In the popular culture of today, brothers, priests and sisters are often portrayed as dinosaurs (extinct creatures belonging to a former age). Yet it is often recognised that so many priests and religious make a huge difference to the lives of all sorts of people. The role of a priest/brother/sister is both precious and vital. Try imagining a world or a Church without them.
It might be shocking to some that the idea of priesthood and religious life is still entertained and dreamt about in the minds of many people. True: the social and family encouragement and understanding might not be as automatic as before. False: God has stopped calling people to make the rewarding sacrifice as brothers, sisters and priests to stand alongside his People, comfort and nourish them, enlighten and embolden them to be witnesses to God’s crazy love for us all.
Have a look at the following profiles. Discover that ordinary guys have responded to such a call from God, and made the option for the Redemptorist Missionaries. They enjoy an inner peace and live a vision of life that brings hope and joy. Be inspired by the Holy Spirit, and perhaps even by some of these men…
When I was an altar boy in Cork City, the Redemptorists gave an annual mission in the parish and continued to do so during my teens. I was very impressed by their manner and preaching. However, the real reason I joined them is, perhaps, the fact that a particular Redemptorist who impressed me asked me to consider joining them, and for six years until I took the plunge he continued to keep in touch with me. There was no escape! Keeping in touch, I think, is most important.
Why do I stay? Well, at this advanced stage of my life, where else would I go? Really I never considered another option. I have always considered the life meaningful and the work or apostolate worthwhile. It is where I belong and where I have always felt at home. Even now in my late 70s it is possible to do good work in Tres Dias and the prison apostolate and, of course, the constant work in Clonard. If I were incapacitated as surely one day I will, then ending my days in this Redemptorist family would be fine.
The term ‘vocation’ does not really appeal to me. I feel I became a Redemptorist priest because at the time it was, for me, the thing to do. The term ‘vocation’ seems to imply a kind of ‘experience’ or inner voice coming from God.
I remember from my very young days – about 8 years of age, or so – believing that the only way to go to heaven was to be a priest! A Redemptorist said to me, when I was about 19 or 20 years old, “You should be a Redemptorist – you will make a good one!” That decided me.
I was an altar boy in Mount Saint Alphonsus (Limerick) from 1944 to 1950. I think I got my first notion of being a priest during those years. Not any kind of priest, though, a Redemptorist. This aspiration seemed to grow stronger when I saw the 60 or so juvenists (young students), in their surplices and soutanes, taking part in the October devotions. (I imagine this would not cut much ice with 8-12 year olds today!)
Fr Mark Fitzsimons CSsR told me there was an exam in the juvenate and a scholarship going with it. So, on June 15th 1950, I did the exam with Mike Heagney (now a Redemptorist also) and a guy called Tom Enright who later left. I got on well and worked out that my father, who was a Guard with no great salary, would only have to pay about 1 shilling and eightpence a week due to the scholarship. Dad cried. He did not see the point of my boarding in a college at 12 years of age when my house was less than one kilometre away and there were plenty of other secondary schools in Limerick. But I got my way, and one thing happened after another through Novitiate, seminary, ordination and then being on overseas mission in Brazil.
Why did I stay? Despite plenty of mistakes in my life, I never seriously considered leaving. The only time I came near it was in 1958. I was doing the BA that year, and from February to June was sleeping very little, and getting some kind of breakdown. I talked to Fr Mick Bailey CSsR who gave me permission in June for a swim each day. (The water was so cold I forgot my troubles during the few minutes I was in Jones’ hole, as the place was called.) He also told me to say a few prayers and he read a bit of scripture to me. I still remember the section from 1 Peter. I recovered during Clifden that year and did the exams in September with no trouble.
In 1976 and 2003 I got two more severe belts. I discovered, especially through GROW, that a breakdown can become a breakthrough. Thoughts of leaving these days don’t come easily, as I’m in my 70s now. Since I let my Brazilian visa run out in 2007, I am much more settled in my life. For 37 years Brazil was a huge part of my life and I found it very hard to leave it. I returned three times in efforts to keep the visa open, but finally made up my mind that my latter years would be spent in Ireland. It was one of the best decisions I ever made.
