Thursday, March 27, 2008

A Note from Lourdes

During these days of Easter week I am in Lourdes with the Irish Pilgrimage Trust. I have travelled with a group of the Trust each year since 2001. Somehow, Easter would not be the same if I were not in Lourdes for Easter. Despite the terrible weather here, the people of the Irish, English, American, West Indian, Slovakian, Romanian, Welsh, Scottish and Croatian trusts have brought colour, vitality, joy and a palpable sense of prayer to Lourdes. It is unlike any other week in Lourdes - and I must say a week that should really be experienced by many.Just a very brief history of HCPT: It was founded by an English doctor, Michael Strode 52 years ago. On bringing some young people with special needs here, he decided that they should not have to stay in hospitals but should, like all other pilgrims, be accomodated in hotels. He was responsible for setting up the Trust pilgrimages in such a way that each group would provide one-to-one care to the young people and that each group would have a leader, health professional and chaplain. Through his vision, the Trust has grown immeasurably and is a sign of hope in a world that often fails to see beyond the faces of people. Michael Strode is still alive and well. He should be justifiably proud of the legacy that he has left behind.

The Irish HCPT website is

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Happy Easter

From Saint Matthew's Gospel at the Easter Vigil tonight:

After the sabbath, and towards dawn on the first day of the week, Mary of Magdala and the other Mary went to visit the sepulchre. And all at once there was a violent earthquake, for the angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled away the stone and sat on it. His face was like lightning, his robe white as snow. The guards were so shaken, so frightened of him, that they were like dead men. But the angel spoke; and he said to the women, 'There is no need for you to be afraid. I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said he would. Come and see the place where he lay, then go quickly and tell his disciples, "He has risen from the dead and now he is going before you to Galilee; it is there you will see him". Now I have told you.' Filled with awe and great joy the women came quickly away from the tomb and ran to tell the disciples.And there, coming to meet them, was Jesus. 'Greetings' he said. And the women came up to him and, falling down before him, clasped his feet. Then Jesus said to them, 'Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers that they must leave for Galilee; they will see me there'.

The Lord has risen. Let us rejoice! Happy Easter to one and all.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

One Year On.....

This blog is one year old today. Hard to believe. Starting out, I didn't know how it might develop. It is, I hope, faithful to the original mandate of letting readers know something about the life and work of the Irish Dominicans and about my own ministry of vocations promotion and direction. Latterly, I have been interested in how the media in Ireland is covering the upcoming 'Year of Vocation'.

Statistics are important for all sorts of reasons and so I note that the blog is being read consistently by between 20 and 30 readers each day. There are frequent visitors to the blog who must be very interested in what I have to say! So, on the first birthday of the blog, thanks to all who take the time to have a look!

Influences on Vocations

We had a very enjoyable 'vocations live-in' weekend in our house of studies in St. Saviour's Priory, Dublin this past weekend. There were three men attending from Belfast, Donegal and Drogheda. During the course of conversations with different people, those attending the weekend talked a lot about where the seed of vocation was originally planted. It is interesting to note from them (and many other enquirers too!) that the thought of vocation occurs generally at a young age and that there are a number of influences from family to religious to priests. Common too, though, is the desire to put the thought of vocation out of one's mind until somehow, the call from God gets too strong. Then one has to do something about it. It set us talking and thinking though about the many people who consider vocation and never really follow up on it. Hence the reason for people like me to constantly put the option of religious vocation 'out there'.

The conversations at the weekend set me thinking about the influences on my own vocation. There were a few, I think. My mother and father were very good role-models in the way of faith. I was educated by the Irish Christian Brothers in secondary school and heavily influenced by them. They were excellent educators and gave a solid foundation in matters of faith. I remember distinctly a visit from a vocations director from the Salesian Order to our school and being totally captivated by what he was saying. I prayed the prayer for vocations that he gave us for years! And yet, I didn't join the Salesians. Then the only reason I joined the Dominican Order was because we got the Saint Martin Magazine in our house and I responded to an advertisment about vocations. And the rest, as they say, is history! It is a culmination of all the above factors and the prompting of God that brought me to this point.

Everyone has a different story as to how they became or think of becoming a religious. There is one constant though, no matter what the story, and that is God, who has designs on what we are to be. Without God, we are nothing.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Project Manager for Year of Vocation Appointed

Ms. Brenda Drumm (pictured) has been appointed Project Manager for the 'Year of Vocation'. She has been working with the Catholic Communications Office of the Irish Bishop's Conference as a communications officer. I wish her every blessing in the important task that she is undertaking. It is a good appointment!

Monday, March 10, 2008

Media Watch on Vocations

I have been keeping an eye on the Catholic media of late, as you will note, regarding content on the upcoming 'Year of Vocation'. The latest edition of the Irish Catholic (edition of March 6, 2008) carries two full pages on vocations. There are two articles - one by Fr. Paddy Rushe, the National Director of Vocations and the second by Fr. Eamon Bourke, the Director of Vocations for the Archdiocese of Dublin. Both articles are informational and designed to heighten awareness of vocations.

