Back to the cloister – Brendan Hoban

Back to the cloister

You may remember that last year a number of Cardinals and Archbishops visited Ireland to investigate the Irish Catholic Church. They were asked to report to the Pope on what reforms were needed in the Irish Church in the wake of the child abuse scandals and how they were handled.
The word now is that their first report – on Irish seminaries – has beenreceived, though it has not been published officially. Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York investigated Irish seminaries and from developments in Maynooth it would seem that his wish is that a distinctive community be created whereby seminarians can be differentiated from other students on the Maynooth university campus.
Already, it seems, the Maynooth authorities have taken steps in implementing this approach. Doors have been installed to partition the seminarians’ quarters from the rest of the campus; a separate entrance has been constructed at the rear of the seminary building; and there are proposals to build a separate dining hall. Back to the cloister?
Sometimes with the best will in the world experts can get things exactly wrong. And I fear that this is what has happened. It doesn¹t bode well for the other awaited reports. On the face of it closing down the shutters to cocoon student-priests seems not just like a failed strategy but a rejection of reason and common sense.
It seems more like sorting out the Irish Catholic Church along the new (old) lines rather than having anything to do with the reasons for the investigation in the first place. Who believes that creating a hothouse atmosphere along the pre-Vatican Two seminary lines will contribute to the protection of children? If history is to teach us anything, surely it’s quite the opposite. Keeping out the tide is a failed strategy. Better to teach people how to swim.
Exactly the opposite happened when I was in Maynooth over forty years ago. Then the approach, inspired by the wisdom of the Second Vatican Council, was to open up the windows and let the air blow through the dusty corridors. When I entered Maynooth in 1966, the seminary hadn¹t changed in a century and a half. It was, effectively, a kind of voluntary prison-camp. You couldn’t get out of the place unless you needed treatment for a medical complaint and even then you almost had to apply for a visa.
We all dressed in Roman collars and soutanes, all of our waking time. (We even wore soutanes over our football togs as we made our way to a match). There were no televisions; you couldn¹t have a bottle of Mi-Wadi in your room and the Western People (like other local papers) was banned. It was a weird existence, that effort to keep the world at bay and God only knows the effect it had on us – or the damage it did to us. We were being trained as monks – with a formation and spirituality to go with it – even though everyone knew that we¹d never see the inside of a monastery for the rest of our working lives.
Eventually reason prevailed and much of the old seminary structure was dismantled as seminarians were encouraged to take responsibility for their lives, to make adult choices, to understand the world in which we would seek to minister, to realise that pre-packaged answers (no matter how convincing they sounded in the hothouse atmosphere of the seminary) would butter very little toast after we were ordained.
Now, it seems, we¹re going back to the old wisdom – that seminaries need to be different. Student-priests will be taught how to say Mass in Latin. Holy Communion will be received on the tongue. Soutanes are back with a vengence and once ordained (or you become a black monsignor) you can wear a cummerbund (that’s a belly-band to the rest of us) over your soutane and under your surplice. There are unprintable comments for such patent nonsense.
You know it¹s becoming hard to blame a priest-friend of mine who surveys the restoration policies emanating from Rome and who wearily concludes that there’s a fate worse than retirement or even death and that’s coping with the new wisdom in our Church that isn’t so much out of touch as completely out to lunch. Craggy island rules. God help us all.
Some years ago when the Patten Commission in the North sought to reform the problematic RUC in order to usher in a new policing dispensation,  Maurice Hayes, a shrewd observer, argued forcibly against training policemen and women in a hothouse atmosphere, away from the general community in which they would work. The worst thing, he argued, would be to create a separate educational institution, especially a separate residential educational institution, because such a strategy for the key formative years would lead to a detachment from the community.
This, in so far as we can judge, is exactly what’s going to happen (is already happening) in our seminaries. In my time we were encouraged to integrate with the general student body – few in numbers though they were then. We were encouraged to participate in inter-university debates. We were told to listen to the questions our contemporaries had, to suss out ‘the signs of the times¹, to measure our wisdom against the wisdom of the world so that we might minister effectively to the needs of our people. Now there’s an almost Gadarene rush back to the safety of the cloister as if in some way this will serve the needs of our Church in the future. We know that part of the problem with the Church’s failure to deal with the abuse scandals was that debilitating institutionally protective mind-set that the seminary did so much to form. We know that if we want to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ – which is what the Church is for – we need to immerse ourselves more and integrate more in the culture in which we minister. We know that we need open-minded and astute priests who will respect and be comfortable with the complexities of life today. And we know that priests trained as hothouse flowers and who parrot a received wisdom will be ineffective agents of the Good News in today¹s world. It isn’t as if we didn’t know all that. So how come, time and again, a small cadre of well-meaning but injudicious churchmen try to convince us about the wisdom of putting the tooth-paste back into the tube? Or does nothing matter anymore, apart from dismantling the vision of the Second Vatican Council and the memory of Blessed John XXIII?

