By Sarah Mac Donald - 12 July, 2014
Bishop Brendan Leahy has warned that the level of services provided by priests in the Diocese of Limerick will change in the years ahead due to the significant decline in vocations over recent decades.
Bishop Leahy said that this year’s single ordination was happening against the backdrop of four retirements in the diocese and he said this was an indication of the challenge that lies ahead for ministry in Limerick.
“This year we will have one ordination to the priesthood in the diocese. David Casey will be ordained on 19 July in the Cathedral. That is great news and we can rejoice in it,” the Bishop said.
“However, it will probably be another five or six years before we have another ordination,” he warned.
“Thankfully, lately a number of men have indicated an interest in going for the priesthood. I hope we will see an increase in the number entering the seminary in coming years.”
“That said, while we can’t yet talk of a massive crisis as we still have a reasonable number of priests in Limerick diocese, we do need to recognise that the services we have provided until now will change.”
“The ageing profile of priests will mean we will have to shape differently the way we provide ministry in the diocese. It is important for priests to work more in teams, supporting one another and also working together possibly serving a number of parishes,” he said.
“Some of the city parishes are very large and I am concerned that we have only one priest in some of them. There are parishes where previously there were two or three priests but now there is only one. But the demands, if anything, are increasing.”
Bishop Leahy said that he had engaged Fr Eamonn Fitzgibbon, Episcopal Vicar for Pastoral Planning, over recent months to work on his behalf with priests and pastoral area teams to reflect on the changing profile of the diocesan clergy.
“There have been many listening sessions. This work will have to continue right throughout the diocese more and more.”
“I specifically met with priests on several occasions in recent months to reflect together on challenges and opportunities that are opening up for us in the new context of our numbers and age.”
“It is against this background that I made the changes this year. I appreciate some people will be upset to see their priest moving on but the change, if lived well, can be fruitful for the priest and for the parish.”
He added, “It’s a chance to begin again to look at our mission, the way we are promoting the Gospel, how lay people are involved in co-responsibility in the local faith community.”
Bishop Leahy said he was most grateful to Limerick’s priests for their willingness to co-operate in the changes this year.
“I know it’s never easy. But their willingness is a sign to me of their continued fidelity to follow Jesus, to be missionary disciples,” he continued.
“I am grateful to people for their goodness to priests. It is always moving to hear people speak so fondly of their priests. There is no doubt that the relationship between priests and parishioners is very deep. Priests are present at key moments of people’s lives – weddings, baptisms, First Communion and Confirmation, sickness and celebrations, bereavement and funerals.”
“To be a priest is a wonderful vocation and priests are always grateful for the huge support people offer them.”