By Sarah Mac Donald - 16 March, 2014
The Augustinians in Ireland are to hold their first Vocations Weekend for a number of years at the end of the month following a decision within the order to give greater time and energy to vocations.
The new vocations director for the Augustinians, Fr Colm O’Mahony OSA, told CatholicIreland.net that while the order has “always been open to vocations”, in recent years there had been a realisation that “we were not giving vocations the time and energy needed.”
He said normally the vocations director had numerous other jobs which made juggling vocations work with these commitments difficult.
But at recent chapters, the friars recognised that they needed to enable any vocations director to have the time and freedom to attend events and promote vocations.
He said the majority of the friars believe that the work is important and essential but they also recognise that huge changes have occurred in Irish culture, society and in the perception of the Church.
Asked why the Augustinians had not promoted vocations more vigorously in recent years, Fr Colm said, “I believe that we are excellent at what we do – we are wonderful teachers, parish priests, counsellors, chaplains etc. The one thing we are very poor at is promoting ourselves and at times really believing in what we is a real option for someone in today’s society.”
“I have met very few friars who believe that there is no point in encouraging vocations. A number, however, feel that we have lost touch over the years and are unsure how we can connect with younger adults.”
But for Fr Colm, the Augustinian charism is one he feels “can really speak to people as the life of Augustine is so inspiring and not the usual path to holiness.”
“There is a tremendous ‘searching’ out there for the spiritual and for God and I do believe our charism can meet that in a real way. One thing that younger adults search for is a strong identity, strong community spirit and a strong prayer life,” he said.
He also suggested that a “lot of religious congregations abandoned a lot of the religious symbols and identity and that needs to be addressed” and there was also a sense “that the ‘work’ is more important than ‘community’ and prayer.”
On the impact of Pope Francis, Fr Colm O’Mahony said the Pontiff had “opened the door to being Christian and being positive and happy at the same time.”
“Being a religious himself he is keenly aware of the importance of community and how we need the support of others to sustain us. Francis has changed the mood of the Church, where people are now more positive and open to their faith as he focuses on the mercy and love of God as opposed to just rules and regulations.”
The Augustinians came to Ireland around 1280 and currently have 12 houses in Ireland as well as friars working in the UK, USA, Nigeria, Kenya, Ecuador, Italy and Australia.
In more recent years, many members have returned home from the missions to work and retire in Ireland.
“Currently we would have around 100 Irish friars. The last Irish vocation that entered and took Solemn Vows (that is when you become a full member of the Order) was me. I took Solemn Vows in 2011 and will be two years ordained this April.”
“The majority of our friars would be over 60 but thankfully are still very active. Traditionally the Irish Augustinians were mainly missionary with great numbers working abroad in Africa, South America, etc. However we also run two secondary schools in New Ross, Co Wexford and Dungarvan, Co Waterford.”
“We also administer four parishes: Galway City, Finglas, Meath Street and Ballyboden – all in Dublin. We also have a retreat centre in the Dublin Mountains at Orlagh and are active as hospital chaplains, community work, lecturing, school chaplains, retreat work, etc”
According to friar, the majority of the order’s houses would be ‘devotional churches’ that is a church within a parish where confession, Mass and in some cases baptisms, weddings, funerals are offered.
Asked what the Augustinians are looking for in prospective candidates, Fr O’Mahony said the main thing would be openness to God’s call.
“St Augustine championed the idea of the ‘restless heart’, a searching for God. We are not looking for perfection or for people who necessarily go to Mass every day – Augustine himself was far from perfect!”
“What we want is someone who is willing to take a chance and see where the Spirit brings them. Some life experience would also be an advantage. We would not normally accept anyone straight from school. We would prefer they go to university or work for a time and we will maintain contact with them.”
“Traditionally the age range would be 20 to 45 but we are not tied to an upper or lower limit. Everyone who comes to us will be met and given the opportunity to discern with us if God is calling them to be an Augustinian.”
“As our main charism is ‘community’ a person would need to show that they are capable of this, of living in a group, sharing, working as a team, leadership. Obviously we don’t expect anyone to show all these in the first meeting but like I said we would look for at least an openness and ability to reflect and grow.
“We believe that everyone has been gifted with certain talents from God and we try to always make use of a person’s talents so they grow and develop as a person as well as fostering new talents, experiences.”
“One thing we are actively exploring is the possibility of having a House of Discernment where men can come to visit to experience life as an Augustinian in an informal way and get involved in our ministries as well as get to know the friars and our charism on a deeper level.”
He said the OSA charism would best be described as ‘community’.
“We live in community and we were formed to serve the needs of the church in any way needed. Augustinians tend to work with a wide range of different people from various backgrounds. In each case we strive to walk together on the path of life as Augustine put it ‘one in heart and mind’, in our search for God.”
“We also hold an important place for contemplation in our spirituality. We are an active Order so it can be a struggle to find the balance between contemplation and ministry.”
For further information: Fr Colm O’ Mahony osa, St Augustine’s Priory, Shop Street, Drogheda. Email: [email protected] or Tel: 086 88 45 747.