The New Year is well underway. Before looking forward to the year ahead, I thought it might be appropriate to take a look back at the important events for Irish Dominican Vocations in the past twelve months:
January 2009: A number of vocations weekends were organised in some of our priories during this month. A total of 35 men visited our communities at different stages throughout the year to come to know more about our life and ministry in the Irish Dominican province. The large numbers attending these weekends reflects the high number of enquiries to the Vocations Office during the past twelve months. For the second year in a row, over 60 new enquiries concerning vocations were made by individuals and subsequently processed.
February 2009: Our Dominican nuns at Siena Convent, Drogheda, Co. Louth began their very fine blog http://www.dominicannunsireland.blogspot.com/ The nuns are a tremendous source of strength and support for the friars of the Irish Dominican province and in particular to myself as vocations director. They warmly welcome the many enquirers that I bring to Siena and are very helpful in the sharing of their time and resources in introducing potential new friars to the spirit of the Dominican family.
March 2009: The highlight of this month was the hosting of a day for men and women interested in the four branches of the Dominican family in Ireland (nuns, sisters, friars and Dominican laity). It was held in our priory of Saint Saviour's, Dorset Street, Dublin in mid-March. It attracted almost 20 men and women to find out about the life, work and ministry of the Dominicans in Ireland. This event, which was organised as part of the Dominican contribution to the Year of Vocation, highlighted the strong working links that have been forged by the vocations promoters of the Dominican family in Ireland.
April 2009: For anyone involved in vocations ministry, Vocations Sunday each year is the highlight and particularly so this year because Vocations Sunday marked the end of the Irish church's Year of Vocation. There was a mixed reaction to the year set aside to highlight the vocation of all. Some felt that it put vocation back on the agenda, while others thought that much more could and should have been done. Whatever the reaction, I was happy with the Dominican contribution to the year and am deeply grateful to all who gave of their time and energy in the various projects and events that were organised.
May 2009: Vocations weekends and the preparation of candidates for admission to the novitiate were the main concerns and highlight of May 2009. It became apparent as the year progressed that we were going to have a significant number of applicants to join our novitiate in September. This is the culmination of a long process of discernment for the candidates/applicants and there is much work to be done in preparation for interviews. It is the responsibility of the vocations director to make sure that all the advance preparations are made for the process of admission. For me, this was the month of 20 hour working days and over 20,000 kilometres of travel! Sadly, this month also saw the publication of the Ryan report into institutional abuse of children in the care of religious orders in Ireland. It painted a painful and shameful chapter of Ireland's recent history.
June 2009: Much of the month of June is taken up with the process of admitting candidates to the novitiate. It is a lengthy and thorough procedure. The friars of the Province who make up the membership of the admissions board certainly had a lengthy task this year. However, it was a very worthwhile piece of work when the outcome revealed that the Province would be receiving thirteen novices in September. June also saw the launch of the Year for Priests. The initiative was launched by Pope Benedict on the feast of the Sacred Heart as a year of prayer for priests taking the life and writings of Saint John Vianney as a model to follow.
July 2009: Thankfully, July is a relatively quiet month on the vocations front. Among vocations directors there is always the issue of whether it was a good year or not in terms of numbers. It must be said that 2009 was an exceptional year for vocations in Ireland. The number of seminarians entering the National seminary in Maynooth was up considerably - the highest number in some years. The number of candiates entering religious life was also up significantly on previous years. For the Irish Dominican friars, preparations were underway to move our novitiate from its present location in Limerick to its new home in Saint Mary's, Pope's Quay, Cork in anticipation of the arrival of our thirteen novices.
August 2009: Time for a brief holiday! I was reminded during this month while travelling around the country and abroad of the need for prayer for vocations. There has been an upsurge in the number of groups of people praying for vocations - in prayer groups, parishes, churches, communities and homes. 'Pray the Lord of the harvest to bring labourers to His harvest.' I remain more convinced than ever of the need for continuous prayer for vocations. Without prayer, certainly no vocations.
September 2009: No doubting the highlights of this particular month: the solemn profession of Brother David Barrins OP, the simple profession of Brothers John Leigh and Joseph Brady, the reception of our brother novices Stephen Cummins, Gary Burns, David McGovern, Damian Polly, Ronan Connolly, James Cassidy, Patrick Desmond, Stephen Jones, Daragh McNally, Conor McDonough, Sean Oberc, Stephen Hackett and Eoin Casey.
October 2009: On the road again. October is a month for the preparation of schedules for promotion in various colleges and educational institutes around the country - finding opportunities, times and dates to promote the Dominican vocation. This is an area that is neglected somewhat and for which I wish I had more time and resources. It is essential work though. October also saw the canonisation of a new Dominican saint fr Francisco Coll.
November 2009: Preaching engagements along with visits to other congregations and religious communities around the country coupled with the regular monthly meetings with enquirers/candidates are the mainstay of this month. I would say that my work has evolved over the past few years to be 80% accompaniment and 20% promotion.
December 2009: Just as the year started with the organisation of vocations weekends, so the year concluded in that fashion as well. Much of the month was given over to travel to the UK where a significant number of enquiries now come from. There were many meetings to attend this month as well, just as in every one of the previous eleven. In the context of the Irish church, December saw the publication of the Murphy report - a report which looked at the abuse of children by clergy in the Archdiocese of Dublin.
It was the best of years, and the worst of years. It was a very good year for vocations to the Dominicans in Ireland. For this, we thank God. It was the worst of years too following the publication of the Ryan and Murphy reports and it will take the church in Ireland a very long time to recover from the contents of these. We must, however, keep focused on the job in hand - to preach Christ and His Good News in these times, whether the times are good or bad.