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  1. Mary o Vallely says:

    Reading this article I am reminded of Enda McDonagh’s prophetic words, “I think we need to be broken down more” and the words of that Shirley Bassey song come to mind, “If there’s a wrong way to do it,a right way to screw it up, nobody does it like…” We can substitute the missing noun, AV/ Timothy Dolan/our bishops/the Curia… oh dear.
    I was one of the first batch of lay students who went in through the old gates at Stoyte House, Maynooth in 1969 (I was O’Neill then) and I have nothing but good memories really. We did have a battle to get a pitch for the camogie team and the List was deemed the most suitable as it had a surrounding wall! The seminarians sported maxi skirts (soutanes) to our mini skirts but to my innocent, green-as-cabbage mind,it was a time of sharing and fun and laughter. Maybe the specs are a bit rosy looking back but this is how I think I remember. The young clerics enjoyed practising their pastoral skills on us, we shared the mini bus to Daingean on a Sunday,had snowball fights in Joe’s Square and chased each other in a most unseemly but innocent manner down past the Profs’ Ref. Mea culpa. Did it do any of us any harm?
    I find the whole idea of separating the “almost sacred” seminarians from the secular students a retrograde step and cannot see how the Christ we know and love in the Gospels would have behaved in such a way. Are we not all welcome at the table? Sigh.
    Mary V

  2. Brendan Hoban has hit the nail on the head. Instead of opening its doors to healthier points of view and persons who might help reform it, the Church (Pope, Curia and their ilk) is installing walls and doors that will keep out thoughtful discourse and reform and allow the “cult” to incubate behind the walls of dysfunction, deceit, and cover-up.

  3. I’ve mixed feelings and thoughts about this change, though overall, I welcome it cautiously. David Quinn offers his opinion here: http://www.irishcatholic.ie/site/content/change-seminary-david-quinn
    I think the police comparison is interesting: recruits are trained apart from the public which may breed an arrogant mindset (and there are plenty of arrogant, power-obsessed police officers who think they are better than everyone else just cos they have a badge and a gun). We certainly wouldn’t want know-it-all priests who think just cos they’ve been to seminary they know it all.

  4. Theodore Fink says:

    It seems as if Maynooth and the recent “Costa Concordia” disaster have some similarities. After all, the reformers graduated from Italian school, and like the staff of the Concordia (Roman Goddess of Harmony) trying to calm worried passengers, who are gathered on deck wearing lifejackets, commanding them: “Go back to your cabins. Everything is under control. We are resolving the problem.”
    Sursum corda!

  5. Frank Graham mhm says:

    thank you Brendan, for your article about Maynooth. I was at Ushaw College in England for 11 years in the 50’s and 60’s and, like Maynooth, one could say it was also like a ‘voluntary prison camp’! Often one suffered in silence for the sake of ones ‘vocation’. I just cannot get my head around the thinking or mentality of these Cardinals, Archbishops, Bishops who seem stuck in the past. As you say ‘ God help us all’ ( or at least the Catholic Church!)

  6. Gene Clarke says:

    I too am saddened by the rumor of going back to the “Cloister” concept that I experienced in an Irish Seminary back in the 60s…I would point out an axiom that is well known throughout history and that is “There is no growth without change”. The Catholic Church has demonstrated through the hierarchy over the years an extraordinary blind eye to what is happening in the lives of mature laity…Is it any wonder that vocations are down and that Catholics who are also Christian are becoming more rare?
    The Seminaries of the 60s did such a poor job of preparing Priests for the real life that they were thrust into.

  7. Dr Rosemary Eileen McHugh says:

    I read this excellent article with sadness. The leaders of the Roman Catholic Church continue to dismantle the wisdom of Vatican II, and seem to be focused on developing psychosexually immature men, instead of developing mature men, comfortable with women as equals, and with worldly savvy, like Jesus had.
    Jesus was always in the world and taught his disciples how to live in the world for God’s greater glory.
    Nearly all the apostles were married men with children. These were the types of men that Jesus chose to be leaders.
    The Pope and many in the hierarchy, in my view, lack maturity. The dominant mentality from Rome seems to be one of fear and the need to have power and control over people’s lives. I do not see openness to trusting the Holy Spirit in Pope Benedict XVI.
    The world is where we all belong, not fleeing from the world.
    I pray that members of the hierarchy will see the need for seminarians to train alongside their lay colleagues, so that they will learn to be servant-leaders rather than narcissistic princes.
    I also pray that we will all come to realize that we can desire to give God our all in every walk of life, not just as priests or nuns. It is time that the RCC stop treating lay people as second class citizens. No one was treated as a second class citizen by Jesus, in my understanding of scripture.
    Sincerely, Dr Rosemary Eileen McHugh, Chicago, Illinois, USA

