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.
On one occasion I took part in a seminar for priests and we were asked to share the exact moment in or lives when we decided to become priests. Strangely enough, I could do this immediately.
We had a small mixed farm of cattle, sheep, etc. On one occasion I was asked to check up on our sheep. I found two newly born lambs in a field crying their lives out. In the next field was a sheep doing the same. I presumed they were all the one family. There was a river between the two farms and the mother sheep had crossed over the river having given birth to her lambs. I picked up one lamb and took him over the river and at once he marvellously sucked for about five minutes and shut up crying. Then I took mother and lamb back to our own field and let the second lamb have his fill.
To this day I remember very clearly the very strong thought coming to my mind about Christ the Good Shepherd, and feeling a strong desire to become like him and do something about the sheep without shepherds – people without priests. That incident happened in 1949 when I was trying to decide what Congregation I would apply to. I knew little or nothing about any Congregation then. But the Redemptorists frequently conduction missions in our parish (Newtowncashel, Co. Longford). This Congregation came to my mind and I wrote to “Fr Superior, Redemptorists, Limerick”. The rest is history.
This story has sustained me in my vocation and I often suggest to priests to reflect and try to pinpoint the moment they thought they had a vocation. Doing this and thanking God for our vocation will give us strength to persevere. Why I applied to the Redemptorists is simple: because they were the men who gave a mission every four or five years in our parish. More than once when I told them I was thinking of becoming a priest they would say, “Give us a thought often.”
As far as I know, the Redemptorists are still the most commonly known missioners in Ireland. I am glad to learn that we are still trying to continue this work and are inviting lay missioners. I am convinced that Redemptorists and lay missioners can conduct relevant missions even in Ireland now, as we do in the Philippines!
I am 33 years of age and from Galway. Before I joined the Redemptorists I studied law at NUI, Galway. During that time I also worked and studied in Paris and worked on a voluntary basis in Haiti. I have a wide range of interests, which includes playing music. I studied philosophy as part of my first two years with the Redemptorists. I was professed on 22nd August, 2004, after completing the novitiate and then studied theology for two years. I worked in Lagos, Nigeria, for a short time with our Nigerian confreres. That was a very good experience.
For the following two years I lived in our Dundalk community, with my main ministry being through parish missions. I also tried my hand at learning a bit of Polish! The two-year placement in Dundalk was part of the third phase of training, known as MICE. When I finished those two years, I returned to Dublin to finish my study of theology before making my final vows in Dublin in 2009. Later that year I was ordained in Dundalk with two other Redemptorists.
Since then I spent two years living in Limerick, where I did parish missions all across the southern part of the country, and I spent a lot of time working with and getting to know the wonderful people of Southill. My happiest times in Limerick were spent in Southill. In 2011 I said goodbye to Limerick and moved to Cherry Orchard parish in West Dublin. The people I’ve met here through baptisms, weddings, funerals, through St Ultan’s and just walking through the area have made me very welcome. Through the laughs and the tears, they keep me going!
I first got a sense of my vocation during a Redemptorist parish mission in my native parish of Newtowncashel, Co. Longford. I like what I saw during the mission. I was not familiar with any other Order, and I was not attracted to the diocesan way of life.
I was greatly helped in discerning my vocation by Fr Hugo Kerr CSsR, by my parents and my family. I stay because of my sense of loyalty to the Redemptorists, and because of bonds I established with several Redemptorist colleagues.
As handed down from my mother, I always prayed for a vocation in life, best to save my soul and help others to do likewise.
At Easter in 1958, the Redemptorists gave a mission in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, where I had worked for an oil company for many years. In confession the priest asked me if I had ever thought of religious life. My reply was “many times”. He said “our vocation director is in Calgary at present”, and so he arranged for me to meet him at 3pm that afternoon.
On my way home after a long conversation, I more or less decided not to go any further at that time. Two weeks later the vocation director phoned me and said he would like to have another chat with me. At this point he put a great challenge to me. I was going out with a young lady at the time; he said “you could come in to us and change your mind at any time during the first four years before any final commitment, but if you get married there is no turning back”.
Praying to the Holy Spirit would not be sincere if I did not take up this challenge, so I gave in my notice at the refinery and in four weeks was a postulant in Saint Alphonsus in Edmonton.
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.
