Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Hope Amid the Ashes

The once-vaunted Irish church might be taking a slow-drip drubbing as its history of clergy sex abuse slowly comes to light, but one bright spot has emerged: the country's lone remaining seminary is about to see its largest entering class in a decade....
Thirty-eight new seminarians are to study for the priesthood this September. It is the highest number since 46 student priests enrolled at the national seminary at St Patrick's College [Maynooth] in 1999....

The new candidates range in age from 18 to the mid-40s and hail from dioceses across Ireland, with the largest number coming from the Dublin diocese and the Down and Connor diocese in the North.

They will return to work in their own dioceses upon ordination, which can take between five and seven years. The new priests will also join seven seminarians from Scotland who have transferred their studies to Maynooth following the closure of Scotus College in Glasgow [Scotland's last seminary].

All of the seminarians were working or studying full-time before embarking on their vocation and their reasons for wanting to join the priesthood vary, according to a spokesman for the Catholic Communications Office.

President of St Patrick's College, Monsignor Hugh Connolly, told them: "You are about to begin a new and exciting journey, one that we share with you. This will be a time of tremendous personal growth as you enter formation: a new learning phase that will help you to fully realise your potential spiritually, pastorally and academically."...

But Fr Paddy Rushe, National Co-odinator of Diocesan Vocation Directors, said that while the Church would welcome more priests into the fold, the days are gone for the record number of clergymen in the 1950s and 1960s.

"We're never going to get back to the numbers we had in the 1950s and 60s. We're in a different reality," he said.
Come September's end, 77 seminarians will be at Maynooth.

From 1993 to 2002, as the first waves of the abuse crisis bore down on the Isle, seven Irish seminaries shut their doors, leaving the country's oldest house as the last one standing.

The news of the large class broke as a prominent priest in the North called for a halt on seminary recruiting until the church was able to "reform and reorganize" following the scandals, and the papers mused over whether Irish Catholicism was "entering a land of exile."