Cathal Barry profiles one of the largest parishes in the country
Restoring parish pride
The Parish of Sandyford, Kiternan and Glencullen on the outskirts of Dublin city is a parish renewed. That much is clear from speaking to Parish Moderator and recently appointed Episcopal Vicar for Financial Development in the Dublin diocese, Fr Andrew O’Sullivan.
But, that was not always the case.
Only a few short years ago, when Fr Andrew was appointed to the Sandyford, he would have described the parish as “dishevelled”.
“When I was appointed at first and realised the vast amount of work that would have to be done I had to step back and take stock. Essentially I had inherited a parish which was extremely run down. It was tired and lacked energy,” he told me.
At that time, the churches of the parish were unfit for worship, finances were almost nonexistent and there was a complete lack of vision for the future place of the Church in the community. Worst of all, according to Fr Andrew, was the low morale of parishioners who seemed to have lost their way.
However, all that changed when a new team was appointed to the parish in September 2011 which launched the Restore Our Pride Fund, established with a vision of restoring the three churches in the parish as well as reviving Christian community and worship there.
“My job as I saw it, along with the new parish team, was to set a new standard and to allow people to take pride in their churches and community,” Fr Andrew said.
And so, beginning with the church pews, the parish team set about a “programme of deliberate rejuvenation” in all three churches. “Ultimately, we engaged in a campaign to raise funds to restore our churches, which we hoped in turn would build up the fabric of our parish. Churches don’t define us but they are there to help us worship and pray and help us feel secure in our faith,” Fr Andrew said.
Since then St Mary’s, Sandyford and St Patrick’s, Glencullen, in particular, have undergone a complete overhaul. In addition to the newly cushioned luxury pews, Sandyford now boasts a new state of the art parish office, eager and enthusiastic staff, experienced youth and pastoral workers, and an up-to-date and active website, not to mention the many infrastructural improvements to the formerly run-down and neglected churches.
“Things are cared for now,” Fr Andrew said.
One million euro has been pumped into the parish over the past two years in an attempt to renew the life of the Church in Sandyford. That level of fundraising isn’t easy, and the parish had to engage in intensive campaigning into order to draw in the cash.
“We came up with a number of fundraising initiatives, which were fortunately very successful,” Fr Andrew told me. “There has been a great response and people have been generous. We now have a programme of ongoing fundraising. It’s not flash in the pan, but rather fundraising in a steady fashion. It’s a gentle campaign with a view to being financially prudent in terms of having a fund that will be able to carry the staff costs as well as the general maintenance of three churches,” he said. We would also like to be in a position to help other parishes,” he added.
Thanks to the hard work of Fr Andrew and the parish team, Church life is now thriving in Sandyford.The regular weekly Mass participation rate has doubled from 1,000 in 2011 to 2,000 people at present. More significantly, the age profile of the congregations has become dramatically younger across the board with all three churches regularly packed to the rafters with young Mass-goers each Sunday.
The parish team have also worked extremely hard to open the parish up to new and different people. The hope is that this will enhance the current ministries already underway in the parish and pave the way for new ministries in the future.
The parish team’s vision is to create an “evolving door” of new, young and vibrant people interested in becoming involved in parish life.
“We are a truly active, diverse and multi-cultural parish now,” Fr Andrew told me. “We are constantly encouraging people to become involved. The parish has advanced hugely, but we still have a way to go. Like every parish we can still do more,” he added.
It’s not all take, take, take either. While Sandyford actively encourages people to become involved, they are very aware of their need to return the favour and plan to host a regular parish party to show their appreciation. “It’s all about building up commitment and acknowledging peoples efforts,” Fr Andrew said.
Looking to the future, Fr Andrew views Sandyford parish as a “pilot case” for the diocese.
“Ours is a parish that was tired and is now rejuvenated. The secret is to sustain that now into a living, vibrant Christian community here in Dublin city.
