By Sarah Mac Donald - 16 November, 2014
Priests need to reclaim their voice again in encouraging vocations Bishop Denis Nulty has said as he emphasised that the most important group who can promote vocations are priests themselves.
Speaking on the topic ‘Priests Promoting Priestly Vocations’ at the recent Lismullin Priests Seminar, the Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin told the assembled clergy, “We priests have a special responsibility to promote vocations.”
Referring to the fact that every diocese is obliged to have a diocesan vocations director, the Bishop said that he had given a very clear brief to his recently appointed director to resource and support the priests of the diocese in their work as vocations directors.
He underlined that the work of encouraging vocations mustn’t be left at the door of the vocations director in the diocese.
Noting that dioceses have invested “hugely and rightly so” on safeguarding, Dr Nulty said “we must now invest in the promotion of vocations”.
He admitted that in his own diocese he doesn’t have enough priests to pull one of the younger priests out of active parish ministry and assign him to co-ordinating full-time the vocations ministry, but he added that he thinks the role is important enough to do just that.
“As Priests, working in collaboration with our lay people we are still continuing to cope with the aftermath of the sexual abuse scandals that have swept the western world and impacted hugely here in Ireland,” Dr Nulty said at the Co Meath conference.
He added, “These scandals have done immense damage to many people, particularly young people – our credibility has been seriously dented – we still have a journey to go.”
Referring to the current statistics on seminarians in the Irish Church, the bishop said that in St Patrick’s College Maynooth there are currently 69 seminarians studying for the priesthood.
In 2013, the first year seminarian intake didn’t include one seminarian west of the River Shannon.
In the first year group who entered in September, there wasn’t one seminarian from all of Munster; and while Kerry had one student, his roots were Belfast.
He then draw a picture of the situation in the diocese of Kildare & Leighlin where there are 56 parishes.
There are 95 priests in active ministry in the diocese. Out of the 95 in active ministry, 15 are non-diocesan priests.
Of the 80 diocesan priests in active ministry, one is on loan to the Dublin Regional Marriage Tribunal; a second is on extended leave in the US; a third is currently on sabbatical.
There are two men full-time in St Patrick’s College, Carlow, a diocesan chancellor and a full time vocations director, appointed only recently.
Of the remaining 73 ministering in ‘parish responsibilities’, 17 are over 75; while there is no priest in the diocese today under 40.
We have 21 fully retired priests and just one seminarian currently in formation.
In his talk, Bishop Nulty considered the current trend among formators and vocation directors not to accept seminarians straight from their Leaving Cert because ‘They should experience the world’.
He questioned, what this entailed and whether it suggested that “the bulk of us who entered in our time are less priests for not having this experience?”
“I don’t think so!” Dr Nulty stated and added, “I believe priests must get back into our secondary schools, and our third level colleges, or wherever young people gather and encourage vocations.”
He also suggested that groups such as ‘Youth 2000’ and ‘Pure in Heart’ “are much bigger seminarian pullers” than the traditional diocesan schools.
Underlining that priestly vocations are everyone’s business, Bishop Nulty told the assembled priests, “but you, the priests, are a central cog in that drive.”
He said a diocese must be willing to release the priests most gifted in the area of formation and discernment for work in our seminaries.
“Priests who are comfortable but not smug in their priesthood; priests who are articulate and do present a good example of priestly commitment; priests who radiate a sense of joy in their preaching and their living of the gospel message.”
He added, “I think we need to restructure our formation model, staffing a seminary with priests who remain rooted in parish life and pastoral practice, while still possessing the key qualities necessary to form and educate seminarians.”
“If we as priests don’t encourage this culture of discernment the young men who want to become priests and have that calling in their DNA will slip through the cracks.”