  8. From Someone Familiar with Maynooth says:

    As someone familiar with the seminary in Maynooth, I think it is opportune to give some clarity around some of the points raised in the “Back to the cloister” article.
    1. Re the ‘separate entrance’, this was practically completed by August 2010. This was considerably before the Apostolic Visitation and its report (which has yet to be published). Hard to see how this was in response to a report that had not been issued from a visitation that had yet to take place. The entrance is from a car park usually used by seminarians and is the one often used by their families when they arrive.
    2. A separate dining hall – seminarians already have a clearly designated area in the main dining hall which is for their use. Given the popularity and busy nature of the hall (it is open to all students and visitors), it is necessary to have a separate area. The seminary is after all their home and it is appropriate that they have somewhere to have their meals. For the most part, seminarians dine in the ‘open’ area anyways with their fellow students / visitors. The designated area is there for seminarians who want some quiet time.
    3. Part of the reasons for the door is to help secure the seminarians’ living quarters. As it is their home, surely it is acceptable to have a secure home. I don’t believe anyone would leave the doors to their homes open to the world in that sense. In addition, when they are on internal retreat, these steps help them maintain that spirit of silence and prayer within the building – a vital part of being on retreat.
    I also dispute your claims re Holy Communion on the tongue and soutanes being ‘back with a vengeance’, I have seen neither of those things. Where is your evidence for these claims?
    I offer these comments just to help clarify your claims. I offer them on my own behalf and not that of any seminarians or the seminary itself.

  9. From Someone Familiar with Maynooth says:

    To quote from the David Quinn article mentioned above:
    “The changes flagged in this newspaper last week are very obviously an attempt to create a better distinction between life in the seminary, and the wider world.
    If this produces overly pious, unworldly priests, then it will prove over time to be a bad change.
    But if it produces more prayerful priests, priests who are holier, and not holier-than-thou, priests who have deeper spiritual lives, then it can only be a change for the better.
    Above all, what the Church needs right now are holy men and women to lead it.
    We should bear in mind also that Cardinal-designate Dolan has experience of reforming seminaries. He was head of the North American College (NAC) in Rome, the US Church’s version of the Irish College and helped to implement sweeping changes to the life of the seminarians while there.
    Those changes have led to the NAC becoming one of the most vibrant seminaries in the whole American system. With proper leadership, something of the same kind can happen in Maynooth.”

  10. Thanks for this article Brendan, and particularly for sharing your experience of life in Maynooth seminary in the ’60’s …
    The current reforms raises two questions for me…..
    1 ) Did the apostolic visitors consult with the seminarians, directors of Maynooth on these proposed reforms ??
    2 ) How do THEY feel about these reforms/ will they enhance their preparation for the priesthood ?
    I sincerely hope all in Maynooth they feel free enough to make some public statement on the outcome of the apostolic visitation.

  11. Thank you, Brendan, for the above. The seminarians, if there are any, can only be impoverished by being deprived of the spiritual insights and wisdom of the vast student population. This proposed move assumes that the seminarians and their formators have a monopoly on sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ. As for needing space and silence for prayer and reflection, that should be catered for as part of their spiritual formation programme, away from the university campus. Patriarchy and its attendant elitism will flourish with this new arrangement (regardless of who has initiated it) and we have seen where that leads! I became quite depressed on hearing this news during the week. Reading your article and most of the comments is encouraging though. We need to be Good News for each other.

  12. One unmentioned difference between Fr Hoban’s Maynooth and the seminary of today: then there were about 500 seminarians, now it’s more like 50. The formation system of recent decades just isn’t working. It puts guys off entering, or causes them to leave. Let’s give a more traditional approach a chance, and see what happens. It worked before. Sure, it wasn’t perfect; but it worked.

  13. I remember my own time at uni (about 4 years ago) and I recall that we shared an IT suite with immature young people. So we were in our twenties, at uni, trying to study and revise for exams, and these other students (who were in their teens, don’t ask me why they were there, they were doing courses or whatnot) were messing about in the IT suite/library, making lots of noise. I think there is a valid reason for separating things out a bit, particularly for priestly candidates. Sometimes you just want a bit of peace and quite, and I know that the seminarians in Maynooth are VERY busy, so perhaps lunch is one of the few times when one might hope for a bit of privacy from the crowd and a bit of quiet. There’s also a need for reflection and recollection, which needs silence, peace, and quiet.

  14. Jhn Shuster says:

    More cloister = more secrecy and less accountability. Do Catholics want to keep funding more of the same?