From a fairly young age (14-15) I had a vague desire that I would like to be a priest. My motives, looking back, were rather selfish and superficial. I remember thinking to myself how relatively easy it would be to obtain salvation if one were a priest. Being able to say Mass every day, I felt, would keep me on the straight and narrow. I also had a vague notion that being a priest would enable one to be a source of help and strength to others. I don’t remember mentioning these thoughts or desires to anyone. Neither do I remember anyone suggesting to me the idea of priesthood. However, I did grow up in a rather strong faith environment. Both my parents were very devout Catholics and brothers, priests and nuns were very much looked up to. The Church at the time played a big role in the lives of the community, and vocations to the priesthood and religious life were the order of the day.
Every year Redemptorists came to our town to preach the Annual Retreat, and every five years or so they preached a ‘Mission’. However, I had little or no contact with them, apart from attending their services and going to confession. I knew little or nothing about the Redemptorist Order as such. An older brother of mine did make contact with one of the missioners, which led to his going to the ‘juvenate’ in Limerick. Roughly eighteen months later the Director of the juvenate invited me to spend a week in Limerick during the Easter break. In those days the juvenists were not allowed home for the Easter holidays. To a young, impressionable youth the week I spent in St Clement’s was a hugely enjoyable experience. Being holiday time the atmosphere was relaxed and friendly. There were a number of outings and excursions, plenty of sports and games, a few films, and in general it was a very pleasant time, and I took to it like a duck to water. On the eve of my return home, I had an interview with the Director, during which the possibility of my coming back as a boarder after the summer holidays arose. I was most enthusiastic and the wheels were set in motion to bring this about. So, after the Inter-Cert results, I returned to St Clement’s. From that time on, the question of becoming a Redemptorist had taken root, and despite misgivings and doubts I finally decided with the help and advice of the Director (Fr Tom McKinley CSsR) that I would test my vocation by going to St Joseph’s, Dundalk, where the Redemptorist Novitiate was at the time. Thus began my ‘odyssey’ as a Redemptorist.
I am still a Redemptorist first and foremost, and above all else, due to the goodness and mercy of God, the protection and intercession of Mary, and the prayers and support of family and friends. Other factors that I believe have helped me on my spiritual and religious journey would be:
My advice to someone considering the Redemptorist vocation would be to attend one or more vocation weekends; to learn as much as possible about the Redemptorist way of life, their charism and their history; have some awareness of what it means to be a religious in the Church today, as well as the missionary and community spirit of the Redemptorists; and discuss your reasons with the Vocations Director for your preference for the Redemptorists along with what led you to believe you have a vocation.
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.
When I was around 50 years old, I had already completed two terms in the Philippines. I then came back to Ireland and was on church work and missions, before returning to the Philippines for another 21 years. When I was around the age of 50 though, I was asked a question by a boy of about 12 years of age. It was during the Solemn Novena at Mount Saint Alphonsus, Limerick, and the lad asked me, “Father, why did you become a priest?” I paused and then I told him that I lived nearby, was a choir boy, a confraternity member and a bell ringer and I went to Mass there also. Reflecting later on the boy’s question, I felt I was cheating – my answer should have been, “I don’t know.” I’m still trying to answer the boy’s question and I still can’t give a proper answer.
The rest is a bit of a flash back – I grew up near the monastery, with my father and mother and three brothers. I was a pupil at St Munchin’s College, so a fellow classmate was Fr Paddy Breen CSsR – we were later ordained together in 1950, and went to the Philippines together in January 1953.
When I was 16½ I asked myself what I should do with my life. I felt an attraction to the Redemptorist way of life. A few years earlier I had met Br Michael Bradley CSsR and I was impressed by his friendship and by his gentleness and his smile. Maybe my vocation began there. Anyway, I approached Fr Gerry Reynolds CSsR Snr, and after many meetings he mentioned my name to the Provincial, Fr Hugo Kerr CSsR, who was willing to accept me. Then it occurred to Fr Gerry who asked me, “Did you tell your parents about your plans?” My answer was “no”. In a solemn tone of voice he told me to tell my parents as soon as possible!
