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.
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?