The New Evangelization in Ireland has begun, and the Augustine Institute is honored to be participating in the work. We asked our distance-education students in Ireland to share a few words with our readers, and we were delighted to receive four beautiful testimonies to their faith, hope, and charity.
Near Dublin, Sean Flack serves as Team Director for the FOCUS mission at the Catholic University of Ireland. The mission is anchored in weekly Bible studies and wins by generosity and perseverance, as one of Sean’s stories relates:
The first student I ever met on campus in September 2017 was an agnostic. We would meet for coffee once a month and talk about the things that interested him, as he wasn’t keen on what interested me: Jesus Christ. The friendship formed slowly, and trust was eventually won. 8 months into the friendship he came to one talk hosted by the Newman Catholic society. The beginning of his 2nd year of college he accepted an invitation to come to a praise and worship night of Adoration. He did and encountered the risen Lord. A few months later he began to pray a Holy Hour every day. Last month, I just filled out a reference for him to join the seminary.
Sean reports the beginning of a plentiful harvest: in just five years of the FOCUS mission, two other men have entered seminary and eight have signed up to become missionaries themselves, while four non-Catholics have entered the Church through RCIA.
In lovely Ballybofey of County Donegal, Sheena Foy works alongside her husband, the Executive Director of the NET Ministries outreach in Ireland. NET, which is an acronym for National Evangelization Teams, sends groups of young men and women into parishes to witness to the love of God in Christ Jesus. The Irish branch of NET often has missionaries from outside Ireland, many of whom have chosen to stay after their year of service, including some of NET’s fifteen alumni vocations.
Sheena and her husband have seven children, and her primary vocation carries over into her care for the four-to-five dozen young people who serve as missionaries each year:
I am the earthly mother of the staff and the missionaries. They are away from home, often for the first time and naturally seek out the maternal figure. I often listen to their worries and challenges and am now much more confident to relate what they are experiencing to the events and characters of the old and New Testament.
Sheena also makes use of her Augustine Institute education as a teacher to the missionaries, the leader of a women’s book club, and as an occasional public speaker. She reports that only 1% of the Irish are currently practicing the Catholic faith, but she and her husband and the NET teams are undaunted.
In Limerick, Sister Caitríona Kavanagh is a Dominican Sister of Saint Cecilia, that is, a “Nashville Dominican.” As is well known, these intrepid sisters are evangelists and educators extraordinaire. She shares her zeal in this account:
The Island of Saints and Scholars has recently become mission territory for evangelization. The flame of faith, although dimmed, is certainly not extinguished. It is exciting to seethe emergence of a new generation of young people who desire to fan this flame alight, by living lives dedicated to the spread of the Gospel. One manifestation of this occurred during the COVID lockdown, when indoor gatherings were prohibited. A group of young people set up an all-Ireland Whatsapp® group, called ‘Young Adult Catholic Hikes’. Each weekend, people would gather in a different area of the island, to hike, pray, have fun and fellowship together. A highlight of these gatherings was outdoor Mass and even Adoration at a local ancient Mass rock, where our ancestors risked their lives to meet for Mass in secret. Pope John Paul II would say that every climb that involves difficulties and fatigue is rewarded by the possibility of touching and experiencing God. Experiencing the beauty and goodness of God’s creation, coupled with the reminder that our ancestors risked their lives for their faith, has propelled many of these young people to strive for holiness and share the Gospel with others. Our ancestors risked their lives for their faith. Please God we can keep this torch of this faith alight for the generations to come.
Our last report comes from the Archdiocese of Tuam where Fr. Shane Sullivan is the pastor of an Irish-language parish.
Along with four other men and women we have begun formally discerning the foundation of a new missionary religious community in Ireland: the Apostolic Society of the Most Holy Trinity. We hope to be priests and sisters who will be entrusted with the care of souls in Irish parishes and to approach them as missionaries, with a keen eye for those who are lost. The Irish mission is very challenging. The chattering classes aspire for a “new Ireland,” by which they mean yet another modern and secular European nation. The larger portion of the population, more rural, are less enamoured with Brussels or Berlin and still have an inclination to look West to the United States, but are themselves increasingly post-Christian without acknowledging that change. Vestiges of Ireland’s former Catholic Faith are found everywhere- from roadside statues to Catholic funerals to elements of school ethos- but they do not reflect many Irishmen or women’s convictions or devotion. Our mission is to invite Irish men and women who have left behind their Catholicism, either intentionally or tacitly, to again wonder at creation or themselves, to rediscover the author of all creation, and to confront the reality that He has made Himself known to humanity and offers it redemption and an unimaginable communion with Himself. This is no mean task. We will need extraordinary missionaries: men and women with tremendous faith, skill in expressing it and great love, commitment and patience. This work has already begun, and while small and humble, has borne significant fruits already.