When Antoinette Moynihan speaks to First Communion school children about Jesus in the Eucharist, she opens the door of the monstrance and peers through it at them. “They can see me. I tell them ‘Jesus is looking through the monstrance and He can see you’.”
After explaining Eucharistic adoration, she brings them to the church and leads them in adoration for half an hour. A host is placed in the monstrance, and they sing ‘O Sacrament Most Holy’. She leads them in prayer and then they join in. “They pray for everything: their mammies, grannies, cats, dogs. They connect with God in a way adults can’t.”
They sing the Our Father using hand movements and Antoinette reads a reflection. Then the children ‘hunker down’ and pray to Jesus in silence for five minutes. “Did he speak to you?” she asks them after. The hands go up and the children tell her what they felt. “Jesus told me he loves me,” says one. “Jesus told me to try my hardest not to worry about something,” says another. “Jesus said I’ll never be alone. He’ll always be beside me, holding my hand even if I can’t see him,” says a third.
Since she began Children of the Eucharist, just over four years ago, more than 25,000 children have been involved in their programme.
It is a long way from the Meath woman’s initial dream of being a nurse. After her Leaving Cert she did a secretarial course in preparation for a nursing course in the UK but the offer of a full time job changed her plans. In 1991 she met Peadar Moynihan from Cork. Fourteen months later they were married.
Antoinette grew up in a family of faith in Kentstown, Co. Meath – a faith that had been tried before she was even born when her mother, Evelyn, almost died. As she lay in a coma, Antoinette’s father, Tom, frantically prayed to St Peregrine. Evelyn could have died or suffered brain damaged, but instead survived and thrived. Antoinette was the second of four children.
After marriage, she continued working but following the birth of her second child she became a stay-at-home mum. “I had faith in God, Our Lady and the Church but they were distant realities. Mass was a Sunday ritual,” she says.
It was a visit to Medjugorje in 2009 that lit a new flame. Antoinette came to an understanding that Jesus wanted her to do something connected to the Eucharist. On her return she and Peadar began a monthly Divine Mercy prayer group and two years later, they got involved in the ‘youth end’ of Eucharistic Adoration at the Meath Eucharistic congress. That weekend 600 young people participated in the prayer and adoration youth space and Antoinette got an inkling of the powerful draw of Adoration for young people.
At the International Eucharistic Congress the following year, she and Peadar worked again with youth adoration. “Talking to the children coming out of the tent, I could see they were getting a lot out of it. I felt a sadness when I saw the tent going down.”
Impelled by the IEC experience and supported by the Apostolate for Perpetual Eucharistic Adoration, Antoinette began the Children of the Eucharist programme, visiting schools around the country, where she would speak for an hour to First Communion classes about the real presence, Confession and Communion. She started with the local schools at Kentstown and Yellow Furze in Meath. From there the ministry grew organically across Ireland.
“Now we have visited schools in Drogheda, Newry, Belfast, Lurgan, Derry, Tyrone, Dublin, Wexford, Cork, Tipperary, Galway, Sligo, Donegal, Westmeath, Mayo, Leitrim and Kilkenny. We start in one parish and then if another parish wants it we will visit as time allows.”
In November 2016 Children of the Eucharist began in five schools in Scotland, and this February it pilots in Durham, Newcastle and Chesterfield in England. She has also had interest” from the US.
Antoinette began on her own, with the practical and spiritual support of her family. Today two others work full time for the ministry, Helen Hand and Aoife Martin, another 100 plus ‘core’ leaders work in local areas and 200 more people help “directly and indirectly” as facilitators.
“It’s a voluntary ministry,” says Antoinette, “although recently we have had to fundraise to pay a small wage to one of our national leaders.” We are very blessed with the people on board, she adds.
Meanwhile the programme’s outreach grows and new programmes, like one for Confirmation students, are evolving. After a session with a Confirmation class last week two sixth class boys spoke to her: “It was the best day ever,” said one. “Now I know I have someone to talk to who cares,” said the other. “When we were standing outside the church after our adoration time with them, he was heading back to school as it was time to go home. Then he turned and came back. “I’m just going in again for a few minutes,” he told us.
She is amazed at the growth in the ministry. “I could never have anticipated it,” she says. “It’s the power of Jesus working through it, that’s why people are coming. God is working through the little ones because they are open to his word and love.”