Chai Brady discovers more about the new director of the Missionary Society of St Columban
Navigating an increasingly secular Ireland continues to be a challenge for the new director of the Missionary Society of St Columban, who says in some ways he’s still adjusting after decades spent in the hyper-Catholic Philippines.
Despite a landscape that can be quite testing for someone in his position, Fr Raymond Husband SSC says he has always been driven by his Faith to follow and realise the Columban mission no matter what is asked of him.
The experienced missionary was appointed director of the society on November 23 last year, the feast of St Columban, succeeding Fr Pat Raleigh and Fr Padraig O’Donovan.
Looking towards the future of the Columbans in Ireland Fr Raymond says: “The reality that mission, that we’re all called, whether we’re priests, religious or lay, we’re all called to be proclaiming the word of God and mission. I suppose coming from a missionary background I would like to help that mission kept for the people of Ireland.”
Recognising the behemoth social issues in this country, he says the Columbans are “very conscious too of the marginalised and the homeless, that’s the reality of Ireland today”.
Born in Dublin and raised in Navan, Co. Meath, he was the youngest of three brothers brought up by his parents in a household characterised “by a very strong Faith”.
He worked in Navan Carpets for seven years and later got involved in the charismatic renewal during the mid-1970s. He was considered a late vocation when he began studying for the priesthood at the age of 21 in 1979. After spending two years with the Kiltegan missionaries in Scotland he came back to Ireland to do a spiritual year at Dalgan Park in Dublin. He ended his training in Maynooth.
Speaking about his decision to join the priesthood and become a Columban he says: “I believe that God was calling me and inviting me to a missionary way of life, I was attracted to the Columbans, I liked their charism and I liked their view of the world.”
“Again I would believe I had a good solid foundation as well as the academic work. We were very much involved in pastoral work and some of mine would have been outreach to Mountjoy prison, visitation to hospitals, there was always a follow up, a reflection on your pastoral outreach and trying to connect that with your call to be spiritual and to be holy.”
It was in 1985 that Fr Raymond spent two years overseas in the Philippines at a time of political and social turmoil.
It was also “very challenging” for him, he said, entering a country that was worlds apart from his country of origin.
“At that time the Philippines was a country that was plagued by poverty and social injustice, but it was a very dynamic time as well because the Church was very involved with people,” he explains.
“We had a very good team, there was three of us that went out to the Philippines, and the three of us were eventually ordained.”
Fr Raymond was ordained in 1989 and assigned to Armagh Cathedral parish as a deacon and subsequently Tullysaren Parish in the Archdiocese of Armagh as a priest, for six months apiece. Although he loved the experience, just a year later he was back in the Philippines on the island of Mindanao ministering in two parishes.
After spending almost 10 years on the island he moved to the capital, Manila, where he was involved in mission promotion and looking after elderly and sick priests.
Meanwhile Ireland had been going through a period of dramatic change, with the abuse scandals coming to the fore in the mid-1990s Fr Raymond was struck by Irish feeling towards the Church upon his return.
“I found it very difficult to be honest, I think the Ireland of today is very different to the Ireland I would have left,” he said.
“I suppose perhaps the indifference and the anger towards the Church is something that I really didn’t experience in the Philippines and adjusting back into that and adjusting back to the very secular outlook of the world in Ireland today; that I found difficult. I would still say part of me is adjusting back to that reality.”
It was 2005 when Fr Raymond came back. He did his masters in Christian spirituality in Milltown before once again returning to the Philippines five years later and was involved in formation work until 2017.
The formation programme for seminarians focused on training men who can be secure in themselves and their culture yet not be afraid to move out of it. During this time the programme moved from being predominantly Filipino-based to a more international model. Soon there were students from China, Myanmar, Korea and more.
Now that Fr Raymond is back in Ireland, he aims to work towards promoting mission and helping to alleviate some of the crippling social issues facing Ireland, including homelessness. For the Columbans already on the frontline, he said: “We have men around the country working in various dioceses, supporting the local Church in that way and I would like to continue in offering our support to the local Church in whatever is possible”.