as well as giving me some of my earliest education in faith. One of my early teachers, a Mrs Ferris, protected me from some of the worst of the earliest bullying and yet also set strict boundaries. When I moved to New Zealand and converted my legal qualifications to practice there, I was given opportunities by a former lecturer, Laurette Barnard and Francis Dawson, a partner at what was then Rudd Watts and Stone (a major law firm in Auckland). The experience of practicing law, especially commercial law, while not always easy, gave me both critical thinking and practical tools which have been useful throughout my life.
Gordon: When did you decide to be a Barrister, where did you study law, what degree did you earn?
Father Justin: I have been interested in the law as well as the priesthood and religious life, since school days. One of the fathers at Marianhill Monastery in Pinetown, Durban (South Africa) wisely suggested that I study and work after school before considering a religious commitment. Although I was disappointed, I recognised that wisdom of this later. Accordingly, I studied law by correspondence through the University of South Africa, doing a BA (majoring in Private Law and with minors in Roman Law and Russian) in 1992 and then an LLB degree in 1995.
Gordon: When and where did you serve as a Barrister and what did you enjoy most about your profession?
Father Justin: I worked first as an attorney (solicitor) in South Africa from 1996-7. On emigrating with my family to New Zealand in 1998, after a short time converting my qualifications, I worked as a Barrister in Auckland as pupil to the human rights lawyer Colin Amery. At this time, I was working mostly in the areas of criminal and refugee law. My knowledge of Russian was helpful here as there were many people fleeing the disruption caused by the fall of the USSR - especially ethnic Russians who now found themselves in awkward situations in newly independent ex-Soviet republics. I was involved in helping them put their cases to Immigration officers and the Refugee Status Appeals Authority in Auckland. After that, as I mentioned above, I worked as a solicitor in commercial law firms in Auckland. While working there, I did a doctorate part-time in international human rights law (looking at fundamental international law rights and how they could apply to migrants and refugees in national legal systems).
Gordon: Why did you decide to be a Jesuit?
Father Justin: While commercial law was intellectually stimulating, I found it soulless - generally it was working out how to make a lot of money for folk who already had more than enough. The environment was stressful and there were tensions within the partnerships at the firms where I worked. As mentioned earlier, I had long thought of the priesthood and the desire to explore it again came back strongly while I was doing my doctorate. Once the degree was granted, I was accepted for the Society. While that, too, was not easy - the novitiate was a spiritual learning curve and the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius and pastoral works helped me explore parts of me which were underdeveloped - I felt at home in the Jesuits, and still do. Ignatius' understanding that God is to be found everywhere and in all things and people resonated strongly with me. I feel at home in Jesuit communities. In them, it is possible to be all that I am called to.
Gordon: Where did you attend seminary, what was your favorite course, and why was it your favorite?
Father Justin: I had the advantage of studying under a variety of excellent lecturers, Catholic, Anglican and Protestant, at what was the United Faculty of Theology, part of the University of Divinity in Melbourne. It is hard to pick a favourite subject. I loved the Biblical languages, especially Hebrew, and have long been involved in Christian-Jewish dialogue (the topic of my honours thesis). At the same time, the late Geoff King SJ introduced me to canon law and I enjoyed it so much that I volunteered to study it in Ottawa to take over as the Australian Province's canon lawyer after Geoff King died.
Gordon: Please share with our readers an overview of your work with refugees.
Father Justin: In my Regency (pastoral years between first and second round of studies) I was missioned to Jesuit Refugee Service in Sydney. Here I got a more pastoral experience of working with refugees than I had had as a lawyer. I helped developed entertainment programmes for people in the limbo of onshore detention in houses and other alternative places of detention. The work was heartbreaking since I was supporting persecuted, vulnerable people who had fled horrors in their home countries - only to have Australia inflict more on them. And always, they faced harsh and unwelcoming conditions the fear of not knowing whether they would be deported back to the horror.
Gordon: When did you start serving as a Lecturer at CatholicTheological College and what courses do you teach?
Father Justin: After priestly ordination in 2016 and having studied a JCL/ MCL (pontifical and civil canon law degree) in Canada (St Paul University in Ottawa) from 2016-18, I came back to Melbourne and was asked to help lecture canon law at Catholic Theological College. I mostly lecture seminarians, giving them an overview of canon law and how it will apply to them as religious and priests.
Gordon: When were you appointed General Counsel Australian Province of the Society of Jesus and what are you primary responsibilities?
Father Justin: Since the Australian Province of the Society of Jesus was reforming its governance in response to both the directive of the universal Society and the Australian Royal Commission into Child Abuse, I was asked to activate my practicing certificate as a civil lawyer while also advising on canonical issues. I therefore advise on all legal areas including governance, setting up new entities, contracts and the intersection between civil and canon law. (My commercial law background has been very useful here!) I also provide canonical advice to other people and entities (my civil law practicing certificate only allows me to provide civil law advice to the Jesuits).
Gordon: Please share with our readers and overview of your responsibilities as Disability Advisory Committee Member
City of Melbourne.
Father Justin: This is mostly an advisory role. The committee only meets four to six times a year but it does look at projects which the City Council is considering and considers their impact on disabled people. To a limited extent we are able to suggest new areas for examination as well and to raise awareness of disability and disability issues as they relate to local government.
Gordon: Thank you for an exceptional interview.