20 December 2008

The 'Foot-and-Mouth' Columban Ordination Class

Forty-one years ago today, 20 December, Bishop Patrick Cleary of Nancheng, China, ordained 14 of us in St Mary’s Pro-Cathedral, Dublin. He was one of the earliest priests to join the newly-founded Society of St Columban in 1918, resigning his professorship in St Patrick’s National Seminary, Maynooth. He became Bishop of Nancheng in 1939 but was expelled 13 years later.

We were blessed to have Bishop Cleary as a substitute teacher of English and Latin in our first year in the seminary. We also got tonsure, the ceremony used before to admit a man to the clerical state, our four minor orders and the major orders of subdiaconate and diaconate from this wonderful man.

Four of our class were ordained the same day in Derry Cathedral by Bishop Neil Farren of that diocese and another the following day in Glasgow.
We were due to be ordained together on 20 December in our seminary, St Columban’s College, Dalgan Park, Navan, within sight of Tara, where the high kings of Ireland ruled in days of old. There was a farm attached to our seminary and, at the time, there was an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in Britain. Because of very strict quarantine regulations brought in, rightfully, by the Irish government, a decision was made about three days before our ordination to transfer the venue so that relatives of some of my class form Britain could attend.

As I’m from Dublin, the switch meant that more than the officially-invited ten guests could be present at the ordination ceremony.


The traditional day of Columban ordinations in Ireland and the USA was the old feast of St Thomas the Apostle, 21 December. However, as a newly-ordained priest in Ireland in those days didn’t celebrate his First Mass on a Sunday, the date could be brought forward or put back by a day. So I celebrated my First Mass on the feast of the apostle in Holy Family Church, Aughrim St, Dublin, where I had grown up.
With my father John (+1987), my mother Mary (+1970) and my brother Paddy

We had a six-day retreat that ended the night before our ordination, though those heading for Derry left earlier. Our retreat director was Fr Dan Conneely, witty and wise, one of three brothers who were Columban priests. Fathers Joe, Dan and Paul between them served as joyful priests for 184 years. Today is the 22nd death anniversary of Father Dan and the 14th of Father Paul. May they all rest in peace.


Blessing my cousin Mai Dowling

Our retreat was ‘low-key’ and prayerful. The only thing I can remember that Father Dan said, in the middle of one of his talks and with no connection whatever to the topic, was one of the shortest poems in the English language, by Ogden Nash: No MacTavish / was ever lavish. (For Filipino readers: ‘MacTavish’ is a Scottish apelledo and the Scots, like the Ilocanos, are reputed to be kuripot, hence many jokes about them.) But it was the kind of retreat that prepared us well.

Father Dan was editor of the Irish Far East, the Columban magazine, for nearly 30 years. He never served overseas but was a true missionary.









2 comments:

Jackie Parkes said...

Many congratulations Fr Sean..

Brendan Allen said...

And I will raise a glass to the next forty-one years!!