So, I took my mother aside and told her I’d like to be a Redemptorist. She looked at me and said, “I’m very happy about your choice.” After a short pause she said something very nice, “Jim, if you ever find the life too hard, remember the front door is always open to welcome you back.” In the days of the ‘spoilt priest’ this was a refreshing remark. I was able to reassure Fr Gerry and I was ready for the final blast off!
I was due to enter the Novitiate on 30th July 1942. The last entry (about me) in the bell ringers’ book was “Jim O’Connor left for Dundalk,” but not reason was given why! A few days before I left, Fr John Doyle CSsR sent word he would like to meet me. He was the uncle of my Novice Master, Fr John McDonnell CSsR. Before we said our goodbyes he gave me a final word of advice which I found wise and helpful; “Jim, the Novitiate is a testing time,” and he paused a bit and continued with a twinkle in his eye, “but for heaven’s sake, don’t take it too seriously!”
The Novitiate and the studendate were very strict times. “Keep the rule and the rule will keep you.” The emphasis was on discipline. The big weakness of the system was the lack of human development. We could not speak to outsiders. One visit or, at most, two from our family was the rule. I did not believe everything I was told. Perhaps it was the rebel in me. We had two strict superiors for many years. Fr Prefect (of students) was strict but fair. I had many a debate with him, too many to relate here. I won some and lost some. He was always fair.
After I was ordained in 1950 by a Redemptorist bishop, Edmond Gleeson CSsR, from Australia, I gave six missions in different parts of Ireland. Then my whole life changed with a letter from the Provincial, Fr Michael Curran CSsR. He appointed me to the Philippines, with three others. We left by boat in early January 1953, and arrived in Manila on February 12th.
Altogether I spent 34 years in the Philippines. I consider my time there helped me to mature a lot. I became open to another culture, while keeping the best of my Irishness. The work helped to knock corners from my character. The mission was hard but very fulfilling. It gave me an opportunity to make personal decisions.
On a mission we visited barrios and lived with the people, staying in their houses, eating their food and using their primitive bathrooms. I’m convinced that the barrio people were deeply impressed. We worked hours in the hot sun; we preached in the local dialect; we celebrated Mass, heard confessions, and preached God’s word. We rectified marriages and baptised their children. The mission ended in the parish church. Our churches had huge crowds for Mass and confessions on Wednesdays for the Novena to Our Mother of Perpetual Help. I worked with wonderful confreres.
I had a difficult decision to make, viz. should I return home to Ireland? I decided to return. One confrere was an inspiration to me and others; Fr Peter Mulrooney CSsR, who spent 60 years in the Philippine Islands. I did get back for the centennial in 2006 and it was a wonderful experience. All through my life, the greatest help in living my vocation was my dedication to the poor, and the example of my Redemptorist confreres at home and abroad. Now in my 88th year and in retirement, I owe a huge debt of gratitude to the Redemptorists.
I was born in 1978 in Belfast and finished school in 1997. After that I worked at different jobs for a few years before joining the Redemptorists in 2001, following a long period of discernment. Most people weren’t that surprised when I told them what I had decided to do, though some did think I was mad! Nonetheless, all wished me well and promised to welcome me back if I ever changed my mind! I first professed vows as a Redemptorist in August 2004, and I was ordained priest in December 2009. Moving to Dublin in my first year was an eye-opener – giving me a broader worldview from that which I had been used to. My formation and training as a Redemptorist has given me opportunities and experiences, in Ireland and beyond, that have greatly shaped me and that I couldn’t have had any other way. I have lived and studied with people of vastly different backgrounds, experiences, gifts and theologies! Great learning has come in the midst of such a challenge. Since joining I have lived in Dublin (five years), Dundalk (one year) and Cork (two years). In September 2009, I took up my appointment as a member of the Dundalk Redemptorist Community where I still live today. My main ministry is as Vocations Director for the Redemptorists in Ireland; I’m also currently a part-time member of the Province Mission Team. In the Church in Ireland today, neither of these are easy – but then the Lord promises love and faithfulness, not an easy life! Both of these ministries require me to listen deeply, dialogue openly, share my faith readily and pray wholeheartedly. For all of this I rely on God’s grace and the support and prayers of others. Perhaps my motto shall be: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight” (Proverbs 3:5).