My initial experience of vocation is fairly clear even after all these years. At a school retreat I was inspired to join the Redemptorists in order to bring the name and gift of Jesus especially to India – the result of a talk given by Fr John Duggan CSsR, the retreat master. That first fine enthusiasm soon waned and were it not for my mother’s interest I would never have gone to the Juvenate (now St Clement’s College) from St Flannan’s (Ennis). Then, in my Leaving year I decided not to go on to the Novitiate and told the Director (Fr Tom McKinley CSsR) of my decision. He didn’t seem too surprised since I had been somewhat troublesome that year. Then, the fiery Fr Pat Divine CSsR on a day’s retreat just before the exam put the fear of God into me. The message I got was, if I did not go to the novitiate and follow my vocation I would be an utter failure in this life and lose my soul eternally. The choice was a stark one. The novitiate or hell! The rest, as they say, is history. My motive was not the purest. The Lord writes straight with crooked lines. The bait God used was an elemental fear. Having landed me there was time to purify the motive – a year of Novitiate, followed by first profession and a four year lapse before Final Profession – and ultimately make a quality commitment about which I have had no fundamental regrets to this day. Ordination to the ministerial priesthood is the service I render within the Church and Congregation, but a Redemptorist is who I am – member of a new family. That is why Profession is a more cherished event to me than Ordination.
The nearest religious community to me as I grew up was the Franciscan community in Ennis. Occasionally we went there. Two uncles were diocesan priests. Yet I became a Redemptorist due to the circumstances outlined above simply because God ordained it so.
In 60 years, I have never seriously entertained the idea of quitting. The mysterious and mystic factor of vocation, the belonging in the Redemptorist family, the Redemptorist ministry, the spiritual nourishment – retreats etc. – all added up to a sinking of roots that withstood the many storms of weariness, ennui, burn out, mental and physical exhaustion and temptation. The grace of God more than matched the downers and lesser attractions. Gratitude is an emotion that most aptly expresses ‘the way it happened and the way it is’ (Kavanagh).
The development and growth of co-workers in our ministry which I experienced at first hand in the pioneering days of Scala (Cork), is so wholesome an expression of Church that I see no other alternative. The badge of our fidelity is our bias in favour of ministry toward the poor. Every discernment and choice needs to be aimed at defining who is most in need of what we can offer and how to structure and fund it. We are just one item in a multi-gifted Church. The bit we offer is small. However, that bit should be truly Redemptorist – always defining ‘the most abandoned’.
I am 33 years old and come from Limerick City. I attended St Clement’s College (a Redemptorist secondary school) for six years and then studied Electronic Engineering for two years in Limerick Institute of Technology. After that I spent a year working in an electronics company.
At home are my Mam and Dad, two brothers and two sisters and their families. Most of my close friends are from Limerick and are still living there. Without the support of family and friends I don’t think I would be where I am today.
Most of my early years consisted of some involvement with the Redemptorists in Mount Saint Alphonsus. I was an altar server in the church and spent a lot of time around the monastery getting to know the community members, some of whom helped me in a special way to discern my vocation, and to whom I am truly grateful. Later on I moved from being an altar server to being involved in a Youth Group in the church. Towards the end of my secondary education I began to consider a vocation to the priesthood but after a lot of soul searching, praying to God and talking to friends I decided to wait a bit longer. I went to college and studied Electronics and Computers.
