Wednesday, December 31, 2008

2008 - Looking Back

Now that 2008 is coming to a close, it is an opportune time to take a look back at the events of the year. Rather than single out every event for mention, I would like to mention some highlights. No 'lowlights' will be mentioned in this post!

Since January 2008 there have been over 60 new enquiries about the vocation of the Irish Dominicans.

Since January 2008, 27 men have shared something of our life by experiencing 'live-in' weekends in our various priories in Ireland.

Since the beginning of the Year of Vocation (April 13th 2008 to May 3rd 2009) the Irish Dominican friars have hosted two major events. The first, a prayer event on Vocations Sunday to launch the special year and the second, a Dominican family event, reflecting on the Dominican vocation, on November 15th, the feast of Saint Albert the Great. (more events are planned before the end of the Year of Vocation).

September 2008 saw new novices begin their novitiate year in Limerick, while six of our student brothers made profession (both temporary and perpetual) during the days of our Provincial Chapter.

More and more groups and individuals in the various locations in which the Irish Dominican friars have a foundation are praying on a regular basis for Dominican vocations.

I could add many more highlights to the list above but then it would be too long. It was a good year for Irish Dominican Vocations and we have much to be thankful for. It only remains for me to say a very big 'thank you' to all those who in any way assisted in the promotion of the vocation to the Irish Dominican friars over this past year. I am very grateful indeed.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Happy Christmas

Greetings and blessings to all who take the time to look at this blog.

The wonder and marvel of Christmas begins with the benevolence and generosity of God who loves and gives, who nourishes and sustains. It is the same God who carries us through disappointments that can seem to impact upon us with regularity. God in His goodness leads us always onwards to find meaning an direction in our lives. The Incarnation, whereby God's only Son entered into humanity and became flesh, is the story of God's blessing for us. It is his gift designed to show us a way of living that fulfils our humanity, which allows us to become more fully human, as in the image of the One who created us. God's gift to the world that first Christmas gave us the Messiah, the Chosen One, who's every moment of life has been an example of grace and generosity.
May you and your families receive that grace and generosity this Christmas too.

The Need for Continuing Prayer for Vocations

Some reactions to the suggestion by the National Director for Vocations in Ireland, Fr Paddy Rushe, that there is an upward trend in new membership and vocations and there is reason for some optimism, have been very harsh and critical. And unfairly so, in my opinion. For example, a recent contribution from a regular columnist in a weekly Catholic paper in Ireland, himself a priest, had the following to say in a piece entitled Vocations crisis will spread: 'It's that time of year again! Today we award for 'own goal of the year' award 2008. This year's recipient is Fr Patrick Rushe, the 'supremo' of the vocations apostolate, who single-handedly solved the 'so called' vocations crisis in less than a year. Congratulations!' The author concludes his piece with the following: 'I am not sure if praying for vocations is the answer. Perhaps we ought to be looking for a new incluseive way of being priest.' Apart from the distasteful award reference above, it is the suggestion that there is an uncertainty in praying for vocations at all which is more alarming! So what do we do then? Ignore the call of the Lord who specifically asked that prayers be offered so that labourers be sent to his harvest? Do we also ignore the fact that praying for vocations is the business of all Christians? Or indeed, and most importantly, do we ignore the fact that God does answer these same prayers that thousands make every day for an increase in vocations?