“We need to think anew, we are not doing enough of that. We have got to try to find new ways of doing things, of getting people involved. We have got to find a new way of being Church,” he said.
Efforts for Our Lady
Sandyford Parish came alive last August for the re-dedication of a landmark statue of Our Lady that had been missing for over a decade.
Parishioners were left devastated when Our Lady’s statue was removed from the village 12 years ago during major road works on the M50 motorway that forced the statue to be taken down.
The popular monument had been erected in 1941 and became a well known landmark and a point of reference for finding the village.
A delegation approached Fr Andrew O’Sullivan when he was appointed to the parish in 2011 seeking support for their campaign to locate, restore and re-erect the statue.
The sterling efforts of the group, led by parishioner Denis Mulvey, culminated in the re-erection of the restored statue in summer 2013.
A massive crowd of parishioners, led by Fr Andrew, then marked the feast day of the parish on August 15 by blessing the statue following a special Mass at St Mary’s.
Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Charles Brown with young people from Sandyford Parish
There is an expression that the Church is always one generation away from extinction. Recognising that the youth of today are the leaders of tomorrow, Sandyford Parish enlisted the help of Youth Development Officer Patrick Reynolds to implement a strategic plan aimed at ensuring the future of the Church there.
Patrick told The Irish Catholic that there is clearly an “ongoing nationwide problem” of young people becoming increasingly disengaged with the Church in Ireland.
In an effort to combat this, Sandyford has focussed specifically on engaging Confirmation aged children in parish activities with a view to maintaining their involvement throughout their teenage years and into early adulthood.
“This is vitally important because Sandyford does not have any parish run secondary school,” Patrick said. “Far too often churches do not see children after making their confirmation until the time comes for them to get married or baptise children of their own. We hope that by engaging children while making their Confirmation they will remain engaged with the Church into their adult years,” he said.
Therefore, the parish has begun hosting weekly retreats for primary school children in the run up to their Confirmation which, according to Patrick, have been “hugely successful”.
“It’s crucial that confirmation activities take place in the parish and not just in schools,” Patrick said. “We have three churches so the children can be spread out a lot. These retreats offer them an opportunity to come together. It’s not just all fun and games but also about faith too,” he added.
The retreats attract about 20 children every week and that number is constantly increasing. “It really has exceeded all expectations. There has been a great uptake and they have been hugely successful so far,” Patrick said.
Other popular parish run youth activities include a regular father and son hike and a special retreat for young girls and the leading female role model in their lives.
Patrick said the father and son hike is pitched as a “spiritual journey” intended to “foster a sense of belonging” in young boys, who he maintains respond very well to role models such as their father, godfather or grandfathers.
The special retreat for girls aged 10-13 and a prominent female role model in their lives focuses on the changes of life, not only physically, but emotionally and spiritually as well.
The parish also plays host to three youth choirs which come together once a month for a special collective performance during the youth Mass. Afterwards they enjoy ‘Prayer and Pizza’ which Patrick maintains offers them the opportunity “to meet in a faith environment and enjoy themselves”.
Next year the parish intends to continue prioritising children making their Confirmation while extending their ministry to include children preparing for first Confession and first Holy Communion.
Patrick is looking forward to the challenge in the years ahead.
“It has been great a great experience working in Sandyford so far. There have been a lot of changes in the parish which have brought the three churches closer. There is much more cohesion now. There is a single identity and a great sense of belonging, especially among the youth,” he said.
Parishes all around the country are engaging in efforts to increase the level of pastoral care they offer parishioners in an attempt to create a more nurturing and supportive setting in which to foster the Faith.
Aware of the need to create such an environment, Sandyford Parish has engaged in a significant programme of ongoing development with regard to the pastoral needs of its parishioners.
In previous years there had been a number of parish listening initiatives with parishioners which culminated in the publication of a parish pastoral plan which is currently being implemented.