  15. Eddie Finnegan says:

    As one who spent four or five years as part of that last cohort of the “old Maynooth” (1961-68), I have at times regretted missing out on “Maynooth of the transition”, the years of Brendan, Joe O’Leary, John O’Donohue, Tom O’Gara – and where every second person seems to have been called Mary, as if in training for the Dáil or the Áras. Indeed Mary Vallely echoes above a very appreciative yet poignant piece she wrote at the time of the Bicentenary in 1995.
    Yet as (I hope) a more or less balanced layman, veering on most Catholic issues between middle-of-the-road and the more liberal left edge of the grass margin,just about avoiding the sheugh, I cannot say I recognise the Maynooth of Alcatraz, of the incense-filled cocoon, or even of the voluntary prison-camp. These are the themes, in addition to claustrophobia-inducing cloisters and slamming of stable doors long after the horses have bolted, which a host of commentators have riffed upon for the past week.
    Some, like Eugene Cullen Kennedy, have the excuse of needing to entertain their NCR readers. One or two need to blast off a right and a left in the two paragraphs or sentences the Irish Times letters editor allows on such topics. Some have more space at their disposal, with a devoted readership, in regional or national newspapers.
    Having found Noel Whelan’s Irish Times piece (‘Cloistered education for priests of tomorrow is unwise’) reasonably balanced and his analogies with PSNI and other professional training appropriate, I find it annoying that priest-commentators well placed to probe haven’t bothered to ask whether “cloistered education” is what is being planned. Which is why I find Comment No.7 above ‘from Someone Familiar with Maynooth’ very welcome. Michael Kelly and David Quinn (as linked to by Martin above) have, I find, also made the attempt to be balanced, though clearly the shape of things to come has yet to be clarified.
    Never let facts get in the way of a good comment, opinion piece or letter to the editor, of course, but maybe balance requires that we allow ‘cothrom na Féinne’ to today’s Maynooth and to those at its helm. As the President, Msgr Hugh Connolly, put it: “I am trying to get the balance right between the need for the seminary to be a distinctive, prayerful community and ensure that the seminarians have all the benefits that the Maynooth campus has to offer . . . It is all about striking that balance. Seminarians are training to be diocesan priests living in the world, not members of a monastic community.”
    If I were a seminarian today, I think I’d find the peace and quiet offered by the new changes a bit of a godsend – provided that my life in community morning and evening didn’t preclude me from a full part with students and staff of both North and South Campus, and a bite of lunch in Pugin Hall. A pint down in the ‘Roost’ might be an occasional bonus, but I could probably manage without it.

  16. Thomas Doyle, O.P., says:

    Brendan Hoban is right on target. I didn’t go to Maynooth but his description matches religious and diocesan seminaries throughout Europe, Canada and the U.S. The small cadre of hierarchs and priests who are trying to re-create the ecclesiastical world of the past and basing their endeavors on an ecclesiology that was buried by the assembled bishops at Vatican II….the memory of which a significant number of the presents generation of bishops would like to obliterate. The bottom line seems pretty clear to me….a return to the narcissistic and other-wise half-baked monarchical system with its aristocracy and pathological control. Those who have been immersed in the sex abuse nightmare know full well that the virus of clericalism and the bizarre clerical sub-culture that grows it are a primary cause of the problems. Its not priests who are in touch with reality but bishops (and above) who are not only out of touch but incapable of dealing with reality and the accountability that goes with it. It is Brendan Hoban and men like him who should be the bishops of today and tomorrow….not the collection of hyper-clerics that the Vatican keeps imposing on the People of God.

  17. Patrick Anthony says:

    As a seminarian, I would respectfully request that the writer inquire closer as to actual events in Maynooth rather than have his opinion handed to him by the speculators in the Irish Times.
    Further, I am disappointed by the narrow-mindedness of the article – he goes to great lengths to attack seminarians who wear traditional clerical dress. However, surely the question of whether or not they conform themselves to Jesus Christ is far more important, yet this is never mentioned. I am also at a loss as to how Blessed Pope John would disapprove of Latin in the liturgy (after all, he wrote the definitive document in its favour (Veterum Sapientia)). Why is there such persistent reference to the ‘vision’ of the Council, and none to what it actually said?
    This article doggedly defends the vision of a ‘modern’ seminary. This has been in place in Ireland for decades now. In that time, we have seen a huge drop in the numbers applying for seminary, an alarming number of the priests who received this formation leaving ministry, and a catastrophic loss of faith in the people of Ireland. Of course, there are many other factors at play here, but the ‘modern’ way has scarcely halted the slide.
    I pray for Fr. Hoban and for the seminarians of Ireland, that we can rise above the pettiness of ecclesial politics and recall the humbling responsibility of our vocations, trusting in Divine Grace, not our own ideologies.

  18. carol, my seminarian friend at maynooth welcomes this change.
    eileen – the maynooth seminary is these fella’s home. everyone deserves peace in their own home. they shouldn’t have to drive to a retreat centre every fortnight just for a bit of peace.
    marianne, you’re right. i’m a young fella and i wouldn’t touch maynooth with a barge pole. now, to be honest, i’m not sure what i’m doing with my life but if priesthood is on the cards, and i’ll never say never, i’d want something different to maynooth. maynooth is an historic sprawl and i think it is no longer fit for purpose and is a financial, spiritual and pyscho-emotional-historic burden on the Church. we need a small, custom built seminary – start from scratch – get new staff, new premises, and get a real renewal going along traditional lines BUT with a vital super-dose of dynamic orthodoxy (with plenty of love and mercy obviously) which was sadly lacking before.
    thomas, you have a fierce negative view. i suggest you presume some good will on the part of those making changes to promote renewal. you don’t know what is planned, so you shouldn’t presume the worst.

  19. It sounds like the proposed changes at Maynooth are very slight. If the notion of “seminary” still has any meaning, one would think that a distinctive space for the seminary community and lifestyle is an obvious requirement. Of course “seminary” and “celibacy” go together — would Fr Doyle agree that it is time to abolish both?
    What I think is a much more questionable new rule is the following (if I am correctly informed): seminarist students cannot study theology in the same classroom as lay students. This is the sort of intellectual segregation that has no place in the modern church.

