A Leap of Faith

Fr Brian Griffin from Slieverue, who was ordained in 2015, pictured with Bishop Seamus Freeman.

Fr Brian Griffin from Slieverue, who was ordained in 2015, pictured with Bishop Seamus Freeman.

SLIEVERUE in South Kilkenny is preparing for a very special occasion this weekend.
Rev Liam O’Donovan S.A.C from Nicholastown will be ordained to the priesthood for the Pallottine Fathers at the Church of the Assumption, Slieverue, on Saturday, June 17th at 3.30pm.
Although in the Diocese of Ossory, Bishop of Waterford & Lismore Most Rev Alphonsus Cullinan will officiate at the ordination.
Rev Liam’s first Mass of Thanksgiving at the same church will take place on Sunday, June 18th at 11am, the ‘Feast of Corpus Christi’.
Son of Gay and Eileen, he is from a farming background and has three older brothers (Pat, John, Eamon) and an older sister (Maria).
His uncle Fr Pat Dwyer is already with the Pallottine Fathers.
Slieverue is certainly churning out the vocations, as this weekend’s ordination follows on from Fr Brian Griffin’s ordination in 2015.
He was ordained at St Mary’s Cathedral in June 2015 and also celebrated a special Mass in the Church of the Assumption in Slieverue.
The excitement is already building ahead of this weekend’s celebration, and having two men ordained into the priesthood within such a short timeframe is a big source of pride for the local community.
Fr Mark Condon from the area was also ordained some years ago.
Rev Liam attended Slieverue National School and the Slieverue Vocational School.
From there, he went on to study Chartered Accountancy in WIT and worked with MK Brazil for a year.
He then worked in different factories for a few years, including Bausch & Lomb.
While at Bausch & Lomb, he went back to WIT and studied Electronic Engineering.
It was while coming to the end of his degree in Electronic Engineering that he began to think about his vocation although he says he was “lukewarm” with his faith at the time.
“I suppose I wasn’t totally satisfied with the way my life was going,” he explained.
“I loved electronics, but there was still something in me that was saying I wasn’t going to spend the rest of my life doing it. Something in me was saying ‘it’s not what I’m made for, it’s not my purpose’.”
As many students do, and as many are probably doing this week during the State Examinations, he prayed for assistance with his exams.
“I was under a bit of pressure and, as students do, I prayed for my exams,” he explained.
“I prayed to Our Lady and I said I’d give ‘your thing’ a chance if you help me out. What I meant by that, without even realising it, was a vocation. It kind of came out of me – I was surprised.”
Looking back, he believes the vocation was always within him but was “probably buried”.
“From then on, I gradually started to pray more and discovered, yes there’s something in this,” he explained.
He was aged 28 at the time and says he kept his vocation a “secret” initially.
“I just prayed,” he explained.
“I went to a Franciscan priest, Fr Eamonn O’Driscoll, and started chatting with him about it. And funnily enough I was sitting in church one day and my aunt came up behind me and asked me if I’d do a retreat. She saw me praying and thought maybe I’d do it.”
The retreat he did was to Esker in County Galway with the Foyers of Charity community who are based in Dunmore East.
The Foyers of Charity describes themselves as “Catholic communities of men and women who, following the example of the first Christians, place their material, intellectual and spiritual goods in common”.
They welcome those “who find a need for peace and truth, and who seek these in the living God and his love”.
He lived in the community for two years in Dunmore East “basically living community life, helping out with retreats, looking after the grounds etc.”
He said his family members were surprised when he initially informed them of his decision.
“They had noticed I was praying a bit more, but it did come as a surprise to them,” he said.
It was while living with the community that the idea of priesthood emerged.
He admits he has always been “quite reserved and shy” so the idea of standing up and talking in front of people was daunting.
“Eventually I said I’d have to give it a try,” he said.
He spoke with his uncle Fr Dwyer and then spoke with the vocations director of the Pallottine Fathers Fr Emmet in order to discuss the prospect further.
He says he can’t remember exactly how the conversation with Fr Emmet panned out, but ended up saying he would give it a try.
In his first year with the Pallottine Fathers he learned about the Order and their charism and spirituality.
He spent six weeks in Rome where the Order was founded.
Back in Ireland, he studied philosophy, did two years in NUI Maynooth, and moved over to St Patrick’s for the seminary side.
He recently completed his four years of theology.
Following his ordination, he will be based in Greenford, West London in a parish which is run by the Pallottines and which is one of the biggest parishes in the Westminster diocese.
