Sunday, August 31, 2008

Provincial Chapter of Irish Dominican Friars

Tomorrow, September 1st 2008, marks the opening of the Provincial Chapter of the Irish Dominican Friars at Saint Mary's Priory, Tallaght, Dublin 24 (pictured above). The chapter meets every four years to reflect on the life and mission of the Irish Dominicans over the past four years and also plans for the future of the province over the next four year term.

It is the single most important meeting of the brethren (some who attend the chapter by virtue of their office and others who are elected to represent the communities and other brethren) and has many serious decisions to make.

I would ask all readers of this blog to keep the brethren who are attending the Provincial Chapter in their prayers, and to pray also for the Irish Dominicans and its ongoing mission of preaching.
For news about the chapter over the coming weeks, please consult the website of the Irish Dominican Friars -

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Vocational Discernment

It has been good and heartening to read various reports in the Catholic media in Ireland this past week or so of the entrance of 22 new seminarians to the National Seminary in Maynooth, Co. Kildare (pictured above). This number is very much in line with the intake of new entrants to the seminary over the past three years.

Figures for new entrants to religious orders in Ireland in 2008 are being compiled at present and a clearer picture will emerge over the coming weeks. Anecdotal evidence suggests that numbers joining religious orders in Ireland (male and female) are on the rise. This is good news indeed.

However, vocations and new entrants to seminary and religious life is not about numbers. At least, it ought not to be. At this time of year when new membership is a hot topic, I cannot but think of the vital role of vocational discernment in the process of entry to seminary and religious life. I believe it is something that we take for granted. It is often presumed that a vocations director will do that job. My experience is that this is not always the case, and that the preparation of candidates for entry can often be haphazard. I hold the opinion that there should be norms laid down for all dioceses and religious orders and institutes in relation to following a recognised plan of vocational discernment. If this were implemented and followed, the Irish church could be assured that a standard procedure of discernment for admission is used. It would also raise the standards for acceptable vocational accompaniment.

Any thoughts?

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Youth Evangelization

It has been very heartening to hear of the great success of the many Catholic youth festivals around Ireland during the summer months. From Knock to Clonmacnois to All Hallows and other venues hosting smaller events, young people have been learning about and celebrating their faith. Great credit is due to the organisers of these festivals - particularly the Youth 2000 movement and the Legion of Mary who are at the forefront of youth evangelization and peer ministry. It is evident that their work is paying dividends.
Ten years ago, these Catholic youth festivals in Ireland would have been unheard of. To me, this sign of growth as young people desire to know and practice their faith is a powerful sign of the Holy Spirit in action. It is also quite clear that the engagement of our young people with these young Catholic lay groups will be a source of vocations into the future.

The great Catholic youth event of the year was, of course, the World Youth Day(s) in Sydney, Australia. I have been reading the texts of what Pope Benedict had to say and it is evident that he made a point of encouraging the young people to follow Christ, even when this would prove difficult. His words to seminarians and young religious in St. Mary's Cathedral sum up his encouraging words:

I wish now to turn to the seminarians and young religious in our midst, with a special word of affection and encouragement. Dear friends: with great generosity you have set out on a particular path of consecration, grounded in your Baptism and undertaken in response to the Lord’s personal call. You have committed yourselves, in different ways, to accepting Christ’s invitation to follow him, to leave all behind, and to devote your lives to the pursuit of holiness and the service of his people.
In today’s Gospel, the Lord calls us to “believe in the light” (Jn 12:36). These words have a special meaning for you, dear young seminarians and religious. They are a summons to trust in the truth of God’s word and to hope firmly in his promises. They invite us to see, with the eyes of faith, the infallible working of his grace all around us, even in those dark times when all our efforts seem to be in vain. Let this altar, with its powerful image of Christ the Suffering Servant, be a constant inspiration to you. Certainly there are times when every faithful disciple will feel the heat and the burden of the day (cf. Mt 20:12), and the struggle of bearing prophetic witness before a world which can appear deaf to the demands of God’s word. Do not be afraid! Believe in the light! Take to heart the truth which we have heard in today’s second reading: “Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today and for ever” (Heb 13:8). The light of Easter continues to dispel the darkness!

There are signs of life in the Irish church as evidenced by the participation of these young people in the many and varied festivals and meetings. We will be failing in our own commitment to the preaching and living of the Gospel if we do not encourage and support them.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Year of Vocation - Dominican Event

Apologies to readers of this blog for the lack of posting during these past couple of weeks. As mentioned in a previous entry, I have been busy meeting new enquirers during that time which necessitated a fair deal of travel. It is always very humbling to meet people who are interested in the Dominican way of life, and I am always inspired by their courage in making first contact. That can be difficult!

