After spending his Christmas break with his family back in his home diocese of Des Moines, Iowa, Ryan and his seminary classmates spent their January-term studying abroad in Ireland.
The seminarians were stationed for much of their visit at the beautiful Maynooth Seminary on the campus of the College of St. Patrick in Maynooth, Ireland. When they were not engaged in seminars and spiritual conferences the seminarians were able to tour around much of the countryside. They even were able to follow in the footsteps of St. Patrick himself as they climbed up the mountain of Croagh Patrick (see Ryan with one of his brother seminarians in the photo).
Croagh Patrick is a popular pilgrimage site in Ireland. Legend reports that in the fifth century St. Patrick climbed up this mountain and spent forty days praying and fasting that the Catholic faith would never depart from Ireland.
How important St. Patrick’s prayer looms today. Ireland once was renowned as being easily the most Catholic country in the world. Today the Catholic Church in Ireland struggles. Mass attendance has plummeted in the past couple of decades as the country has become more modernized, urbanized, and secular. In this same time span several long-hidden Church scandals were brought to light including a priest-abuse scandal that left much of the country horrified and very much disillusioned.
The challenge Ryan and his classmates will face once they are ordained as priests is the same challenge they witnessed while in Ireland – how to re-evangelize people who have become disenchanted with the faith. How to preach a gospel of hope to a people who desperately need it.
While they were there the seminarians spent some of their time in Ireland reading and reflecting on Pope Francis’ book, “The Joy of the Gospel.” Ryan and his classmates are evidence that God is with His Church and is urging us on to hold onto and to spread anew the joy of our faith. Our Lord is raising up another generations of laborers for the vineyard. It’s a great sign of hope itself that there are still so many young men like Ryan who are willing to answer the call and to remind people that the darkness can never extinguish the joy of the gospel.
These young men have renewed me in my own priestly vocation! May we all catch some of that same Holy Spirit and work for a new and ever more joyful day here at Nativity of Mary.
Our Lady of Knock, patroness of Ireland, pray for us!
St. Patrick, pray for us!