Nine new seminarians have begun their priestly formation for Irish dioceses. They will undertake a propaedeutic programme at a seminary either in Ireland or in Spain. A total of 64 men are studying for the priesthood at the national seminary in Maynooth.
The figures were released as it emerged that the number of active diocesan priests in the Archdiocese of Tuam alone halved over the past twenty-five years, dropping from 115 in 1996 to 47 today, Archbishop Michael Neary has revealed.
The picture is mirrored by a drop in the number of seminarians training for the West of Ireland diocese, which was 14 in 1996, and is two today.
Speaking at an in-service gathering of Tuam’s priests, Archbishop Neary, who submitted his resignation to Pope Francis on turning 75, highlighted Tuam’s “indebtedness” to many retired priests for their availability to assist with ministry.
He said the pandemic had allowed priests to take stock and reassess the way in which they live their priestly vocation. “We discovered a new approach to sacraments,” he said and noted how the Sacrament of Confirmation had been held without Mass and without the archbishop. There had also been smaller, more dignified celebrations Communions and marriage ceremonies, he said.
Last week, the youngest priest in the Archdiocese of Tuam announced that he was leaving to join a Latin Mass fraternity. Fr Gerard Quirke, 31, who was ordained in 2018, and came to prominence during lockdown over his celebration of the liturgy at a Mass rock on Achill Island, announced his decision to leave the diocese after just three years and become a postulant with the traditionalist Priestly Fraternity of St Peter.
In a talk to 19 priest-directors for vocations from around Ireland last week, Fr Stephen Langridge of Southwark diocese said the Covid pandemic had “accelerated the changes which were already occurring under the surface”.
In his presentation, Fr Langridge said the starting point for promoting vocations must be the rediscovery of the primacy of evangelisation.
“At the same time, we must be alert to the challenges of which we are all aware: of seeking quick-fix solutions, of clericalism, of activism and of being – as Pope Francis often points out – self-referential and of maintaining Church structures just for those who already attend the sacraments.”
He said anyone hoping to encourage a candidate for priesthood must work on three essentials: the building of a real relationship with Christ, a real growth in virtue and to be mission-minded and with a heart which seeks to reach out to others.