The letters page of the Irish Catholic carries four letters on vocations - but one caught my eye. It is written by Fr. Gerry McCloskey, a parish priest based in Belfast and I would like to quote the latter half of the letter: "In a recent document from the Congregation for the Clergy......Pope Benedict is quoted in a speech to priests and deacons in Freising, Germany (September 14, 2006) reminding us of the Lord's only requirement to bring about vocations: 'Pray the Lord of the Harvest to send out labourers. He pleads with his listeners - Please do this! Rouse labourers! Enkindle in them enthusiasm and joy for the Gospel!' This document goes on to encourage each diocese to set up centres of perpetual Eucharistic adoration with the specific intentions of prayer for vocations and the sanctification of priests. It is true that many priests in Ireland have lost heart and see the situation regarding vocations as pretty hopeless. That's why we need such centres of prayer. Finally, priests beget priests! If we're serious about vocations, then we priests need to ask ourselves the question: are we inspiring role-models - enough to attract young men to follow suit?"

That last question as to whether we (priests and religious) are inspiring role models is very important. I can't answer that question for all priests and religious - but to those who ask the question seriously and honestly of themselves will surely understand the gravity of what Fr. Gerry is asking. I'm glad he puts the question before us.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008


This entry is written in my favourite city in Ireland - Galway. The skyline is dominated by the beautiful Catholic cathedral (pictured above) and I am staying with the local Dominican community in the Claddagh area. The views from here on an early spring evening are breathtaking!

I am here for a few days to promote the Irish Dominicans in one of the third level colleges. What this means is that, for a few hours each day, I put up a display board showing some pictorial images of Irish Dominicans at work and prayer. I also have promotional material e.g. prayer cards, leaflets, calendars and brochures available for those who are interested. But mostly, it is being in a third level college or institute for a few days 'loitering with intent' if you like. There is genuine interest and appreciation from students about our life and work - and sometimes some great conversation on a whole range of topics from God to football to theology to politics! I often think that this is where Saint Dominic would be if he were around least that's how I console myself. It is without doubt the most demanding work as a vocations promoter. It is lonely, sometimes isolated and yet so very important. We just have to make ourselves known. There is no other way to do it other than being in the 'market place'.

Being in the third level colleges and institutes would not really be possible without the help of the chaplains. These are corageous men and women who have a vital role in the faith formation of our young, thinking generation. I, for one, am very thankful to them for the assisatnce they give me and other vocation directors.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Spotlight on Vocations in Catholic Publications in Ireland.

The upcoming 'Year of Vocation' is obviously exercising the minds of editors of some Catholic magazines and publications in Ireland. This weekend I noticed two articles of interest - and both with very different takes on 'vocation'.

The first was in Reality, the excellent publication of the Irish Redemptorists. The article entitled 'Empty seminaries and the future of priesthood' is by Tony Flannery CSsR. In the article he refers to the comments of a the newly appointed bishop of Ossory about the bishop's desire to attract vocations - and particularly to remind the Christian community in the diocese that it is their duty to nourish priestly vocations. Fr. Flannery doesn't have any great confidence that the bishop will succeed. The article centres on a conversation the author had recently with a group of about 30 people. In asking them about the rapid decline of clergy numbers and the problem this creates for ministry in the Irish church, the group did not think that priesthood was a good career choice because of a number of issues. (1) Fear of life-long commitment. (2) The Church's inability to adapt to modern times. (3) Compulsory celibacy. (4) The exclusion of women from the priesthood and (5) while not explicitly stated, the scandals within the Irish church in recent times.

In the end, I wasn't sure who was the real author of the article. Was it the 30 people or Fr. Flannery? That apart, I was left wondering whether the central issue of vocation was touched on at all - namely, that vocation is a divine call given to all the people of God, but in a particular way to some whom the Lord chooses to work as priests, brothers, nuns, sisters in a consecrated fashion.

The second article was in The Word - another excellent periodical published by the Divine Word Missionaries. Entitled 'A Rising Tide Lifts All Boats' and written by Sarah MacDonald, the article centred on the work of Andrew O' Connell, the Communications Director of the Presentation Brothers in Ireland. Andrew explains his guiding philisophy as the message of John Paul II: 'Let no one, on account of our negligence, lose the beautiful gift of their vocation.' In upbeat terms, the article singles out a number of reasons why vocation to religious life is a real alternative by(1) Opening the doors of religious communities to young people to invite them in and de-mystify the notions people have. (2) Presenting vocation as a real and credible option. (3) Have people work full time on vocation (the real secret!). (4) Use human and financial resources to promote. (5) The importance of personal invitation. (6) God!

Andrew also, rightly, cites other issues of real concern, particularly the lopsided theological notion that the fall off in vocations is attributable to the work of the Holy Spirit and that we should accept this and get on with it. He sees the 'vocation crisis' as the effect of aggressive secularism, post-modern confusion and the inability of the Church in Ireland to come to terms with these realities.

Both articles mentioned are important as part of the dialogue we need around new membership to our way of life. But for realism and hope, it's the artcle in The Word - by a mile!!