Feature

Eight priests for eight centuries of preaching
Greg Daly witnesses the ordination of the largest group of Irish Dominicans in over 40 years
From left: Fr Daragh McNally, Fr Conor McDonough (partially obscured), Fr Eoin Casey, Fr Kevin O’Reilly, Archbishop Robert Rivas, Fr Pat Desmond, Fr Ronan Connolly, Fr Damian Polly, and Fr David McGovern.

I see kairos moments written in moments like these,” St Lucia’s Archbishop Robert Rivas OP told The Irish Catholic of the ordination of eight new Irish Dominican priests in the year marking eight centuries since the foundation of the Order of Preachers.

The Trinidadian archbishop, who had studied in the Irish province in the 1960s, said the ordination on Saturday July 9 in Dublin’s St Saviour’s Church was one of those moments, “when the Spirit breaks through among us and reminds us that the Church is part of the work of the Spirit and the Spirit is alive”. 

Experience

Maintaining that “our Church needs to experience these happy moments lest we lose faith in ourselves and in our God” he said that great events such as the largest ordination of Irish Dominicans in 43 years “happen to remind us that God is not abandoning us”.

While the Irish Church can fairly be described as going a “dry season” with a shortage of vocations, he pointed out that such periods can be “a time of cleansing and purification” which can leave us as better people, having had much of our pride and excesses removed.  

In the meantime, though, he said, “it’s obvious that the Church was happy today”, and said: “I’m glad that I was invited to come to be with the province for this special occasion of ordaining eight Dominicans after such a long time.”

If there was a certain symmetry in the Irish province gaining eight new priests on the order’s eighth centenary, there was a personal resonance for Fr Philip McShane OP, who had been responsible for leading the formation of the new priests in their first days in the order. 

“Myself and the archbishop were in the same novitiate group,” he said, continuing, “he was just about a month older than I was, and I was the novicemaster for all eight of these and he ordained them. So two people from the same group at the beginning and the end of their formation, which is nice.”

Describing it as “emotional” to witness his onetime novices become priests, he said it was “wonderful” to watch them now being able to minister as priests to others, “to help them in their difficulties and to accompany them as they grow in holiness, to reconcile them, to bless them, to be with them”.

St Saviour’s prior Fr Eddie Conway OP had headed the province’s novice house on Cork’s Pope’s Quay when the eight new priests had first joined the Dominicans, and has been their prior in Dublin for four years, so was as predictably delighted. “I’m over the moon today, I really am,” he said, continuing, “I thought the ceremony would go on and on, and I wanted it to go on and on, because I was so engrossed in it.” 

While he admits St Saviour’s will be a quieter house when the eight move on, he’s looking forward to seeing them succeeded by the current novices nearing the end of their first year of formation in Cork. 

Another looking to the future is the province’s Regent of Studies, Fr John Harris OP. “I would hope that they got a good theological and philosophical basis from which to now meet the challenges of the future because all we’ve done is set them on a journey,” he said,  “and I hope we’ve given them the basic tools with which to meet the challenges of the Irish Church and the Church Universal.”

Challenges

Expressing a hope that their formation has given the new priests “a vision of the Church that’s broader than the Irish Church”, he added, “I hope the theology they have now will enable them to meet the changing challenges of the world – it’s not in answers, it’s the ability to enter into ministry in the modern Church and the modern world. “

The new priests certainly seem up for the challenge, with 28-year-old Fr Eoin Casey OP, while still overcome by the mystery and excitement of the day, describing it as being a great grace that brings a great responsibility. “Please God we can live up to that responsibility,” he said.

The Laois-born priest has been assigned to the Dominican community and school in Newbridge, Co. Kildare. “It’s going to be completely new waters,” he said, continuing, “ I’m really excited and looking forward to getting stuck into my priestly ministry, working in the school and ministering in the church, and serving God’s people that worship there.”

Fr Eoin highlighted family support as being crucial in helping nurture and support his vocation, and this is something that was apparent on the day. Cork City’s Anne and Deirdre Desmond, whose brother Pat was ordained and has been assigned to finish his studies at the Dominican community in Rome’s Church of San Clemente, said they hope that they have always backed him. 

Stressing how happy his Dominican life has made Pat, the sisters noted that as a student for a priesthood Pat has already been a model for his young nephews, who see him as lucky “because he knows everything about Holy God”, and said of the new priests, “They’ll make good examples, and they will be role models.”

Bray’s Fr Daragh McNally OP will be joining Fr Pat to finish studies in Rome, and says that if he had any advice for others considering a vocation, it would really just be to pray. “Just be faithful to prayer and see where the Lord’s leading you,” he said, “because where the Lord leads you – wherever your vocation is – the Lord wants you to be happy.”

Fr Damian Polly OP of Swords, Co. Dublin, meanwhile, is returning to where it all began, as he has been assigned to the province’s novice house, St Mary’s on Cork’s Pope’s Quay. 

Confident that it will be “absolutely bizarre to begin with”, he said, “it’ll be a wonderful privilege to be back where it all began, as a priest, and to be able to walk with these young men through their formative year of the novitiate”. 

At the same time, he said, he is grateful to be in a position to learn from the community’s older and more experienced members, “It feels like I’m really only going to start learning now.”