By Sarah Mac Donald - 10 December, 2018
A new book which recounts Fr Sean Hyland’s journey from husband and father, through the deaths of his two children and his beloved wife, to priesthood has been praised by Bishop Denis Nulty as “a powerfully personal story of faith”.
Speaking to CatholicIreland.net in Portarlington ahead of launching Fr Sean’s book, Whisperings of my Soul, Bishop Nulty said, “It is a lovely gentle read and it will encourage people on their journey of faith and their vocation journey as well.”
Tragedy struck Sean Hyland and his wife, Liz, early in their marriage with the deaths of their two young children, Seana and Kieran.
Liz’s deep faith helped her survive the heartbreak, but Sean became angry after their devastating loss.
Channeling his aggression, he became a recognised leader in world class manufacturing and headed many startups including the setting up of Hewlett Packard Manufacturing in Ireland.
Under his wife’s influence, Sean was inspired to return to the Church, and begin a spiritual journey of healing.
Sadly, Sean’s faith was tested again after the loss of his beloved soulmate Liz in 2008. He then turned to Our Lady and Jesus in desperation.
He received that help through many consolations of faith which let him know that his wife and children are close by and watching over him. In thanksgiving, he entered a seminary in Rome and now serves as a priest in the Diocese of Kildare and Leighlin.
Bishop Nulty launched Fr Sean’s book at McCann Park GAA Centre in Portarlington on Friday evening. The occasion was attended by the retired Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin, Bishop Jim Moriarty. Hymns and carols were sung by the Finnegan-Newell Choir and Irish dancing was performed by the Burbage School of Dancing.
In his address, Bishop Nulty drew a parallel between last week’s documentary Walking the Walk on Dublin priest Fr Tony Coote and Whisperings of my Soul, noting that they both showed the fragility of life.
Bishop Nulty told CatholicIreland.net that Fr Sean is “a deeply spiritual man” and in the book he talks of his experiences of faith and the consolations he was granted, which let him understand that his wife and children are in a good place and that all is well.
Fr Sean was accepted for the priesthood by Bishop Nulty’s predecessor Bishop Moriarty, but it was Bishop Nulty who ordained him on 13 July 2014, the Feast of the Mystical Rose.
“It is a powerfully personal story of faith of a man who has gone through tragedy – his wife dying and his children dying. It was very tough – most people would have hung up their boots and said I’ve had a tough life. He is a good golfer and was highly involved with Hewlett Packard – yet rather than following a white ball into a hole on the golf course, he decided to give his life to God as a priest. I am hugely proud of that, so I was honoured to ordain him a priest,” Bishop Nulty said.
He also paid tribute to Fr Sean’s wife Liz and her role in bringing him to his faith. “It is a vocations story told beautifully well.”
Speaking to CatholicIreland.net, Fr Sean Hyland said the trials in his life were “the catalyst”.
“My spiritual journey started with wanting to be more like the peaceful, dignified person that Liz was rather than the angry, aggressive person that I was becoming. Liz, my wife, had an incredible faith; just walking along beside her observing her peace and tranquility and unconditional love for me… because I was quite angry. It would have been easy for her to take a different path in life, but she was a beautiful woman physically, spiritually and mentally and she just poured out unconditional love on me – it just rubbed off.
“I wanted to write the book and share with other people the awesome consolations of faith that I have received so that they will know that God is real, and that Jesus is present in the world and available to us – if we can just tune in and reach out.”
Portlaoise curate, Fr Paddy Byrne, author of All Will be Well, paid tribute to Fr Sean’s willingness to share his vulnerability in Whisperings of my Soul, which he described as “a very profound story and a powerful statement of hope.”
Of Fr Sean’s life as a husband and father prior to priesthood, Fr Byrne commented, “I think it gives him a greater perspective. In the crisis of vocations, particularly to the ministerial priesthood, people on the ground are asking the question why can’t men who are married partake in the ministerial priesthood.”
However, he stressed that this wasn’t what the essence of the book was about. “That is not what this is about – this is about faith, vulnerability and sharing the joy of those assurances, those whisperings that he has received from the Lord.”
Fr Paddy Byrne will speak on RTE One TV on direct provision on Thursday 20 December. Then on Christmas Eve, he will be interviewed by Pat Kenny on the values of Christianity on Newstalk radio. On Christmas morning, he will be on RTE Radio 1 from 8-9am.