I have found time though during these past couple of weeks to meet with those having responsibility for encouraging and attracting new membership to the various branches of the Dominican family in Ireland - i.e the Dominican laity, the Cabra congregation of Dominican sisters and the contemplative nuns in Siena monastery - to begin the process of planning a Dominican family event to celebrate the year of vocation.

Plans are at an advanced stage now and we hope to hold the event on the feast of Saint Albert the Great (November 15th, 2008). Further details about this in the next week or so.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Feast of Saint Dominic

Greetings to all readers of this blog on the feast of our holy father Saint Dominic. Today is a day of great joy and celebration for all the family of Dominic as we honour the founder of the Order of Preachers.

My favourite account of the life of Saint Dominic is Saint Dominic and His Times by Marie Humbert Vicaire OP (Darton, Longman & Todd, London, 1964). Towards the end of this scholarly work, Vicare tries to sum up Dominic's life and mentions the many great qualities of the man - administrator, joyful friar, spiritual father, confessor and so on. But it is the following quotation on Dominic the preacher that means much to me:

Undeniably, he was born to be a Preacher. He had the temprament for it. Simple, without inhibitions, generous, heroic, he naturally gave the best of himself. Moreover, he had that liveliness of imagination that enabled him to see without difficulty the magnitude of what he was describing, whether deserving of praise or blame, and to give his words a spontaneous lyricism, a dramatic influence which made him a great orator. If he made his hearers weep, it was because he was also deeply moved, because he was convinced, and because he was speaking of that to which he had given his life. Then again it was because he loved the [men] to whom he was preaching.

Thursday, August 7, 2008


The month of August is traditionally a relatively quiet month in the lives of vocations promoters and directors in this part of the world- a month we generally look forward to before the new academic year begins in September.

Not so this year for this blogger. I have been compiling the statistics about enquiries about vocations to the Irish Dominicans since the last academic year began (September 2007). Since then there have been 60 new enquiries about our way of life and requests for information about being a Dominican. This is slightly more than double the average numner of enquiries of the past few years.

All this means that August will see me travelling from Donegal to Kerry and from Waterford to Antrim and many other places in between, along with a couple of trips across the Irish Sea to meet some of these new enquirers.

There is no one identifiable reason for this sudden upsurge in interest in the Dominican vocation in Ireland during this past year. However, I am convinced of the beginning of a trend generally in Ireland of men and women who are beginning to ask serious questions about their faith, their relationship with God, and how they can be of service in the church. Enquirers reveal to me that the mission of preaching, along with the community element of the Dominican life are primary attractions. A general analysis of this can be seen in the previous post on this blog.

As preparations begin to celebrate the feast of Saint Dominic tomorrow (August 8th), there are signs that his spirit is beginning to bring forth new life in Ireland.

Friday, August 1, 2008

What are you looking for?

A regular question posed to me is: 'what are the people who seek to join the Order looking for?' An interesting question indeed! Of course, it is unhelpful to generalise, but for me there are clear and distinct trends emerging in answer to this question.

It is important to state, in the first instance, that the generation who are now potential enquirers and postulants are very much of a post-Vatican II culture. This culture is one with new convictions and new desires. The following is a provisional analysis of the desires and convictions expressed by those I come in contact with. It is by no means a full and exhaustive analysis.

1. The desire for identity and community. It is evident to me that enquirers need to know about the strong identity of the Order, who is in it, and that they themselves want a clear identity to share with the Order. So, they are drawn by the identity of the habit we wear, by the fact that we pray communally and that there is a regular and visible religious life being led. The Dominican tradition of study remains a strong identifiable reason why people present themselves for acceptance into the Order. In this context, they like the semi monastic qualities of our life and do not feel the need to shake off monastic customs in order to be apostolic religious.

2. The desire for clarity. Those seeking to know more of the Order and become serious candidates want to connect with they consider to be the wisdom of the Catholic tradition, which they believe an older generation has betrayed. They identify this tradition in very visible forms, such as devotional practice. There is a liking for clear authority and a dislike for liberal attitudes. My sense is that they have a deep desire for the authentic and ultimate truth which is found in Jesus Christ.

3. The desire for connection. Enquirers want to be connected to an immediate and identifiable group. Naturally, they want and desire to help others - but in a direct way through generous service to people rather than through campaigning groups. It appears to me that they are hungry for authenticity and for personal and meaningful experiences of religious life.

Like all young people, they challenge the culture that raised them, which in the case of the Church means the post Vatican II culture. If the baby boomers of our generation are the renewal people, then those who are seriously contemplating life in the Dominican way are post-renewal people. It seems to me that the post Vatican II renewal aimed to strip away, to ask questions and to challenge structures; by contrast, this post-renewal generation wants clear identity and immediate connection.