I am reminded of the words of Pope Benedict in his message for the 43rd World Day of Prayer for Vocations (2006): Remembering the counsel of Jesus: “The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest” (Mt 9,37), we readily recognise the need to pray for vocations to the priesthood and to the consecrated life. It is not surprising that, where people pray fervently, vocations flourish. The holiness of the Church depends essentially on union with Christ and on being open to the mystery of grace that operates in the hearts of believers. Therefore, I invite all the faithful to nurture an intimate relationship with Christ, Teacher and Pastor of his people, by imitating Mary who kept the divine mysteries in her heart and pondered them constantly (cfr Lk 2,19). Together with her, who occupies a central position in the mystery of the Church, we pray:
O Father, raise up among Christiansabundant and holy vocations to the priesthood,who keep the faith aliveand guard the blessed memory of your Son Jesusthrough the preaching of his wordand the administration of the Sacraments,with which you continually renew your faithful.
Grant us holy ministers of your altar,who are careful and fervent guardians of the Eucharist,the sacrament of the supreme gift of Christfor the redemption of the world.
Call ministers of your mercy,who, through the sacrament of Reconciliation, spread the joy of your forgiveness.
Grant, O Father, that the Church may welcome with joythe numerous inspirations of the Spirit of your Sonand, docile to His teachings,may she care for vocations to the ministerial priesthoodand to the consecrated life.
Sustain the Bishops, priests and deacons,consecrated men and women, and all the baptized in Christ,so that they may faithfully fulfil their mission at the service of the Gospel.
This we pray through Christ our Lord. Amen.

A new year is dawning. It is my earnest hope that we will keep our focus on the primary work of vocations promotion and ministry: prayer.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

A Most Welcome Christmas Card!

Christmas cards are always welcome at this time of the year.....but one such card recently received stands out. It is from the Knights of Saint Columbanus. The dedication reads:

The Year of Vocation spans from 13th April 2008 to 3rd May 2009. The focus is on Witness, Love, Service and the calling of all God's people whether they be married, single, ordained, religious, young or old. It has a series of themes for different months. December was chosen as the opportunity to show our appreciation of those already in ministry and to say thank you for their vocation.'
This is a most thoughtful gesture on behalf of the Knights of Saint Columbanus and is deeply appreciated by this blogger. You can visit the website of the Knights at

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Vocations Ireland - Conference on Religious Life and Call

As part of their contribution to the events marking the Year of Vocation, the association of vocations directors for male and female religious in Ireland, Vocations Ireland, are hosting a major conference in February 2009. Taking place on the weekend of 13 to 15 February, the theme to be explored is 'Disturbed by the Spirit - Called to be Sent. Religious Life, Discipleship and a Vocations Culture.' It will be held at the Stillorgan Park Hotel, Stillorgan, Co Dublin.

The main contributor to the conference is Anthony J Gittins CSSp. He is currently professor of Mission and Culture at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, USA. Also speaking at the weekend is John Waters, the well known Irish journalist and columnist.

I wish the organisers well in this ambitious endeavour. It is indeed one of the few serious attempts by the church authorities in Ireland to mark the Year of Vocation in any meaningful way.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Travel Update

One of the trends of my work in the past couple of years that has accelerated siginificantly is that of travel outside of Ireland - and in particular to Britain (I spent last weekend in London). This is necessary because of the increase in interest in the Irish Dominicans from candidates who live and work in the UK. Admittedly, some of the enquirers are Irish, though not all are. This very welcome development of interest brings its own demands too, particularly the amount of time spent travelling. It also means that trying to meet on a regular basis all those interested (and discerning) in Ireland in Britain is becoming more difficult to accomplish. In the New Year, a plan to fulfill all the engagements that are necessary will have to be put in place.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Vocation Discernment Weekends - Dominican Nuns, Drogheda.

I am very happy to mention the advance notice of two upcoming vocation discernment weekends at the Monastery of Saint Catherine of Siena, Drogheda, Co Louth (pictured above). The first weekend will take place from Friday 6th February to Sunday 8th February 2009; the second such weekend takes place from Friday 20th March to Sunday 22nd March 2009.

These special weekends are designed for young women who are discerning a vocation to Monastic life and are interested to learn more about our Dominican tradition of Contemplative Monastic life. These are basically informative weekends with opportunity to join our community in the chapel for the celebration of the liturgy and Eucharistic Adoration; in addition to some conferences there is time for personal prayer and reflection and opportunity to talk with a sister about discerning the Lord's call in one's life.

