By Sarah Mac Donald - 23 November, 2015
“Today let us look to the past with gratitude and think of all the great Dominicans who have served in this area since 1257.”
Addressing a congregation of up to 1,000 parishioners and well-wishers, including Bishop Eamon Walsh, Fr John Harris OP spoke about the closure of the Dominican community and church in Athy Co Kildare.
Referring to the occasion as “a terribly unhappy day indeed” he explained that the association dating back to the 13th century was ending due to a lack of friars.
He said the Irish province of Dominicans had made the decision with “heavy hearts” but they had to face the “realities of today”.
In 1965, there were 425 Irish Dominicans but now there are 162.
In 1972, the average age of the friars was 44, now it is closer to 74. In 1965, about 10% of the order was over 65 years old, now it is 56%.
“We can’t blame Henry VIII or Cromwell this time,” Fr Harris quipped, a reference to the forced closures in times of religious persecution in the past.
Acknowledging that “Everyone in this church today is sad”, he said they must all look to the Gospel for the feast of Christ the King for guidance and hope, for consolation and vision.
“Our God touches our pain with healing, our sadness with joy, our grief with consolation and most importantly for us today, closure with hope,” he said.
He reminded the congregation that the Year of Consecrated Life challenged the Church to do three things which could guide them as they “endeavour to come to terms with what we are experiencing today and answer the challenge of this new situation.”
“We are to look to the past with gratitude, to live in the present with passion, and to embrace the future with hope.”
He also acknowledged that for the Dominican friars “who have begun a path of renewal and reorganisation for the future of Dominican life and mission in the reality of the modern Irish situation, the tears and sadness of you the people of Athy, so evident here today, the humility, dignity and maturity with which you received the decision of our mid-term council sends a clear and unambiguous message to all Dominican friars that we must unite behind this work of renewal and rebuilding of our province.”
He added, “We cannot live in the past and its glories but we must plan for the future and its opportunities.”
Spokesman for the Dominicans, Fr Bernard Treacy OP told CatholicIreland.net that St Dominick’s church and the entire parcel of land around it is being given to the local county council to be developed for community use.
“I understand that the church will principally become a library. It will have other cultural uses,” he said.
Parishioners here will now become part of St Michael’s parish, he explained.
Asked if a sudden turnaround in vocations would change the situation, Fr Treacy explained that even if the order got 20 vocations every year for the next five years, it would still be 10 years before any of those men would be ministering as priests.
“The immediate problem would remain,” he said.
This is the first of five closures announced by the Dominican provincial Fr Gregory Carroll in September 2014. Other centres in Dublin (Leeson Street house), Drogheda, Waterford and Limerick are also due to be closed.