The parish’s priority is to “create an open door and offer people the opportunity to step up to the plate,” according to Pastoral Care Worker Grainne Prior, who is responsible for sacramental and liturgical programmes in the community. “Ultimately the goal is to enhance participation, co-responsibly and mission,” she told The Irish Catholic.
Sandyford Parish not only offers all the usual Masses and programmes you would expect to find but goes above and beyond its remit, hosting special Masses, inviting back recently married couples and parents of newly baptised babies in an effort to build on their original parish experience and avoid once off ‘rite of passage’ style events.
The parish prioritises ministry building and constantly encourages people to become involved. They host open days and invite people to participate in the life of the Church in the community, ensuring to follow up and assign interested parishioners suitable duties, even providing training if necessary.
The parish already has a wide range of active ministries in place such as the Saint Vincent de Paul society, Ministers of the Word and the Eucharist, altar servers, a Baptism team, a hospitality group, not to mention church cleaners, collectors and choirs.
However, the parish team is constantly eager to expand and build. To this end a bereavement team is currently being put in place, while a new project dubbed ‘Visiting the Wise’ is soon to be launched in response to a need for companionship for some elderly parishioners.
None of this could be done if it wasn’t for the effort of the parish’s hardworking staff and generous parish volunteers, according to Grainne.
“The parish can only operate through the good will and efforts of the people who are willing to get involved. It’s a combined effort with everybody sharing their God given gifts and talents. You can have all the plans you like but unless you have the people willing to implement them and respond to the call to mission they will always fail,” she said.
One thing is for sure, however; failure is not in the vocabulary of Sandyford’s parishioners.
In Grainne’s own words: “Sandyford Parish is a privileged place where people can encounter the Church at its best.”
The places to pray:
St Mary’s, Sandyford
The Parish of Sandyford, one of the largest parishes in the country, was constituted by Archbishop Daniel Murray of Dublin in 1829, not long after Catholic Emancipation.
A new team was appointed to the parish in September 2011 which launched the Restore Our Pride Fund, established with a vision of restoring the three churches in the parish as well as reviving Christian community and worship there.
St Mary’s has since undergone intensive renovations with various works already been completed to correct issues with sewage and drainage and treatment of rotted doors and windows.
The interior of the sacristy has been recently renewed with much needed adaptations and upgrading to make it a more functional. The sanctuary of St Mary’s has been refurbished, while the rest of the interior has been renewed with fresh paint work. A new state of the art Parish Office is also now in operation after work was completed on this much needed resource for this busy Dublin parish.
Our Lady of the Wayside, Kilternan
The ‘Blue Church’ as it is locally known, Our Lady of the Wayside Kilternan, is situated in the foothills of the Dublin Mountains. Based on an Italian design that is commonly found in the United States, this unique church was built from timber in 1929 It was constructed to mark the centenary of the parish and to accommodate the increased local population after the First World War.
It has a seating capacity for just 150 people and is one of the most popular choices as a Dublin wedding venue with more than 2,000 being recorded so far.
Our Lady of the Wayside has been a fixture on the Main Street passing through Kilternan for almost a century. However, the South Dublin iconic landmark now requires urgent restoration due deterioration placing the integrity of the structure of the building at risk.
The parish ‘Restore Our Pride’ fund is currently working to ensure this landmark Church will receive the needed repairs to ensure worship continues for generations to come.
St Patrick’s, Glencullen
The original church in Glencullen was built in 1824 and bears a tablet with the inscription: ‘St Patrick’s Chapel erected A.D. 1824 to the Honour and Glory of God.’
The Parish lands surrounding the current church are steeped in history. The nearby old Mass House in Newtown served as a Mass Shelter during penal times when the faithful were forced to celebrate the Eucharist in barns, behind hedges or amongst rocks in an attempt to remain out of sight of roving bands of soldiers.
‘The Liberator’ Daniel O’Connell had close links with Glencullen and was present at a meeting in Glencullen House on February 8, 1823, when the idea of forming the Catholic Association, an organisation to secure Catholic Emancipation, was first discussed.