At home with God

Breige O’Hare tells Mary O’Donnell about her search for spiritual direction

Belfast-based Breige O’Hare has been involved in spiritual direction and adult faith development for almost 20 years and, as the Catholic Church makes its way through this time of change and uncertainty for many, she has a strong sense of God being very much in it.

Relaxing in the remote setting of St Anthony’s Retreat Centre on the Derry-Donegal border as she prepares to lead a short retreat, Breige remarked that periods of uncertainty can feel like a wilderness, adding “but we forget that God does his best work in the wilderness”.

Involved in retreats at diocesan and parish level around the country, Breige noted: “The temptation in anxious times is to kick a ball into the long grass, call it ‘Church’ and send us scurrying off after it in an attempt to see what  this ‘Church’ will look like in some ‘perfect’ future.

“Thankfully, I see so many good priests and parishioners who recognise that Church is not out there in the future but is happening now, in ordinary parish homes, in everyday acts of love and kindness that make God’s love real,” she said.

Originally from Omagh, Co. Tyrone, Breige now lives in Belfast with her husband, Paul, and two daughters, aged 19 and 22 years. Reflecting on her own faith experience, the former Loreto pupil remembers developing a deep love for Jesus in primary and secondary school.

She recalled: “The ethos in Loreto primary and grammar school gave me such a good start. The nuns, the staff and the priests who came into school all helped us to grow in a personal relationship with God and to develop a sense of responsibility for others.”


After training as a scientist at Queen’s University, Breige went into environmental education and community development at Bryson House, Belfast. She then moved into primary school teaching and, around this time, experienced a major difficulty with her faith – a crisis triggered by the death of her 57-year-old father.

Over a year later, sometime after she had attended a Pioneer retreat led by Finbar Lynch SJ, Breige was increasingly aware that something was not right. Recalling turning up at Fr Lynch’s door in Belfast, “feeling stupid and looking for help”, she remembers telling him: “If I was sick, I could go to a doctor, but I know there is something wrong in my faith and I don’t know where to go.”

He helped her to realise that she wasn’t having a faith crisis. Rather, it was a natural part of a developing relationship with God. This conversation was Breige’s first taste of spiritual direction and it whetted her appetite for more.

The experience encouraged her to train as a prayer guide and then to join the Jesuits’ training team in Down and Connor. She trained as a spiritual director in Manresa House, the Jesuit retreat centre in Dublin.

The Jesuits subsequently funded her research into growth and relationship with God through prayer with Scripture, for which she was awarded a Masters in Pastoral Theology by All Hallows College, Dublin.

The published research has been used internationally in the training and practice of spiritual directors, and most recently in Sue Pickering’s book, Spiritual Direction: A Practical Introduction.

With a growing desire to help people deepen their relationship with God, Breige left teaching and became involved in the training and formation of adults for family ministry in the Down and Connor diocese.


She also produced parish catechetical resources for Down and Connor and for, and wrote Whole Parish Catechesis: Faith Development for the Faint-hearted (Columba Press 2005). She has since written The Nearness of God: Rediscovering God’s Love and Longing (Shanway Press 2011), drawing on images and ideas from ordinary life, and weaving them with scripture and teaching in ways that she knows have helped others to grow in their relationship with God.

Encouraging and supporting people who consider themselves ‘ordinary’ to deepen their relationship with God, has been Breige’s ambition since she began working in ministry. Through contacts developed as a result of her work with 174 Trust, a cross-community organisation in Belfast, she joined forces with Alan Lorimer, a Methodist minister and CBT therapist, to realise a long-held dream to establish a Christian centre for psychological and spiritual well-being. Located above a coffee shop and a barber’s in North Belfast, it quietly draws in people seeking ways to pray and grow with God.

Now based in, Breige works as a spiritual director, retreat and workshop facilitator, freelance speaker and writer.

Her website complements her personal contact with people by providing online resources to reassure those who are struggling and to support those who are seeking more in their relationship with God.