It is important to book early as places are limited. For information you can contact Sr Breda OP, Monastery of St Catherine of Siena, The Twenties, Drogheda, Co Louth or by email at

You can visit the monastery website here.

Monday, December 1, 2008

'Figures don't back vocations increase claims' - Irish Catholic

An article by the managing editor of the current edition (November 27th, 2008) of the Irish Catholic paper takes issue with the national director of vocations, Fr Paddy Rushe. Fr Paddy has been in the news this past week or so suggesting that it is a myth that there is lack of people signing up to enter seminary in Ireland. The text of what Fr Rushe says can be found elsewhere on this blog.

While the managing editor of the Irish Catholic makes some relevant points regarding potential flaws in Fr Paddy's arguments (eg, the potential drop-out rates of semianrians, the plausibility that those joining seminary might have postponed thinking of joining postponed their decisions until the 'storm of controversy' passed), it is the negative tone that he (the managing editor) uses that is quite distasteful. The second half of the article is in italics below:

It also appears that from the Church's own research that the acceptance rate of applicants to the priesthood in recent years has increased. For instance, as of 2006, the acceptance rate of applicants to priesthood was 62%, compared to 50% in 2005 and only 42% accepted in 2004 (CRD report Vocations and Church Personnel 2005).

Perhaps the quality of prospective candidates is increasing, but perhaps the dioceses are getting more desperate? The Vatican only warned recently about keeping up strict screening procedures, and while I am not suggesting any deterioration in Irish screening, the figures just serve to show that any number of conclusions can be drawn. The vocations situation is, as one vocations promoter described it to me this week, 'pitiful'. We lost 160 priests last year to the 9 that were ordained.

Even if Fr Rushes's prediction does hold up and the number of ordained priests doubles, they will not be enough for the 26 dioceses and approximately 2,000 parishes to be served.

The figures below are taken from the Bishops CRD who say the figures are so variable that it is difficult to draw any firm conclusions. However, it does admit that for all other vocation categories (nuns, brothers and religious priests) a "steadying downward trend" is apparent.

Diocesan Vocations
Year:1996 ; Enetered: 52; Ordained: 46
Year:1997 ; Entered: 53; Ordained: 45
Year:1998 ; Entered: 45; Ordained: 27
Year:1999 ; Entered: 46; Ordained: 34
Year:2000 ; Entered: 29; Ordained: 24
Year:2001 ; Entered :32; Ordained: 29
Year:2002 ; Entered: 20; Ordained: 16
Year:2003 ; Entered: 19; Ordained: 19
Year:2004 ; Entered: 28; Ordained: 13
Year:2005 ; Entered: 27; Ordained: 11
Year:2006 ; Entered: 30; Ordained: 9
Year:2007 ; Entered: 31; Ordained: 9
Year:2008 ; Entered: 30; Ordained: 11

Do the figures back up Fr Rushe's thesis? No. Perhaps Fr Rushe's optimism is well placed on his day-to-day experience dealing with candidates and vocations directors, but it's just too early to say based on the numbers. Only when the classes of the last three years get to ordination will we know how good the retention rates are and if the years in between have seen the entrant numbers increase.

After all, the Dublin Report is due out in January '09 - there may be a breeze to our backs but there are a few headwinds to be dealt with first.

The article sets out to criticise the National Director of Vocations and makes suggests the dioceses are getting desperate. The article further suggests that the screening of candidates ccould be called in to question. Of course, the last paragraph of the article sounds the warning about the impending publication of another report of abuse by another Irish diocese and the implications that this could have for potential vocations.

Those involved in vocations promotion and ministry in this country are sorely tired of the ongoing negativity surrounding their work. Any possible good news story to emanate from anyone involved in vocations is a chance for journalists to turn it into a negative and suggest hypothetical allegations and arguments. That is quite distasteful and unhelpful.