Mags Gargan meets Seán Coll, the new Director of the Kilmore Diocesan Pastoral Centre
As a student studying in St Patrick’s College in Cavan, Seán Coll was not allowed to use the ‘red stairs’ inside the main entrance of this beautiful William Hague designed building. Now, as the first-ever lay Director of the Kilmore Diocesan Pastoral Centre based in the former boarding school wing of the building, Seán uses the formerly prohibited stairs on a daily basis to access his office.
Traditionally the Director of Pastoral and Adult Faith Development would also be the director of the centre but a strategic decision was taken at diocesan level in 2013 to split the role in two – with Fr Enda Murphy as the new Director of Pastoral Services and Youth Ministry and with Seán as the new Director of the Diocesan Pastoral Centre.
Fr Enda took up his role last September, while Seán joined the team in October, and he says they are working very well together in terms of “developing programmes and shared vision”. “There is a nice image emerging of a priest and a lay person working together in collaboration,” he says.
Although born in Monaghan, Seán has lived most of his life in Bawnboy, Co. Cavan and has dedicated a large amount of this time to parish and diocesan work – from Eucharistic Minister and Reader to parish and diocesan pastoral councils and steering committees.
After finishing school in Cavan, Seán gradated with a degree in theology from St Patrick’s College in Maynooth, and over the years completed further studies around the world including social science and adult religious education.
He joined the pastoral centre after having worked for a number of years in the community and voluntary sector. “I spent 18 years in a variety of administrative and management roles within the Western Health and Social Care Trust, including 12 years working with victims and survivors of the Troubles in Enniskillen and Omagh, and co-ordinating services for that sector,” he says.
Seán has been able to transfer a lot of the skills from his previous employment to this new post, including he says “understanding where people are at”.
As the son of a Garda and a nurse, Seán grew up in a family with a strong sense of service to others. That continues to be central to his life and Seán says he feels “particularly blessed to have been entrusted with responsibility”.
The pastoral centre was established as a direct consequence of a call from representatives of all the parishes, clergy and religious of Kilmore at a Diocesan Congress in 2000. Seán says it aims to be a place of hospitality for all, a centre of Christian spirituality, education and growth, and a resource for individuals, groups and parishes in their human and faith development.
The centre was officially opened in 2005 and it offers space for retreats, faith formation, spiritual direction, liturgy workshops, priests’ conferences and Accord pre-marriage courses. It houses offices for Maryvale Catechism, Education Office, Safeguarding Children, and for meetings of the AA, Syro-Malabar, the Polish and Lituanian community, Cavan Positive Age and even the Cavan Bowls Club, with rooms housing the perfect floor-length for practising the game.
As director, Seán is responsible for managing the centre and developing its potential as a venue, promoting a programme of events, managing the finances and maintaining the structure of the building and its facilities. But also he says it is about ensuring it is a viable resource for the diocese and a “beating heart of pastoral development and evangelisation”.
“My role too is to support the mission of the Church in Kilmore. I see that as very important in supporting Enda in what he’s doing and supporting current initiatives that are ongoing since before I took the post,” he says.
“Recently we have been involved in drafting the diocesan response to the synod on the family – the responses from priests, people, organisations was collated between Fr Enda, myself and Fr Donal Kilduff the Diocesan Secretary.”
Seán says there is a challenge in staying relevant to meet the people that he serves, but he pays tribute to the team he works with who are guiding him in his new role, and says he gets a great sense of fulfilment from his work.
Training other lay people for different roles in parish and diocesan life is an important function of the centre and Seán says he sees both priests and lay people embracing change.
“Laity of their own volition are getting more involved in parish life and priests are able to shed a lot of the administrative responsibilities that they had to people who are willing to undertake these roles. It is very much an evolving scenario and I would say in the fullness of time, as the number of priests continues to decrease, responsibilities on lay people will increase,” he says.
For Seán one of the main functions of the pastoral centre is to be a place of welcome and to “empower people to bring the Christian message to others and to give people the confidence to be strong and compassionate witnesses to Christian hope and love, in a challenging and often dispiriting world”.