Mar 15, 2024


A sabbatical (from the Hebrew: שַׁבָּת Šabat (i.e., Sabbath); in Latin sabbaticus; Greek: sabbatikos σαββατικός) is a rest or break from work; “an extended period of time intentionally spent on something that’s not your routine job”.

This post is a bit of a personal news update with a request.

On the seventh day of Creation, the Sabbath, God rested and instructed us to do the same. (Gen 2). The land too rests since every seventh year the land is to lie fallow (Gen 25:20-22), and after each seven times seven years the fiftieth year is named the Year of Jubilee (Gen 25:8).

The concept of sabbatical is less common today, but many professions encourage employees to stretch themselves by taking sabbatical weeks or months to reflect, to learn, to live apart from the usual programmes of work in an environment which broadens perspective and renews focus and energy.

While I have had the opportunity for study over the 38 years since my ordination I have never taken sabbatical of more than a month or two,

I am grateful to my bishop Michael Gielen who has granted me a five months’ sabbatical beginning at the end of this month.

The green text below is taken from my application for Sabbatical and will give you some idea of my hopes for the month

In recent years my ministry has in large part been with the National Liturgy Office, and accepting invitations to lead retreats and formation seminars, primarily for those who are seeking greater maturity of Christian faith.

The 2018 Aotearoa census (when placed alongside diocesan statistics) indicates that well over fifty percent of those who name themselves as Catholic in New Zealand are not connected regularly with our parishes or our schools. There are also many other baptised Catholics who have drifted from religious practice and now list themselves as “no religion” on a census.

In recent years I have met many of these people as they request sacraments for their children, or as they bury their parents or grandparents. In conversations with them it is clear that they would be happy to be connected with the Church, but they consider themselves to be too distant to easily return, or Catholic Christian life has not been presented to them in a way that is life-giving.

For some time it has been my motivation to present Catholic faith in a way that is relevant, digestible, and attractive.

One of my test groups for this has been a community of several small parishes in the north of Italy. This diocese, one of the smallest in the world with around 1000 people at Mass on a Sunday, sees an average (over the past 20 years) of 350 people taking a week’s faith-centred vacation together. Twelve years ago they invited me to serve as their vacation-chaplain. This community focusses on the centrality of Christ and steers clear of the moralism and legalism which many Catholics experience as the prime focus of faith. As my local ministry in New Zealand allows I have tried to be with them as often as possible for their annual August gathering.

This experience has motivated my need to study Italian language – to better understand this broader and positive experience of Catholic faith.

It is my plan on returning to NZ in September following Sabbatical to continue to (using some of the methods experienced in Italy) reach out to those in Aotearoa who might be open to greater maturity of Catholic faith.

The website, with daily podcast of Lectio Divina (now nearing 650 episodes) weekly Homily Studio (almost 200 episodes), café gatherings (across the country – initiated by readers of the website) daily Lent & Advent reflections and two or three reflections each week across rest of the year (now over 10 years 3000+ reflections).

I am more convinced than ever that this Food For Faith mission, and associated retreats, seminars etc, has the capacity to rekindle the faith of many who may feel as though they are distant.

So, my plan is to spend two months in USA, firstly for a holiday – with a lot of good novel reading (I’m always open to recommendations), good walks every day, and time with good friends.

Then early June I’ll go to Edinburgh for a few days to visit my sister and husband and their two children.

From mid-June until the end of July I will be studying Italian language in Italy. The plan is to do this quite intensively while living in a religious community, an environment of good company and conversation (I hope I am able to chat more than “una birra per favore”) all in a community of prayer.

As I mention in my sabbatical application notes (above in green), I’ll spend August with the community that have become friends in the north of Italy, attending a couple of week-long meetings including the well-known Rimini Meeting.

I don’t find it easy to ask for personal sabbatical support, but others have encouraged me by saying that it is the parishioners who benefit most from a priest’s sabbatical and while I am not serving in a parish Food For Faith readers are my parishioners.

As many of you know living overseas is a rather costly experience (travel, accommodation, food, study courses etc). So, I humbly make this request for your support.

I will continue regular reflections on these pages while I am away, including a couple of reflections each week as well as the daily Lectio Divina and the Homily Studio.

Click the image below to make a contribution.  Or contribute at this link, or contact me to discuss at  Receipts will automatically be sent at the end of the financial year, OR if you you would like a receipt sooner please send a brief email requesting this to

Gratefully, In Christ

Signature of Fr John O'Connor



Take an initiative and initiate a cafe gathering, or join these gatherings:

TODAY Friday 15 March 2024  10.00am. Stumble Inn, 200 Mangorei Road, Merrilands, New Plymouth.  Joan

Monday 18 March 2024 10.00am (& every Monday). Moku Cafe. Bush Inn Centre, Waimairi Road,  Christchurch. Trish

Wednesday 20 March 2024 10.00am Bellbird Eatery at the Dowse, 45 Laings Road, Lower Hutt. Catherine

Email me to add another:

After your gathering send a sentence or two about the encounter.


  1. Oh what joyful news John. This sabbatical sounds wonderful. It is great that you are making time to play, reconnect, learn something new. What a blessing you are and how precious to ‘share you’ with others. Wishing you every success on your next journey. May you continue to thrive and be filled with and share the energy, vitality and joy from doing God’s work wherever you go. Blessings in abundance.

    • Of course! Happy to contribute (done) and support with prayer, your intrepid journey! Go well with God, Father John.

  2. Go well John and with my prayers that you will come back revitalised and rested. Enjoy the company of friends, family and confreres. I look forward to new insights and wisdom that you will have gained during your sabbatical. Blessings for your journey and time away.

  3. Noreen and Jane say it all!
    Ciao bello!

  4. Molto bene! Go well John.
    And a shout out to any who haven’t purchased Food for Faith yet – you’re missing out on an enlightening, inspiring, comforting and entertaining read. (It would make the perfect Easter gift).

  5. Dear Fr John

    I was very heartened on reading your reflection on Sabbatical and your desire to take a longer sabbatical to learn more about a community in Italy – a community which focusses on the centrality of Christ and steers clear of the moralism and legalism which many Catholics experience as the prime focus of faith. And of your plans to bring your findings back to our communities in New Zealand to reach those who are not finding current church practices meaningful. Looking forward to reading of your insights and journeying with you through your posts. Every blessing in this calling. God Bless Sandra

  6. John, your ministry is so important and so refreshing for all of us, even regular Mass attendees! I hope you have a wonderful sabbatical and return yourself refreshed.

  7. John, delighted to contribute to your Sabbatical. Thank you again, for your very thought provoking and inspiring reflections over the years, and your recent book. Go safely, my friend, and May God’s richest blessings be with you Safe Travels.

  8. John, I am so pleased you have been given this grace-filled opportunity.
    I am sure you will make the most of it, and your little lambs, or now some big ones, will be Blessed.
    John enjoy. Have some playtime as well.
    Be safe.
    Michael McCabe


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