  20. Like Eddie, I welcome the comments from “someone” who knows Maynooth….
    The sooner we see the results/recommendations of the AV enquiry the better.
    At least we would have something concrete to look at, rather than speculation and all that goes with that !!!
    Roll on the AV reports !!

  21. Fr S Corkery says:

    Hi one and all,
    Can I try to make a positive suggestion. This stuff about Maynooth is like one of them “Chinese Whispers.” We have gone from Michael Kelly to Noel Whelan to Fr Hoban and now others are taking it elsewhere. And by so doing people are becoming deflated, even despairing. The person above – “…familiar with Maynooth..” is trying to keep perspective and I concur with their observations of the seminary environment.
    Why do some people constantly insist on creating barriers between themselves and seminarians? On the face of it, there is a tendency to presume to know the minds of today’s seminarians – without ever, it would appear, having genuinely consulted them. And to consult also requires that we wait for, and respect the response. These are men who come from the same Ireland we all come from; many of them have held down jobs and careers side by side with many colleagues in the work-place environment of both Celtic Tiger and Post Celtic Tiger Ireland. They have families, they have friends, they have daily dealings with modern Ireland.They study for two twelve week semesters in seminary with a short number of weeks at either side of this for exams, workshops of various sorts and retreats. Many undertake various pastoral assignments over the summer months. The point is that out of a 52-week calendar year, seminarians spend a lot of time outside the environs of seminary. This idea of cloister is simply a misinformed slur on both the seminary authorities and the students. And by the way,why is “cloister” used in such a negative way – there are many, many women and men all over the world who live and pray in monasteries and convents. Please give the insulting “bent” on such words a rest. It is simply unhelpful and insulting to pigeon-hole people by presuming to know what is best for them.I thought we were leaving that behind. Often the ones who claim not to want to go back to it, sound as if they have never left it.
    This time last year, the Vatican Visitors sat with us on a one to one basis and listened very intently to our views (they spoken to newly ordained priests as well as seminarians). Personally, I felt completely respected and listened to in a frank and open manner. I, and many of us, found the Vatican visitation a wholly worthwhile and positive experience.
    Finally, the positive suggestion: please ask seminarians what they think and stop trying to label them as something they are not.

  22. Eddie Finnegan says:

    @Fr S. Corkery:
    Fr Sean, I may have crossed swords (well, wooden ones) with you both here and in The Furrow over the past year or so, but thanks for this breath of sanity among the Chinese Whispers and marshalling of ideological stances over how today’s Maynooth sees its way forward. It’s a place that saw many adaptations between 1795 and 1966 (pace external appearances). Sometimes these were untidy responses to external realities, more ‘by guess and by God’, to coin a Paddy Corish phrase. The hit-and-miss opening to a lay university in the late 1960s may have had as little to do with ‘the spirit of Vat II’ as its closing to lay students in 1814. Blame the opening of Clongowes for the latter; praise the threatened demise of the College from the increasing percentage of us who found other things to do in the 1950s & early ’60s for the forced 1960s opening up. Adaptations happen – you just need wise heads on the ground to steer them. But personally I blame the need for a second soutane to tog out for The List or High Field on that Kildare Roman Paul Cullen and his 1850 Thurles Synod. We could have done without that.

  23. Carol (point 10)
    In response to your queries, yes seminarians were consulted on their thoughts on reforms for the seminary. And if you would like the views of seminarians, I would suggest you contact your diocesan vocations director / parish priest and arrange a visit with the seminarians from your diocese. A face-to-face meeting would probably be best.

  24. Seminarian says:

    Eileen (point 11): “if there are any” seminarians? Yes there are seminarians in seminary. Spiritual formation does not take place on the university campus – it mainly takes place on the college campus, of which seminary is part. I wonder how familiar you are with the seminary at Maynooth?
    Martin, Eddie, Fr S Corkery – thank you for your thoughtful comments
    Thomas Doyle, O.P. – as a seminarian I can assure you that Fr. Hoban is quite far from being ‘right on target’.

  25. Quoting Joseph above “Of course “seminary” and “celibacy” go together — would Fr Doyle agree that it is time to abolish both?”. This is getting to the crux of the matter. Time to think outside the box. I suggest that in line with the guidance of Scripture given in 1 Timothy 3, that rather than mandatory celibacy for clergy, we should have mandatory marriage. Those already serving as priests should not be forced to get married unless they wanted to and may continue in ministry. However under this new system, in future, anyone wishing to study for the priesthood must indeed be married. Single people could of course apply to undergo training and formation up to the level of deacon, but could not proceed beyond that to Holy Orders. Those priests who left active ministry to get married should be able to re-apply as soon as possible. If this sounds daft to you, I would argue its no more daft than the system we currently have. If there are those who worry about how the lads are going to get a bit of peace and quiet away from the great unwashed up in Maynooth, you can be sure there are those who suffer sleepless nights wondering how they will manage with all the kids running up and down the corridors of the Vatican in years to come. The sooner the better.