He already spent six weeks in Greenford during one summer.
There will be four priests with him in Greenford, all members of the Pallottine Fathers.
“We always try to have at least two in a parish together so you have a community,” he explained.
He says he would like to have stayed in Ireland and the local South Kilkenny area, but believes it is important to do his duty and go where he is being asked to serve.
“A few people have said it’s a pity that I’m going to England and that ‘we need you here in Ireland’,” he said.
“In a way I’d love to be here. I’m a real home bird but in another sense, I’m really open to where I’m sent.”
Despite much negativity, the Church is still a focal point in many communities throughout the country.
In some communities, the church is one of the few remaining social outlets for many people.
He would like to see this sense of community enhanced and built upon.
“After Masses, we don’t always have opportunities to socialise,” he said.
“They do that well in England where they make it more of a gathering. We fall down a bit on that in Ireland. Having that one to one contact with each other in a community is vital.”
Integration will be an issue he will work on in his Greenford parish in London.
There is a very strong Irish community, but also many other ethnic groups.
As he is entering the priesthood having already experienced the world of work, he believes this life experience will stand to him.
“You have a greater appreciation of people’s struggles and are able to empathise with people much more,” he said.
He is particularly keen to reach out to those who may have turned away from their faith.
“It’s not as simple as saying ‘there they are, leave them off to do their own thing’,” he said.
“They are not cut off or unworthy. The Lord wants them and the challenge is to reach out and welcome such people back to the faith.”
The importance of reaching out to people is something which Pope Frances has placed an emphasis on and he hopes to take example from this.
“I think people are really searching at this time,” he said.
“We need to show them what they’re missing out on by leaving the faith behind. Somehow, the faith, or having faith and following Catholic teaching, is viewed as taking away from your life. What I’ve discovered is that it’s through this that you can live life to the full. It can enhance life and it builds life up in a richer way.”
The depictions of Christianity and the Church in the media in recent times have attracted criticism.
However, he believes this isn’t malicious, but says people simply “misunderstand” the teachings of the Church.
“It’s almost like people think Christianity and the Catholic teaching is there to strap people down, when in fact it’s the total opposite. It’s trying to lift people up rather than crush them and take away life. We’re trying to show them the path to the fullness of life and what life in Christ has to offer,” he said.
“A lot of people don’t have a background in faith, but the Lord sees that people are trying to make their way whatever way they can. I walk around sometimes and look at people – we’re all just trying to get through this life and none of us have all the answers to the questions.”
He added: “I certainly think that’s how the Lord looks on us. He sees that people are yearning and not everyone has had the chance to experience a background in faith.”
The role of lay people in the future of the Church has been discussed in great detail, including at a recent meeting on the future of the Diocese of Waterford & Lismore held in Clonmel.
This is something which Rev Liam believes is key to the future of the church, and highlighted that the involvement of lay people is a key belief of the Pallottine Fathers.
The Society says its aim is to increase the collaboration among the faithful of the Church, “among the diocesan priests, the male and female religious and the laity, to fulfil fully and more efficiently the apostolic tasks”.
“That’s the charism of the Pallottines,” said Rev Liam.
“We all have an equal role to play. Yes there are certain distinct leadership roles for those in the priesthood and bishops but there’s a role for everyone to play. Everyone has an equal contribution to make in going out and reaching out to people.”
While he says Mass attendance and receipt of the Sacraments are important, he says the main objective is “opening yourself up to a relationship with Jesus”.
“He is guiding us and teaching us as we go along,” he said.
“He’s always trying to draw people closer to him, however far apart they are from the church.”
Rev Liam encourages anyone else who may feel they have a vocation to act on it or turn to God in whatever way suits them.
“Each one of us has a purpose,” he said.
“God made us with a definite idea of what we are going to do and how we are going to touch people in our life. The closer we come to his will, the more fulfilled we will be.”
As he prepares for his big occasion this weekend, he says he is confident he has made the right decision and is looking forward to his new journey.

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