A vocation brings real joy and adventure

Being a visible young religious in public can feel a bit like being a panda in a zoo

Bro. Conor McDonough OP

“Are you real?” That’s a question I get asked quite a lot when I’m walking around Dublin in my (apparently unrealistic) Dominican habit. When I answer in the affirmative I’m usually met with: “I didn’t know there were still people who… did… that kind of thing.”

Being a visible young religious in public can feel a bit like being a panda in a zoo – you become a focus of attention, of curiosity, and, sometimes, of pity: “You poor panda/friar, your species is nearly extinct, you must be lonely.”

Life in our priory on Dublin’s Dorset Street is, in fact, far from lonely. It’s home to 11 student brothers and as many priests of varying ages, and when I bring friends to visit they nearly always remark on the joy that characterises our community, and that is typical of Dominican life.

Pope Francis likes to say that “Where there are religious, there is joy”, and I think this is true above all because the praise of God is at the centre of religious life. Several times a day we gather to sing out our praise and thanksgiving to God, with the beautiful words of the Psalms on our lips. With the goodness of God at the heart of our common life, how could we fail to be joyful?

And more than that, how could we fail to let this joy spill over into the grey, unsmiling streets of our city? This is why I love being a young religious, in spite of the bemusement it causes.

And if I ever feel embarrassed or isolated when I’m on the streets, I think of our Dominican sisters in Iraq.

They have had to flee from murderous forces there, and are now gathered in temporary accommodation in Erbil. Incredibly, in this awful situation, they recently received two young Iraqi women as new sisters.

These fearless women give a little courage to their brothers in St Dominic.

If the good God is with us, what have we to fear? And if the praise of God is in our hearts, what could dampen our joy?


How to go about becoming saints 

“There is only one tragedy in life: not to become a saint.” So said French writer, Leon Bloy, and this little bon mot made a big impression on my group of Catholic friends at university, especially when we heard it echoed again and again by Pope John Paul II in the final years of his papacy: “Do not be afraid to become the saints of the new millennium.”

Becoming saints, going for gold, setting out like adventurers – all of this chimed with our youthful enthusiasm. But how to go about it? What particular shape should our lives take? We set up a little group called ‘Consider Your Call’ to think through these questions. We read Church documents, conversed, and prayed together. Our focus was the universal call to holiness, but we thought through all the particular states of life too: marriage, priesthood, religious life, consecrated single life.

Ten years later I’m moved as I consider what has become of this little group: we now include three Dominican friars, a Capuchin, a consecrated lay-person, and several wonderful Catholic married couples. None of us are saints yet, but with the help of God and each other, we’re on the way!


First Dates

I meet lots of young Catholics who are ‘discerning’ a vocation to religious life. Discernment is sometimes a fairly vague notion. At the very least, it indicates an openness to God’s will and this openness is an important starting point in the journey to priesthood or religious life.

Still, openness on its own is not enough, and many people become ‘stuck’ in their discernment, waiting for a sign from Heaven to point them the right way. God does indeed guide our discernment, but that doesn’t mean we should be passive. In my own journey to the Dominican Order, taking the initiative to visit a priory for a short period was a huge help. Marriage doesn’t happen without courtship, and a religious vocation is no different. So if you’re discerning, why not reach out and visit a community that interests you?

First dates can be awkward, but they can also be the start of a life of happiness…


*Bro. Conor McDonough made his solemn profession as a Dominican friar last year.