Vocations Sunday 2021 marked the culmination of ten years hard work for Brother – now Father – Damian Casey OFM, as he was ordained to priesthood by Archbishop of Dublin Dr Dermot Farrell. It was a joyous day for Fr Damian, whose path to the priesthood was a long one, he says.
“It’s been a long journey, in some sense I thought by God, I’m never going to get there,” he tells The Irish Catholic. “But it happened, God is good. It’s pretty surreal at the minute, it’s taken on a life of its own. The day itself went off as well as can be expected under the circumstances. But in many ways, less is more – it was actually more meaningful. Just my immediate family, my parents and my brothers.”
I always remember feeling at home in the friary church in Waterford and that always stayed with me”
Fr Damian was a relatively late vocation, entering the seminary aged 34. Prior to that, he worked for ten years as a teacher in Mother of Fair Love special school in Kilkenny.
“I left my job in 2011, so I was actually studying for 10 years between the jigs and the reels,” he says. “It was a long journey looking back on it now. I was a teacher of kids with special needs. I worked in Waterford where my home place is, but then I worked in a special school in Kilkenny – Mother of Fair Love Special School – I was there for almost ten years and I finished out my time there as principal of the school. I was principal for the last three years. I loved that work, Kilkenny is like my second home. I met so many good friends there and they are very delighted, very proud that one of their own was just ordained.”
The origin of his call to the priesthood is hard to identify, Fr Damian says. It was always something in the back of his head, a niggling sensation which never went away. This was despite, as he says himself, his best efforts to ignore it, “putting it on the longest finger imaginable”. It was his attraction to the Franciscans that ultimately won him over.
“The whole idea of the Franciscan way of life, that really is the first call. I remember growing up in Waterford and we’d go the friary for Mass and confessions,” Fr Damian explains. “I always remember feeling at home in the friary church in Waterford and that always stayed with me.
The draw of the Franciscans was partly the result of the associations of his childhood”
“Initially, I entered the diocesan seminary for Waterford and Lismore. But when I entered the seminary, I knew something was missing and that was the Franciscan element for me. I completed my first year philosophy and then finished in Maynooth with the diocese and joined the Franciscan order. And immediately that felt right, it fitted.”
The draw of the Franciscans was partly the result of the associations of his childhood. But it was also down to the warmth and simplicity of the Franciscan way of life, Fr Damian continues: “There’s a lovely ordinariness about the friars, there’s something very approachable about them. I’m hospital chaplain to the Bon Secours in Barrington, Limerick, and one of the patients said to me a couple of weeks ago, there’s something so warm about your habit.
“And it’s very true. There’s something about the habit that makes us accessible to people. She called it a warmth. And I’ve experienced that both as a young guy looking at the friars and now from another perspective as a friar being with people, that it has an attraction that’s warm, friendly, approachable. It’s something that makes an unspoken connection with people.”
Fr Damian is hoping to take a well-deserved rest soon, but there are always jobs to be done. He recently completed his work as a deacon in Ennis Cathedral and continues to work as a chaplain to Bon Secours.
“I worked with Ennis parish and with Fr Tom Ryan who was basically my mentor for the year,” Fr Damian says. “Tom is like a brother to me, I learned so much from him and we got on very well. It was an amazing experience working with him.
“As a deacon, I fulfilled all of the roles, baptisms, marriages, funerals and preaching at the Masses at the weekend. I’m also chaplain to the Bons in Limerick. Hospital ministry is something that I really like. It’s a really beautiful position to be in, to be working with people when they’re at their most vulnerable, at their lowest. It’s extraordinary work, an extraordinary ministry but a very fruitful one.
“Then of course there’s living in a fraternity, there’s always something to be done, whether it’s cooking in the kitchen when one of the cooks is absent, or someone needs brought to an appointment. “
Dream the dream that God is dreaming for you”
When asked what advice he would give to someone discerning for the priesthood, Fr Damian drew on the words of Pope Francis, saying he would encourage them to “dream big”.
“Something I’ve been reflecting on at the moment is what Pope Francis says about St Joseph – having dedicated the year to St Joseph – is about dreaming big,” Fr Damian says. “God always has a plan for all of us. I think for anyone discerning a vocation and we have a guy here in Ennis in our postulancy, I would say dream big. Dream the dream that God is dreaming for you. I think that it’s a wonderful way of looking at vocation and it’s a fresh way of looking at vocation.”