‘Men’s Sheds for the soul?’

‘Men’s Sheds for the soul?’ Steven McDonald with wife and son
The Notebook
Fr Vincent Sherlock


For 21 years I have had the chance to spend a few weeks each year in a parish in the diocese of Rockville Centre, New York – two years in one and the past 19 in another. It seems strange perhaps to combine holidays with working in a parish but, truth told, I’m not run off my feet, I enjoy the change of scene and get a chance to catch up with people I want to meet. I had a few interesting moments this year and would like to share two.

I met a lady after Mass the first weekend I was there. She welcomed me and then asked, in all sincerity: “Are you anything to the Fr Sherlock who used to visit the parish?” I told her that I was a very “close relation” and that it was me she was referring to. She stood back, as if she’d seen a ghost and asked; “What happened?”

I knew what she meant – in fairness I’d had a very close ‘zero’ haircut in Ballaghaderreen the previous Friday and have “packed on a few pounds” over the years.

It was, nonetheless, a sobering question and it stayed with me long after we parted company.

“What happened?” I think the answer lies somewhere in life. Time brings changes and some of the changes are less welcome or invited than others and some, though not all, are irreversible. Already my hair has grown again; as for the gained pounds – now that’s another story!

The second experience was more uplifting. I was asked to speak at a prayer meeting for men in the parish and didn’t fully know what to expect, how many would be there or what would be expected of me. It was incredible. I’d say there were close on 70 men in the room.


They gather once a month, pray the rosary, reflect a little on their Faith and support one another. They invite someone to come to speak with them or share a thought and that was my role.

The prayer group was the idea of a New York Policeman called Steven McDonald who, as a young policeman, was shot and paralysed. Early in his recovery, he realised that central to that recovery was the need to forgive the young man who shot him. This he did, and he corresponded with him through his time in prison to a point where he asked him that, when released, the two of them would work together to promote peace and reconciliation.

On release from prison the young man was killed in a motor cycle accident but Steven continued, though paralysed from the neck down, to promote peace and reconciliation. Along with Fr Mychael Judge, the New York Fire Department Chaplain and listed as the first victim of the attack on the World Trade Centre in September 2001, Steven visited Ireland to further peace talks here. He started a prayer meeting for men in his own home and continued it through the years, though the numbers grew to a point where it could no longer be held in his home. Today there are more than 130 men involved and, though Steven died in January 2017, the group continues to meet in his name and give glory to God and Our Lady. Impressive.


As I stood with them, watched and listened, prayed and shared, I could not help but wonder has a group like this a part to play in the re-building of our Church in Ireland. I mentioned it in our parish bulletin the weekend after I came home and will see if there’s any interest but, given the chance to put a few words on this page, maybe it’s an idea to put beyond the borders of my own little patch.

There has been such a growth in the ‘Men’s Shed’ movement in recent years, I wonder is there a place for a ‘Men’s Shed for The Soul’ where the tools of prayer and Faith may be used to tend to the inner Spirit, nourish the Soul and rebuild the parish. Clearly Steven McDonald thought so.

What do you think?


I was in Knock on the Sunday when the Pope came, stood among us and prayed with us. It was a wonderful occasion and it was a powerful witness to Faith to see so many people there on what was, in all honesty, a miserable and wet day. Faith was alive and enriched. When I was leaving Knock, someone asked me: “Did you get to shake hands with the Pope?” “No,” I replied, “but I don’t think he’ll realise that until later!”

Whatever about shaking his hand, he touched our hearts and reached out in a way that was personal and from the heart. The words of the men on Mount Tabor are apt: “It is wonderful for us to be here…”


Minding what’s local

Recently I attended a book launch. Fr John Doherty (one of our most senior priests and still very much involved in parish ministry) had written a book about his native Charlestown. I went, as a friend, to support him.  When I arrived in Charlestown, I realised he was not short of friends!  Cars lined both sides of the street and the place was packed. There was something very reassuring about it – about how much John and his ministry mean to people. I stood in a packed hallway, unable to get into the room where the launch was taking place. I left, without seeing John, but happy that he knew the support of people.

I met his nephew a few days later and told him “I got nearer to the Pope than I did to John”. There’s something very special about the local…that we may never ever lose it.