Consecrated life endures in the Church today

Consecrated life endures in the Church today
In spite of the sometimes overwhelming challenges, it is important for religious to retain joy and confidence, writes Andrew O’Connell

I’m writing this week’s Notebook from St Mel’s Cathedral in Longford where a hundred or so religious from across the Diocese of Ardagh and Clonmacnois have gathered for a conference hosted by Bishop Francis Duffy to mark the close of the Year of Consecrated Life.

Bishop Colm O’Reilly is here as well and the papal nuncio Archbishop Charles Brown will join us later for Mass. Sr Mary Reynolds, our first speaker, is exploring the natural overlap with the Year of Mercy. I’ll be speaking about hope and I’ve jotted down some opening remarks.

Firstly, it is important to remind ourselves that there are new vocations to religious life. Yes, the number is small; tiny compared to the numbers of the past, but there are still a few. This small number reminds us of a great reality: the Lord still calls, and the Lord is calling in Ireland in 2016. It is untrue to say “there are no vocations”. There are vocations, and for the people who say ‘yes’, the decision is significant – regardless of how many others there are.

Secondly, we need to talk about this reality; we need to share these good news stories. This is not an act of self-deception. Rather, it is the full story. The full story must include those who, today, respond generously with the gift of their lives to the service of God and God’s people.

Talking about new vocations also loosens the strangle-hold of the self-fulfilling prophecy of doom and decline.

The 2008/2009 Year of Vocation was successful as an awareness-raising exercise. I have spoken to several people who subsequently joined religious orders and entered seminary, claiming the experience of seeing a vocation poster in their church, hearing a vocations homily or listening to a testimony were factors in their decision to begin serious discernment. It’s important that we continue to talk about vocations.

Thirdly, perpetual decline is not our destiny. Last year, the Catholic Church in England and Wales welcomed the largest number of women in 25 years to religious life. The Holy Spirit has a habit of surprising us.

Finally, in spite of the sometimes overwhelming challenges, disappointments and frustrations of these times, it is important for religious to retain joy and confidence.

We saw plenty of that from Sr Geraldine, Sr Alice and Sr Justine of the Daughters of Charity who were interviewed on RTÉ’s Primetime before Christmas. Miriam O’Callaghan challenged them: “But you’re an aging order?”

“So what?” came the reply, leading Miriam to conclude that these sisters “don’t intend to give up”. They won’t give up. It’s not stubbornness or defiance, but a liberating trust in God’s plan.

And this was the mood among the religious in Ardagh and Clonmacnois too. These women and men continue to sow, knowing that it is the Lord who will eventually reap the harvest.

Thanks to your Noble Shadow is a new documentary on the life and vocation of the late Sr Paschal O’Sullivan, an Infant Jesus Sister (Drishane Nuns), who served as a missionary in Japan for 75 years.

The film is produced by her cousin, James Creedon, who is Media Editor at the TV channel, France 24.

The trailer, available at, is at times a poignant tear-jerker but Sr Paschal’s sparking sense of humour provides a few laughs as well.

The title of the film, Thanks to your Noble Shadow, is the English translation of a Japanese expression of gratitude: an appropriate message at the end of the Year of Consecrated Life.

Tough taskmaster

Pope Francis has established a reputation for the use of colourful language and imagery. It’s notable that he has directed some of his most demanding messages towards religious and clergy.  He has repeatedly cautioned against gossip, hypocrisy, greed and “theatrical strictness”.

These public examinations of conscience have been at times uncomfortable, and some have interpreted them as a ‘dressing down’. Perhaps it’s more accurate to see them as ‘raising the bar’. Like a good coach, the Pope knows his team. He recognises the potential, he knows they can play better.