  26. Fr S Corkery says:

    Wooden swords don’t inflict permanent damage thank God but still allow a decent exchange! Thank you. It seems to me that change is an ongoing thing. Just as Maynooth could never have remained as it was in 1950, so it cannot remain frozen in 1970 not indeed in 2010. The emotion of fear before change is the way to despair. Just this morning I see a piece in The Irish Times by Fr Martin Henry of Maynooth. He speaks of the Gamalial Principle (Acts 5:34-39). See http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/opinion/2012/0124/1224310672579.html
    This is a liberating principle that keeps us close to the work of the Holy Spirit but without “concreting” us into the shadow of a particular historical era that we like or feel repulsed by. So much of the negative Church commentary today is “concreted” in the 1960’s and 70’s. While this was an important time, it is also a time when at least a third of today’s Catholics were not even born. Listening to the scepticism so often poured on the present via constant comparison to the “spirit of the Council” of the 60’s and &70’s is so counter-productive. The Holy Spirit is alive and active now also and the Church is alive and young as a result. It is not dying, it is the pilgrim fellowship of faith. Along with the Gamalial Principle, I would add the sacramental principle – God gives us what we cannot give ourselves, which is life in God.Christ says “all that the Father has is mine. That is why I said to you that the Spirit will take from what is mine and declare it to you” (cf. Jn 16:5-15).
    Ours, as every moment in history, is a time of growth and change. It seems to me that we must have the courage to let the Holy Spirit direct the change; our task is to discern the real and what is from God in that. Hence the high value the Church places on both Divine Revelation and human reason. Creation doesn’t require us to be “stage managers” – that, it seems to me, is to blaspheme against the Holy Spirit (Mk 3:29). Rather, the drama of creation, on-going as it is this very day, requires an audience who marvel and wonder at watching the handiwork of God unfold before us, drawing us in until we are “audience” no more but co-workers.
    Ours is a strange time; but that does not mean it calls from resignation and even dispair (which often comes across on the articles/essays presented to the visitors of this website and others). Unless the people presenting the gospel of Christ are full of zeal, joy and enthusiasm, why would anyone touch them or it with a barge pole!
    There is much work ahead for us in Ireland in this regard. We must deploy our finite human resources well and not against the work of the Holy Spirit in the world.

  27. Sincere thanks to the seminarians and to those familiar with Maynooth who took the time to respond to my questions.
    I’m relieved to hear that you are not all enclosed in a “prison” like environment as per Eugene Cullen Kennedy’s article, NCR : )
    All jokes aside,it was a particularly disturbing and depressing picture !!
    Back to reality, or at least a touch of it : )
    Blessings to all,

  28. This is a lighter, ‘Down Memory Lane’ kind of contribution. In response to Seminarian’s question (24) above, I stayed in Maynooth for some summer courses run by the Irish Church Music Association. I am also reminded of the two weeks I spent there at the Ward Method of Music course, way back in the late 70s. One weekend, I was the only resident in the Long Corridor, much to the amazement of my colleagues who marveled at my bravery! (As they perceived it). There were two seminarians (from Clonliffe, I think) who participated in the Ward course and I often wondered what became of them. One was Joe and I can’t recall the name of the other. Great guys! Both were very funny and gave us lots of laughs. But seriously, I can’t claim to have any architectural knowledge of Maynooth.

  29. If the ‘open’ system created the modernist, anti-Pope, anti-Church priests we have in so many numbers today, then let’s get back to something else and fast.

  30. Fr. Corkery, how can anybody who cares deeply about the importance of proclaiming the Gospel feel any sense of “zeal, joy and enthusiasm” in today’s Catholic Church, in Ireland or anywhere else?

  31. I’ve just read that Eugene Cullen Kennedy article in NCR and I’m a poorer man for it. What a dreadful article with horrible aspersions cast at the end concerning today’s seminarians in Maynooth. Shameful.

  32. My comments (11, above) referred, not so much to buildings, as to the symbolic separation and the patriarchy that it would inevitably engender. This would foster the ‘bizarre clerical sub-culture,’ mentioned by Fr. Thomas Doyle (16, above) with its disastrous consequences, as we have seen.

  33. Paddy, today the Gospel has the same power it had in the beginning. What is needed is a supernatural outlook which can be nothing but hopeful, joyful, and zealous. Times of crisis in the Church are times of opportunity for would-be saints. It is frustrating though, I agree – I feel it myself. I think that much of the renewal cannot be implemented by the majority of priests and bishops in today’s Catholic Church in Ireland. New wine, old wineskins. That just won’t work. We need young, fresh minds with an evangelical zeal and manly courage.

  34. Mary Burke says:

    Manly courage is more exclusion of women.

