Feature

Catching up with the vocational curve
Bishop Phonsie Cullinan tells Greg Daly about the new National Vocations Office

Bishop Phonsie Cullinan with Fr Shane O'Neill at his ordination to the priesthood last year.

Ireland has lagged behind other countries in the promotion of priestly vocations for several years, according to Waterford and Lismore’s Bishop Phonsie Cullinan, chairman of the Irish bishops’ Council for Vocations, but that’s set to change this month with the establishment of the country’s national vocations office. 

“I believe the idea has been there for years,” Dr Cullinan says, continuing, “As far as I know, all other countries in Europe have a dedicated vocations office – certainly our nearest neighbours have one up and running. We’re behind the curve in that sense.”

Now, however, following the receipt of a three-year donation from the Knights of St Columbanus, Ireland’s national vocations office is going ahead, with a full-time administrator being appointed to head an office that “will be able to coordinate the national vocations strategy, helping vocations directors in each diocese, keeping the vocations question to the top of the agenda, providing training for vocations directors, and encouraging vocations initiatives”.

Support

Up until now, Dr Cullinan explains, while good work was being done on vocations around the country, there was a lack of central coordination and support. “It was great work, but of its very nature, because everyone involved was busy doing other tasks, they couldn’t be fully devoted to it,” he says, saying that with the appointment of a full time vocations administrator, “we have a plan and now we have a dedicated person to put that plan into place”.

The administration officer will assist the Diocesan Vocations Coordinator in working with the country’s regional groups on a planned approach to Vocation Promotion including such things as ‘Come and See’ events and careers fairs, while planning and organising conferences on vocational themes, working with other agencies involved in vocational promotion, and supporting the training of vocational directors.

Training and support for vocational directors will be key, Dr Cullinan points out. “I would doubt if we would have dedicated full-time paid vocations directors in each dioceses,” he says, continuing, “The quality of vocations work varies greatly from diocese to diocese. For some dioceses, the vocations director might be one of several jobs that he’s doing.”

Structured

National and regional support for vocational directors has been happening, Dr Cullinan says, especially with regard to ‘come and see’ events, but the office will enable this to happen in a more structured way, as it will training.

“We have a retreat coming up in June for vocations directors and/or vocations teams from dioceses around the country,” he says as an example, “That is being given by an American priest, Fr Brett Brannon, in June in Maynooth. He has been very successful in Vocations promotion in the States, and has written what is more-or-less the manual for vocations directors in the States – I believe it has been bought in bulk by dioceses right across the States.”

Research and the production of promotional material will also be central to the new office’s role, Dr Cullinan says, along with prayer initiatives including one this month related to Our Lady of Fatima.

A core aim, he says, is to “support the building of a Culture of Vocation – that all are called by God for a specific vocation in life”, but it could take time to see how effective that will have been.

“What people will be looking for out of all this is literally how many guys are ending up in seminary,” he says, continuing, “There are people out there, of that I am convinced, and it’s a question of having the courage to ask and to be sure of who we are as a Church, and who it is on whom we depend.”

Cautioning against succumbing to popular perceptions of a defeated or private Church, Dr Cullinan says “that’s not coming from confidence in Christ – we’ve got to get out there and ask”.