It was the deeply human community life, the strong desire to use all the available gifts to serve those most in need, and the commitment to persevere in prayer that I picked up on when I was discerning my own vocation several years ago now. Everyone has a vocation – God has a specific dream for each of our lives. We Redemptorists believe in the life we are called to live and the ministry we are called to offer – as do the many lay ministers who share the spirit and vision of St Alphonsus, our founder.
There is no doubt in my mind that there are men in Ireland today who are being called by God to be Redemptorists, to share our life and ministry. The call can be a difficult one to hear in the midst of all of today’s distractions, busyness, pressures and alternative life options. This was certainly true for me and for most of those who have joined in the last several years. Most of us were graduates, skilled workers and professionals with a lot of options before us. However, we came to know that contentment is only possible when you take the risk – and when you know, deep down, that you are living the life that is God’s dream for you.
I have a friend who jokes with me that I should have become a Dominican. We lived close to the Friary Church in Dundalk and I would have gone to Mass there over the years, but when I began to enquire about my vocation it was to the Redemptorists I went. My mother’s people would have been very involved with the Redemptorists and as a small boy I would have been brought to St Joseph’s on special occasions. My earliest memory is walking in the May procession. In those days the Redemptorists were known as ‘the Missioners’ and they had some great preachers. In the 1930s, Fr John Murray CSsR would have been very well known as he campaigned in the shoe factories for the St Gerard’s Novena. The first time I attended the Novena was in 1939.
The first Redemptorist priest I contacted was Fr Christy McCarthy CSsR, and he helped me. I do remember being interviewed by Fr Michael Curran CSsR, who was a member of the Dundalk community at that time.
So, in 1943 I went to the juvenate in Limerick and spent two years there. I did my Novitiate in 1945 and was professed in 1946 and ordained in 1953. In 1962 I was assigned to the Philippines and spend forty two years there. In 2004 I returned to Ireland and was appointed to Dundalk.
I am 33 years of age and come from Enfield, Co. Meath. Before I joined the Redemptorists, I completed a degree in Business Studies and worked for an investment company in the centre of Dublin. It was during this time that I began to seriously discern a vocation to priesthood and religious life but the idea of joining the Redemptorists only came about when two Redemptorist preachers, Frs Michael Cusack and David McNamara, came to a neighbouring parish to preach a week long parish mission. I wasn’t planning on attending the mission at the time but my Granny wanted to go and she needed a lift, so I was ordered by my mother that I be the one to bring her to the mission every night. Such a burden, I thought to myself. But my feelings of being ‘hard-done-by’ subsided very quickly.
Attending the first night of the mission, I was captured by the atmosphere created by the missioners. An environment of song, prayer and animated preaching that was centred on the loving and redeeming nature of Jesus Christ. It was truly amazing and was nothing I or anyone else in the parish had experienced before. Not only did I bring my Granny every night, but I attended the 7am sessions every morning before I went to work. The openness the priests showed to all people present and their welcoming nature was something that I later discovered to be a core characteristic of all Redemptorists. Where had these priests come from I wondered??
The journey began and I made contact with Fr Gerry Moloney CSsR (Editor of Reality magazine) as to where I might find out more about the Redemptorists. Within six months of the parish mission, and after countless years of discernment and searching, I had joined the Redemptorists. The rest is history.
The Redemptorist Community in Marianella (Dublin) is where I spent the first three years of my formation, studying Philosophy for two years and Theology for one. It is within this Community that I have encountered so many living saints and I believe that I am greatly privileged to have an opportunity to pray and spend time with such humble men. I then was sent to Chicago, USA, where I spent 12 months taking part in the Novitiate programme and on the 27th August 2006, I was professed into the Congregation. I returned to Dublin to complete the rest of my Theology before being sent on my mission placement for two years. I spent the first year in St Joseph’s, Dundalk, working on parish missions, and the second year in Clonard, Belfast, working on parish missions and youth retreats. When I returned to Dublin to finish my formation as an effective minister to the people of God, I was asked to study for an MA in Moral Theology. I made my final profession of vows in 2011 and was ordained in Dundalk in December the same year. I was appointed to the Clonard community where I work in parish missions and so many other interesting ministries!
I often recall that Redemptorist parish mission I attended only a few years ago, and cannot help but think that everything I have experienced in the Redemptorists to date is the result of the grace of my Grandmother who has since gone to God. Her prayerfulness and dedication to God is what I continue to strive for.
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!