  35. A woman from Ballina says:

    I have followed the comments on this website over the last week, and I am fascinated by the concern that many people have for the training of our future priests. Firstly, I wish to congratulate Patrick Anthony, a seminarian who contributed to the debate. How blessed we are to have seminarians who tell it as it is.
    Closer to home, in the diocese of Killala we have three seminarians. I know two of them personally. Two summers ago, a seminarian in his early twenties helped out in the parish of Ballina. He was a breath of fresh air to the parish. He was happy, and prayerful, and confident as he went about his work. I had reason to consult him on a number of occasions because of a family problem. The advice he gave me was helpful, discreetly given and accompanied by many prayers. I pray for him and for all the seminarians in these difficult times because the task ahead is to rebuild the Church, and to bring Ireland back to the faith. Patrick clearly enunciated that the ‘modern’ way is not as effective as some may think. This is an immediate warning that must be acknowledged.
    I urge Fr Hoban and others to look around them and see that the ‘church’ they love and defend is moving into a new era. Let us recognise that the Holy Spirit is alive and active in this, and pray for vocations that many more like-minded men will join the seminarians who are already studying for this diocese and the other dioceses too. We need holy priests and happy priests and the seminarians I have encountered display both of these characteristics.
    Recently at the funeral of our Bishop Emeritus, the ‘frightening’ soutane appeared in the Cathedral, five in total! The effect of seeing the seminarians, a young priest, and the bishop in soutane and surplice, must have brought a degree of discomfort to the clergy, who were huddled together in pews, if it caused such discouraging remarks in this article. I suppose old habits die hard, and clericalism – keeping the young under control etc. lives on.
    It is difficult enough for seminarians to undergo a formation worse than Auschwitz in Maynooth, as recent media coverage has uncovered, but to do so, under attack from the clergy with whom they will, one-day work is indeed a fate worse than death. Anybody who experiences intimidation in the workplace is aware of that reality. I ask all the contributors to this debate if they have considered the seminarians in all of this. Should we not encourage them as much as we can instead of knocking them, and pray for them?
    The seminarians that I have been able to meet are exemplary, in that their love for God, and a desire to be about his work, drives them on. We need priests to tell it as it is, not how it is perceived to be. We need to pray harder for our priests, for vocations, and for those training in the seminary that they will tackle the real problems in the world, namely: the loss of faith, the destruction of family life, the blatant disregard, and ignorance of Church teaching, and the ever-increasing lack of respect for the sacred. There is an old cliché: it is always darkest just before the dawn. A great springtime is coming in our Church and the future is bright. Anything that a seminary can do to make priests holy and prayerful ought to be encouraged. Priests of prayer will be priests of action and they will encourage many more to follow them. That is how things were – and some things remain unchanged.

  36. Eddie Finnegan says:

    Poor old Rabbi Gamaliel – they have him run off his feet again! Little did he think when, with one eye on the interfering Romans, he played safe among the hotheads of the Great Sanhedrin, that he’d be called in as standby referee in every religious squabble and crisis, every new aggiornamento or reditio ad fontes, every reformation or reform of the reform over the next two millennia, ‘in states unborn and accents yet unknown’. I’m sure he’d have been embarrassed to think he might end up enshrined in a Principle, alongside Ockham’s Razor, Pascal’s Wager or the Monroe Doctrine (No, nothing to do with Marilyn.)
    As the top canon lawyer of his day and grandson of the great Hillel, he must have often kicked himself for not keeping his mouth shut, especially when Saul of Tarsus started claiming he was brought up in Jerusalem ‘at the feet of Gamaliel’. And then Origen and John Chrysostom grabbed hold of him and started christening him as another closet Follower of the Way. So Gamaliel wasn’t a bit surprised to read Dr Martin Henry the other day in the Irish Times citing a German priest as his authority for the “Gamaliel Principle”. He well remembers the morning he was called in at short notice by another Dr Martin whom the emperor’s lackeys were trying to put the frighteners on at the close of the Diet of Worms. “‘Nothing can be said in this case,’ replied Dr Martin stoutly, ‘than was said according to St Paul (sic) by Gamaliel: If this work be of men it will come to nought. No retraction! The emperor and the states may write to the pope thus: if the work of Luther is not an inspiration from on high, in three years it will be no more spoken of.'”
    Of course, the good Rabbi tells me, he’s grown weary of being hauled in, unceremoniously and without as much as an honorarium, by Presbyterian and Methodist splinter groups, Wee Frees and Paisley Frees, mainline and offshoot Charismatics and Pentecostalists, and even Anglicans pro and con women bishops. Any day now he expects a call to Vienna from Cardinal Schoenbron next time Benedict drops a hint about ‘turbulent priests’ into their small talk.
    Highlight of his posthumous career came sixteen months ago when he was parachuted into Portlaoise to help launch the ACP. After a quick tour of the local high security prison he feels well qualified to advise on the rejuvenation of the old Rabbinical School at Maynooth, so imagine his delight when he sees the honour his accidental Principle is still accorded by the faculty there and by the ACP Youth Wing at the Dunboyne Institute. The old Rabban (= ‘Our Teacher’, no mere Rabbi) sounds a note of warning, however, for any who would take their theological stand on a selective reading of Acts 5: “Note that I made no objection to a good scourging for Shimon Kepha and his mates. Fortunately most who quote me as their Mentor are dab hands at cutting salley rods for their own backs.”