In the summer of 2000 I made a decision to join the Redemptorists and in September 2000 I moved to Marianella (Dublin) and began my Formation. I completed two years of study in Philosophy at the Milltown Institute of Theology and Philosophy where I obtained a Baccalaureate in Philosophy. After my Philosophy studies I moved to our monastery in Dundalk to begin a spiritual year known as the Novitiate. The purpose of the Novitiate is to allow a candidate to come to a mature decision after prayer and reflection if he wants to become a Redemptorist. At the end of Novitiate if the candidate decides to continue he must publicly profess his vows. He is then accepted as a member of the Redemptorist family. On 24th August 2003 I publicly professed my vows of poverty, chastity and obedience in Mt St Alphonsus, Limerick. In September 2003, I began a four year course in Theology. In the middle of that study, I spent another two years living in Clonard Monastery, Belfast, working on various ministries such as Parish Missions and School Retreats. After that I returned to Dublin to complete my studies in Theology.
At the end of the formation programme, in 2009, I decided to profess solemn vows as a Redemptorist, becoming a Redemptorist for life. Later that year I was ordained a priest in Dundalk with two others, Sean Duggan and Tony Rice. Since then I lived in Cherry Orchard Parish for almost two years, working mostly on Parish Missions. Last year I moved to Mt St Alphonsus in Limerick where I still work on Parish Missions, in the church and I have a chaplaincy role in St Clement’s College, my old school! I am very happy in my life, in community and in my work, and I would encourage anyone who’s thinking about it to give it a go – it was the best thing I ever did!
My first sense of a vocation to religious life came when I was in Africa. I witnessed four Irish priests who refused to abandon the suffering people of Sudan when the war escalated. Every other foreigner fled and abandoned the people at the height of the crisis in the civil war, while these priests with courage, hope and faith remained with the suffering people.
I was most helped in my discernment by taking lots of quiet moments by myself, and by a friendly, easy-to-chat-with vocations director who displayed a very human side.
I came to join the Redemptorists because of my familiarity with them through St Clement’s College in Limerick (where I was a student), the opportunity to engage in mission overseas, and because with them it was not all about priesthood.
My vocation has been sustained by very satisfying ministry, a sense of integrity about the public decision that I made to commit for life, and a belief that my response is an authentic one to the challenge of following Jesus Christ, who is my point of reference and in whom I find meaning and inspiration.
To anyone considering Redemptorist life I would say, there are many ways to express a commitment to Jesus Christ. A vocation is God’s dream for you and that dream can be expressed in many ways. Search for love, open your heart to the beauty of a loving relationship with a significant person and be open to the possibility that the significant person for you may be Jesus, who may delight in you opting for a celibate way of loving and bless you with peace.
To my mind, the priesthood is about facilitating the gifts of others, to find a way of helping to building the kingdom of God. There is an imperative on each religious to encourage and guide others into ministry. It is our vocation; it is what I believe I am called to do.
My original experience or sense of vocation grew from my awareness of my own academic limitations and very bleak prospects for employment! During my time in primary school, I recall the visits of some priests and brothers speaking of their missionary work. Missionary magazines were constantly coming into our home; Dad was a sucker for good causes. I served Mass in the local church and missionary priests home on leave were very generous. I was fascinated by those home from China and then going back behind the ‘Bamboo Curtain’. I loved reading stories about martyrs and missionaries.
I recall the following events: in July 1952, being in the Gaeltacht and seeing a photograph of a Redemptorist Missionary in the Redemptorist Record (now Reality magazine); in August 1952, cycling to Lough Derg on pilgrimage with the intention, “What am I to do”; in September 1952, being on school retreat in St Columb’s College and Fr Paddy Devine CSsR’s question, “Have you ever thought of being a priest?”; in May 1953, having the idea that the diocesan priesthood, and studying in Maynooth, seemed to be beyond me and I didn’t like the priests in the College. Fr Paddy accepted me based on reports from the President of the College and the approval of the Parish Priest at home. “A hard life, but a good one.”
I was surprised that I was accepted for first profession and was allowed to continue in my training. I have been quite negative – expecting to be sent home… I was an idealist (as well as being a cursed perfectionist) and the regime facilitated this. We were (the Reds) a band of committed men moulded in the way of St Alphonsus to do “great work” for others. Life was hard but healthy – and I was ‘determined’. The grace of going to Brazil was a tremendous blessing – a vote of confidence and I had the prayerful support of four aunts who were nuns, and so many others! The prestige of the Redemptorists in Brazil and the church leadership during the military dictatorship, both nourished me and gave us all a sense of direction.
