Candidates for the priesthood and religious life in Ireland today have a changed profile for that of pre-Vatican II times. Those now choosing seem to be older, more mature and to have more experience of life. The choice today may also be more counter-cultural and require a stronger personal faith. Patrick Duffy looks at some recent ordinations and a profession.
On Easter Monday James Crofton from Meath diocese and Colin Crossey from Down & Connor, both in their thirties, were ordained deacons by Bishop John Fleming of Killala at the Irish College in Rome. Both had considerable experience in other careers before coming to a definitive commitment to the priesthood.
James Crofton is in his mid 30s. He had spent time with the US marines and explored a few religious orders before entering the seminary to study for the diocesan priesthood.
Colin Crossey, also in his 30s, began his studies for the priesthood at the age of 18. He studied at St Malachy’s in Belfast and later went to Maynooth, but at the age of 24 he decided to think again about his choice, and quit the seminary to take up studies in psychotherapy in the United States.
Three years in Miami saw him complete his studies in psychotherapy, and with another Irish woman, set up a programme in an inner city derelict area, for disturbed teenagers. “They were mostly immigrant children, and all of them were caught up in gang related crime. We wanted to give them a vision of life that was different.”
Returning to Ireland, Colin took up a job with the Mercy Sisters at the Aisling Centre in Enniskillen which helped people with marriage problems, sexual abuse or alcohol issues. Over a six year period, he rose to become Director of the Centre, linking up with government forums and various community development groups.
Although the work was meaningful, he missed not being able to pray with people – the “explicit faith dimension was missing” – and he felt drawn to study theology again. But then, fate once again intervened.
He won a scholarship to the US to do a doctorate in theology in the Catholic University in Chicago. His doctoral work was ‘practical theology’ – the link between culture, tradition and experience – how to proclaim the Gospel in today’s context. Reflecting on his work, he was drawn back into the priesthood.
His sister’s wedding in Rome during the time of the death of John Paul II provided him with the opportunity to make contact with his bishop, and in September 2005, he re-entered the seminary, this time in Rome.
Although Colin was out of the seminary for over ten years, he did not go out with girls. “I came to an understanding that I was called to a celibate life. I loved being part of a lot of people’s lives,” he said.
Last August Archbishop Diarmuid Martin ordained three men in their forties to the priesthood in the Pro-Cathedral. Pádraig O’Sullivan from Artane worked as a nurse for 20 years, serving as a nurse tutor in Drogheda. Robert Coclough from Dundrum had a background in engineering worked in Arbor Hill Prison and in the US. Joseph McDonald from Belfast joined the Christian Brothers after leaving school and worked as a teacher until he joined the seminary after his 40th birthday.
A similar trend is emerging in vocations to religious life. In September last year Karen Kent (42) took her final vows as an Ursuline sister in St Michael’s Church, Blackrock, Cork. She was the first profession in the order for fourteen years. “I feel it is a very positive life choice. I was attracted by the story of St Angela Merici who wanted to make a difference for women in society.”
This Saturday, 28th April (eve of Vocations Sunday) Vocations Ireland is organising a Celebration of Vocation at four venues. Prayer services will take place at:
In Dublin on Sunday, the Archdiocese will launch a new vocations website, www.priest.ie, to coincide with the launch of its prayer initiative “Seek His Face”.