It takes a parish to produce a priest

Dear Editor, It was good to read Msgr Hugh Connolly’s insightful article (IC 16/07/2015) about the formation method in Maynooth in the light of David Quinn’s critique of some elements of that process.

I suspect that part of the difficulty arises from the fact that many Catholics are unfamiliar with the nature of priestly training. A fellow parishioner once observed to me that she couldn’t understand why trainee priests had to go to Maynooth for seven years merely to learn how to celebrate the Mass!

Inspired by Msgr Connolly’s article, I read a document by St John Paul II, Pastores Dabo Vobis (1992), on priestly formation. In the document, the Pope highlighted four key areas of priestly training: spiritual, pastoral, intellectual and human.

It seems to me that if a seminary can hold these different areas in balance, then the young men who emerge from our seminaries will be balanced priests and able to minister to the needs of contemporary Ireland.

It’s true that seminarians must have a solid grounding in authentically Catholic theology. However, orthodoxy cannot become a retreat away from the real and challenging questions that many Irish Catholics have about their faith.

The 2012 Eucharistic Congress showed that there is a thirst amongst Irish Catholics to deepen knowledge and understanding of the Faith. It is to priests – diminishing in numbers as they are – that Catholics spontaneously look for this faith leadership.

There is a famous African proverb that it “takes a village to raise a child”. We might alter it slightly and say it takes a faith community to produce a priest. Perhaps the Maynooth authorities can think of some creative way whereby the wider Catholic community could provide input into the sort of formation that is necessary in contemporary Ireland.

Parishioners don’t have all the answers. But they do bring a wealth of experience of parish life that could be vital in helping young men training for the priesthood to understand the situation they are emerging in to.

Yours etc.,

Thomas Byrne,


Dublin 6.