  37. I would like to ask the seminarian, Patrick Anthony and the woman from Ballina what changes would they like to see in our Church? Changes involving equality, and changes that would make it possible for all baptised persons to answer the call of the Holy Spirit, whereby they too are able to enter into all ministeries in our Church?
    We had a Parish Retreat some time ago which involved young people doing house to house visitation. During our discussion one young man was so charismatic,spiritual and energetic in being involved.I asked him did he ever think of the Priesthood? His reply was yes, if only he could also marry and have a family. How many more are of the same thinking?? Maybe the visionary changes Brendan Hoban and many more like him are calling for, are not the physical changes taken place in Maynooth behind “closed doors”, but changes that will bring about equality and a more democratic, healthy Church that is open to the changes and the workings expressed in the documents of of Vatican II, that will bring our Church into the world of the 21st century.

  38. A view from an incense filled cocoon says:

    As a seminarian, I write this short note. Firstly, I thank Fr Brendan for sharing with us his thoughts of how seminary life looks from the outside. I do not think that one needs to elaborate on how things are on the inside – the door is open and a hearty welcome is extended to all. It pains me to see a seminary being described as a hothouse; it is that if we let it be. This article portrays the simple reforms as archaic and a march back to a past when the Pope was in Rome, the bishop was in his palace, and the parish priest in his parish. Maybe there is wisdom in the perception of the past!
    What is a seminary meant to be? Pope Benedict XVI in his letter to seminarians on the 18th October 2010, stated the following: ‘The seminary is a community journeying towards priestly ministry. I have said something very important here: one does not become a priest on one’s own. The “community of disciples” is essential, the fellowship of those who desire to serve the greater Church.’
    The ideal model for a seminary is Nazareth, and the model of a seminarian is Christ in his hidden years. It is this hidden life, which a seminary ought to cultivate. What is the hidden life? Part of the life of Christ was public – like when he preached, healed, and was put to death. However, the larger part of his life was hidden – for almost thirty years he lived day to day in the silent mystery of family and work in an obscure village. He lived in obedience to Mary and Joseph and grew in wisdom. What characterized life at Nazareth? Trust in God, renunciation of everything that did not serve love of God or love of one another, offering everything that happened in the household as worship of God, treating one another and all their guests with great kindness and loving mercy, and most of all – deep prayer. The life of Christ holds up before us this ideal. If we fail to acknowledge this, we become booming gongs and clashing symbols making a terrible noise of dissent and seeking to rattle the very foundations of the Church. Seminarians ask to be holy and seek to live lives that are in line with the commands of the Gospel. Witness is a term that is high in our vocabulary, it is essential if we as a Church are to continue to be relevant to the age we live in.
    The Church must continue to stand firm as a beacon of hope in a darkening society. We have two options; we can give up and go with the flow, or we can stand erect, hold our heads high, and witness to Christ in a radical way.
    The foundation of this radicalism is no philosophy or ideology, it is prayer, probity of life, and loyalty to Rome in teaching and practice, pure and simple.These are the aspirations of the seminarians and and the aspirations of the Holy Father. I shall end with a question: why is there a disparity between the youth and the aged together and all that has passed in between?

  39. “A view from an incense-filled cocoon” — very nice, very idealistic, and very hothouse!
    “Why is there a disparity between the youth and the aged together and all that has passed in between?”
    I don’t quite grasp the question, but the difference between aged priests and young seminarians is precisely “all that has passed in between”! Seminarians are encouraged to live a sort of mythological existence — that was fine in the past, and priests would look back with nostalgia to the innocence and holiness of their seminary days. But it is not a realistic preparation for ministry in the modern world.

  40. Joseph, you are so right. That contribution from “an incense-filled cocoon” must surely be one of the most depressing we have seen on the ACP site. If that is the future of the Church,then God help us.

  41. Sean O'Driscoll says:

    I somehow think the incense filled cocoon is not the best way forward for formation for the priests for tomorrow. When I studied in Maynooth in the 80’s it was not fit for purpose, and any changes made since have done little to improve my perception of the place. Surely a new model of formation needs to emerge? I fail to see how training seminarians in a monastic setting when they won’t be living in monasteries after ordination can be of use.I would suggest perhaps the apprenticeship model of formation would be one that might respond more appropriately to the needs of today.

  42. Soline Humbert says:

    I am puzzled by a statement from the cocoon contributor: How is life in a seminary comparable to Jesus’life in Nazareth?

  43. Mary O Vallely says:

    I agree with Paddy here though my heart goes out to the young man in the “incense filled cocoon”. It may seem harsh but Joe O’L is exactly right that the difference between the idealism of youth and the pragmatism and wisdom of older age is “the life in between.” How much better it would be if no one was ordained until he (and oh that I could write “or she”) had lived, loved, lost, re-gained, worked, suffered, learned, understood and empathised with life as it is lived by parishoners both within the fold and,more importantly,without. Only then would serious training for the priesthood begin. The idealism of youth has to be balanced with the pragmatism, wisdom and flexibility of experience. I don’t wish to put the young seminarian off as I also remember that passion,and fervour of halcyon Maynooth years. A balance between the two is the ideal. Paddy’s words sound harsh but I have to agree. Apologies for making this thread even longer! New spool needed? Mary V

  44. Sean (Derry) says:

    Eddie, a very logical explanation by Msgr Hugh Connolly but conspiracy theories are much more interesting.

  45. Sountanes, communion on the tongue, fidelity to Rome….sounds great! Maybe the Church in Ireland isn’t doomed after all!

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