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“Take the Risk for Christ” is the name of an initiative that’s scheduled to begin on April 30. In a pastoral letter released for Lent, Bishop Paul Dempsey, above, of the Diocese of Achonry, warned that the diocese had not had any new priests for a decade—and has no seminarians currently in formation.
For many years we have spoken about the impending crisis around vocations to the priesthood and religious life. With very few following this path today, the crisis has become very real. The last ordination to the Priesthood in the Diocese was 2013. We currently have no student studying for the Priesthood.
Dempsey added that due to the declining number of priests, there would no longer be a resident priest in every parish. Such an eventuality would only worsen, he warned, with the bishop predicting that in another ten years there would be only 12 priests for the 23 parishes in the diocese.
It is important that we are fully aware of this reality and its implications. We have never been here before.
According to this report, “Take the Risk for Christ” is the theme of a Year for Vocations initiative, unveiled at the national seminary in St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth, on March 7 by the Irish Bishops’ Council for Vocations.
Photo courtesy of St. Mel’s parish, Longford via Facebook
Last July Archbishop Francis Duffy, above, delivered a gloom and doom message to his congregation in St Mary’s Church, Westport, in the Archdiocese of Tuam.
Tuam, you may recall, was where hundreds of babies were buried in a mass, unmarked graves. The discovery led to an international scandal and an investigation by the Irish government. The inquiry concluded that about 9,000 children died in the 18 Catholic-run mother and baby homes—about 15 percent of all the children who lived in these ghastly institutions.
In addressing the congregation, Duffy said:
I suggest you look at your priest. He may be the last in a long line of resident pastors and may not be replaced.
Last December, in a pastoral letter, he alerted people in his diocese to the fact that members of the laity will be leading funerals and marriages in the future due to the shortage of priests.
Lowest number of seminarians since 1795
In 2021, Ireland’s last remaining seminary, St Patrick’s in Maynooth, Ireland, announced that only four men had enrolled as trainee priests—the lowest number since the seminary’s foundation in 1795. That number has since risen to nine.
Duffy’s stark warning was borne out by a survey published by the Association of Catholic Priests (ACP) last November that showed that a quarter of all priests currently serving in the Irish Church are set to retire over the next 15 years.
One of the factors that has contributed to the decline in vocations is the clerical sexual abuse scandals.
Speaking to the Irish Independent at the seminary Bishop Cullinan acknowledged that it was “a battle” to promote priesthood in the wake of the Church abuse scandals.
A number of Irish dioceses have recruited priests from Africa and Asia to serve in their parishes in a bid to counter the collapse in priest numbers.
In the Dioceses of Clogher, where Bishop Duffy serves, two priests from Nigeria are currently in parish ministry, out of a total of 48 priests serving in the diocese, several of whom are in their late 80s.
Polish priests are also playing a significant role in most dioceses. Father Stanislaw Hajkowski of the Society of Christ is coordinator of the Polish Chaplains in Ireland and rector of St. Audoen’s Church in the Archdiocese of Dublin.
Polish chaplains support Irish dioceses by providing pastoral care to Polish immigrants in the Polish language.
As many as 130,000 Poles are living in the Republic of Ireland and 20,000 in Northern Ireland.
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