To anyone considering the Redemptorist Missionary life, I would present the extract from our Constitution 20, “strong in faith, rejoicing in hope, burning with charity…” I would ask, in what way are you fascinated, attracted, enchanted with this text as a vision for life? Is it a cause worth dying for? Could you be seduced by this kind of proposal? (Jeremiah 20: 7,9). Have you fire in your soul for Jesus Christ? For what are you prepared to shed your blood? Have you hidden energy for delight? Is there a silent, serene corner in your heart?
For as long as I can remember I have wanted to be a priest. I have always been greatly struck by the thought that God became a man and endured so much suffering and ridicule for my sake. I had only one life and I would like to spend it for him, as a priest, making his love known throughout the world. The only person who helped me ‘discern’ my vocation was the Holy Spirit, I guess.
I used to serve Mass in a local convent. Fr Leo O’Halloran CSsR came to give the Children of Mary retreat there and he asked me what I was going to be when I was big. I said, “a priest.” “What sort of priest?” he asked. “A missioner,” said I. “Like me?” he asked, and I said I didn’t know. The following morning he arrived at the convent with photos of himself in his white habit surrounded by elephants and ‘jungle’ scenery in India. I was hooked straight away. Yes, that was the sort of priest I wanted to be. I was 10 or 11. As my parents were dead, he arranged with an older sister who was rearing us that I would go to the juvenate in Limerick. I was the second youngest of 13. The older ones who were working clubbed together a half crown a week to send me to the juvenate. If I remember rightly, the cost was £60 a year. While there I did a scholarship exam which I got and this greatly relieved the financial burden on my siblings who still supplied me with 10/- (50p) a month for running expenses and my fare to and from Limerick several times a year. I was very happy at the college and my vocation grew stronger there.
[Sometimes when a Redemptorist leaves he seeks compensation on the grounds that he had given the best years of his life to the Congregation. Such thinking is completely alien to me. The Congregation it was who gave everything to me: it nourished my vocation, educated me at its own expense all the way to the priesthood, sent me to university and later sent me for further studies, nursed me through lots of ill-health (even sending me to America for major surgery), gives me security in my ageing years and the incomparable companionship of confrères, young and old, holy and not so holy, liberal and conservative… And lots more! If I were to separate myself from the Congregation I could not say the Congregation owes me anything; rather I’d owe the Congregation more than I could never repay.]
I remain a Redemptorist priest today for the same reason that I became a priest: to give my undivided life to Jesus in return for his love for me. The passion of Christ is still a very strong motivation in my life. I hate violence of all kinds. The recent revelation of the sexual crimes of some priests has devastated me as it has devastated every decent person in the country. All the more reason, though, that I remain faithful and continue the work I became a priest to do. If we have to suffer opprobrium for the crimes of some of our fellow priests, so be it. It may help to bring healing in God’s time. But I am glad that journalists did uncover this cancer in the Church. Some day, others will look back on these times and call them the great reformation.
To a man discerning his vocation, I would say: it is a good life, an excellent way to express your gratitude to God. But it is God’s calling and ultimately the only way we can be sure of that calling is by being happy in it and being chosen and approved by our religious superiors. Pray, pray every day to seek the guidance and courage of God’s Holy Spirit. I was always inspired by reading the lives of the saints – flesh and blood people like myself whose love of God inspired all they did. At the juvenate we had a retreat every year and these days were great for reading these lives (short pamphlets) and they made me more determined to imitate them as best I could. Sadly, I am more aware of my not imitating them than of imitating them. But God is merciful and though I will not be a canonised saint I still hope to be united with the Lord in heaven.
The gifts of the Holy Spirit are certainly not confined to priests and religious. They live in all the baptised and may be especially important in these times when the priest is under a shadow. The ministry of youth to youth is especially important.
May the Lord send us a St Francis, a St Alphonsus, a St Gerard!