Fr Seán Hyland lost his two children in the 1970s. In 2008, he lost his wife. Now, he has found renewal through the priesthood and is using his own experiences to help others on their paths through grief.
“Having lost two kids earlier in life, Liz got me through it,” said Fr Seán. “She was my rock, my energy, my optimism.” Her unshakable faith became the example that he strove to live by.
“I was ready to join Liz on her faith journey through life, and she was the example,” he said. “She carried me.”
As Fr Seán and his wife continued their lives, he began to pour his energy into his career. “I channeled my energy, my anger into pretty aggressive career goals,” he said. “And I did quite well.” Fr Seán became the Director of Manufacturing with Hewlett-Packard and went on to have a successful career.
Seeking to more closely join his wife in her faith and life continued to be Fr Seán’s guide in his spirituality. “With Liz as my example, my spiritual life, especially the acceptance of God’s will as an essential part of my journey through life, progressively developed,” he said.
“I began to realise how frequently and easily we can blot out God’s voice in our lives. Grasping and accepting this was an essential part of my joining Liz on her faith-filled journey.”
After they both retired, Fr Seán continued “doing all that [they] wanted to do, seeing God, travelling”, then Liz fell ill. It had been nearly 30 years since the loss of their children.
“When Liz got cancer, at this stage I believed my children were with Jesus, and I was trying to do what I could to make sure I got there. When Liz got sick I simply cried, Jesus, give me the strength to take care of Liz the way she’s taken care of me. She was my rock.”
“When Liz died, my one prayer was, Jesus, let me know that Liz and my children are well with you. And I was given explicit messages from Heaven. Given those, it became so explicit, it was like night and day for me.”
In response to these messages, Fr Seán found himself guided to the priesthood. “I said, Jesus, whatever you want me to do, I’ll try to do it. And the message came back just as clear to be a priest.”
“I didn’t join because I thought I would like being a priest,” he said. “Many men join after hearing the call or hearing the bells, but I didn’t join because of any of that. If it had been digging ditches, I would have done that. As I learned more about it, it turned out the vocation of the priest suits me tremendously. But I certainly didn’t know that going into it.”
In 2014, Fr Seán was ordained after going through a four-year study programme in Rome specifically created for mature men. “They give you credit for life experience,” he said.
Fr Seán has found his work with his ministry to be rewarding. “It’s amazing,” he said. “It’s a privilege. There isn’t anything I do that’s big, small, or little. It’s just a privilege.”
His search for answers after his wife’s death also led him to share his own experiences in his book, Whisperings of my Soul.
“I tried to reason my way through the apparent chaos that surrounded me, by trying to discover if there was order, reason or intelligence behind the origin and operation of the universe,” he said. He began reading and studying science, philosophy, religions, physics, and cosmology, leaving no stone unturned.
“The combination of the results of my searching and Liz’s daily example of a faith-filled life eventually brought me to the unquestionable reality of the existence of a creative intelligence behind the origin and operation of the universe. And without the slightest doubt that this is the Divine Intelligence revealed in the Bible.”
Fr Seán self-published Whisperings of my Soul late in 2018, and often includes his own experiences in his homilies, which he has found to genuinely help those looking for signs of their loved ones.
“During my fourth year down in Carlow, I was giving a Divine Mercy Mass and gave one or two little messages from my background as a homily,” Fr Seán said. “And an older woman came in on Monday morning threw her arms around me and burst out crying. She’d been widowed for over a year and had felt her husband come and sit at the foot of the bed a couple of months before, but her children had told her not to talk like that.”
“For a priest to say that it was okay to believe…that was all she needed.”
Since publishing his book, Fr Seán has had many people, often recently bereaved, come to see him from across the country. “They know I don’t have a solution, but I can at least let them know how real the promises we have in the Bible are,” he said.
“My prayer of desperation was answered by the most awesome and beautiful consolations of faith that any soul on this earth could ask for,” he said.
Fr Seán has felt immense gratitude for his experience and his ministry and hopes his own experiences will help others on their paths to healing.
“I want people to know how close they are and how they will comfort anyone who asks for help.”