Youth focus at heart of Jesuits decision to end parish admin

Youth focus at heart of Jesuits decision to end parish admin

The Jesuits’ decision for Gardiner Street Parish to become part of the neighbouring Pro-Cathedral Parish is part of a determined plan to focus the resources they have to better minister to the community, especially young people, according to the parish priest.

The Church of St Francis Xavier will no longer be a parish church from August 1 but will continue to be run by the Jesuits with parishioners most likely not noticing much of a difference. It is believed more religious orders will go down this path as resources stretch and there are fewer and fewer vocations.

Currently there are only five Jesuits under the age of 50 in Ireland and there is only about one new vocation every two years.

Speaking to The Irish Catholic Fr Niall Leahy SJ said there is already close collaboration between churches in the area, known as the Matt Talbot Partnership, which includes the parishes of the Pro-Cathedral, Sean McDermott Street, and Berkley Road.


These types of relationships are “the way things are going – more and more collaboration and partnership with surrounding parishes. That’s the only way we can continue with fewer resources,” Fr Leahy explained.

“So we’re reaching that stage as a province where you have to decide what do we really want to invest in going forward. We want to serve the most urgent needs of the community,” he said.

“The greatest need here at present, in the Irish Church in general I would say, is not getting children as far as Confirmation – that conveyor belt. I’m not saying it’s perfect, but it’s working. On the whole children are getting as far as confirmation but then you never see them again, or we rarely see them, or there’s very little mean meaningful engagement with their faith after that. There’s very little meaningful ministry to them as well. It’s not all their fault, but the Church in the whole… ministry seems to be oriented toward getting them as far as confirmation,” Fr Leahy said.

“We need to put energy and resources into pastoral care of teenagers and people as they move into adulthood and nourishing their faith, because it is not just teenagers who are walking away, it’s older people as well. So that’s a priority for us.”

We’ve developed a nice kind of young adult scene here on Sunday evenings”

As outlined in the Jesuits statement last month, the Church of St Francis Xavier will still provide public Masses, confessions, devotions, funerals, and the Blessed John Sullivan Masses. However, baptisms, confirmations, first communions, weddings, and the Easter Vigil will take place in St Mary’s Pro Cathedral as the parish church, freeing the Jesuits from these duties.

Fr Leahy said: “We’ve developed a nice kind of young adult scene here on Sunday evenings. We’ve got a young adult Mass and with good music, preaching relevant for a younger congregation, tea and coffee afterwards. It’s our second full year of doing it and we want to build on it but you need the energy and resources to do it.”

He added they are also developing their offering of Ignatian spirituality courses, adult faith formation programmes and have been investing more in the local primary school, which became a Jesuit school in the last five years and is part of the Jesuit Education Trust. It was previously a Sisters of Charity school.


The total population within the parish boundaries of Gardiner Street Parish has risen but that Catholic population continues to decrease and is now a “significant minority” at around 2,500 people, according to Fr Leahy. The area is very multi-ethnic and that is reflected in the congregation that arrives to the church.

“The fact that they come here means that they feel welcomed and that’s really important – Latin American, Indian, African. I think it’s something that happens quite naturally in Catholic parishes, in urban centres. One thing we have to be mindful of is having readers and people who are prominent in the church, that it’s not just the old Irish brigade that are the readers and ministers of the Eucharist. We could probably do a bit better on that, just having that diversity represented up there.”

“One thing I have noticed recently, is that we have migrants come here volunteering. It’s one thing I’ve noticed with migrants coming to Ireland, they will come up and say ‘Father, how can I help?’ And literally willing to clean the church, to do whatever. We’ve had migrants here helping, living in temporary accommodation, coming here and singing in our choir, helping in our garden, sweep up the place after a Mass, so there’s been a real generosity there and that is genuine. They bring energy, they bring generosity and a real fervent faith. There are people who have suffered, there is a depth there. I don’t know everyone’s situation but I know there are definitely people who come here who have applied for international protection and they have made the connection through JRS (Jesuit Refugee Service).

While the changes in Gardiner Street Parish are expected to be small, there are still changes needed, such as St Francis Xavier’s having representation on the Pro Cathedral’s new Parish Pastoral Council to be established in September 2024.

The church will continue to offer space to local community groups in an area that has suffered from the effects of homelessness, poverty, and drug addiction. There are three St Vincent de Paul groups as well as 12-step recovery groups: Narcotics Anonymous, Al-Anon, and Gamblers Anonymous.

They donate to St Vincent de Paul to help alleviate those suffering from poverty in the area”

The church has experienced several break-ins in the last few years which has led to increased security measures being adopted, with Fr Leahy saying “you just have to have a kind of mentality of security consciousness, you’re always a little bit on like orange alert”.

“Everybody in the area is suffering from all the anti-social behaviour that goes along with drug-use and all of that, why shouldn’t we? We’re part of this place and we’re going to suffer too, other people are getting broken in to as well.”

He added they donate to St Vincent de Paul to help alleviate those suffering from poverty in the area.


Asked whether he believes more religious will make a similar decision regarding moving away from managing parishes and focusing more on their charism, Fr Leahy said: “They will have to, it comes down to numbers. They don’t have the manpower. It’s going to happen, it’s inevitable.

“Unless there’s literally an overnight surge of vocations to religious congregations it’s going to happen. I think this is a rude awakening, we’ve known for so long that this was going to happen and yet when it happens it comes as a shock to everyone. It always happens suddenly, so I get it when people are shocked or saddened. But I think in our case at least we can still say we’re still here, we’re not closing our church. Some churches will just have to close and that’s really going to be a shock,” he said.