Thirty-three years ago today I went to Maynooth (September 13th, 1981). It seems so long ago now and so much has changed. I remember leaving home with my parents. Before leaving I called over to see Fr John Finn who had been ordained a few months earlier. He was from Gurteen and going to minister in New Orleans. He remains a friend, albeit at geographical remove now. My uncle Joe called to see me. He gave me a dressing gown (not a dressing down!!) that I still have. I don’t wear it – never really got into that habit – but I know where it came from. I was excited to be going but nervous too. It was my first time away from home in that sense of knowing that I’d be in another corner and hopefully for a while. I had the accompanying support that day of my parents who drove me and of my brothers who came along as well. That support has been consistent.
I met lovely people in Maynooth – seventy four others, like myself, who were starting out on this road and, like me, uncertain of its destination. Some left along the way and others joined us. Some have remained good friends and others, for some reason, faded a little into the unknown of distance and location and seldom cross my path any more. All of them, in one way or another, shaped my journey and have a place in my heart and prayers.
I spoke once of these and others like them becoming sort of “landmarks” for me. When a place in Ireland is mentioned – maybe Kinnity – I remember Michael who wasn’t ordained but spent a few years with us. Mostrim brings Joe centre stage. Ballycastle in Antrim brings Rory to mind, the Falls Road, Michael, Drimnagh brings Donal into the thoughts of the day, Athlone – Ray and so it goes. Ireland is dotted with places meaning people for, as I’ve often said, people make places. Some girls too became part of that landscape – Sinead from Carrick, Anne from Puckane, Carmel from Cooraclare and more. The network broadened, friendships were made and thankfully continue.
Through the gates in March 1986 (Easter Monday) arrived parents and family, some friends and neighbours for my ordination as a Deacon and over a year later the gates were in the rear-view mirror as I headed West to prepare for Ordination in Gurteen.
September 1981-June 1987 remain among the happiest years of my life. I enjoyed Maynooth very much and thank God that I had the chance to be there. The chance, especially, to be there when there were so many journeying the road to priesthood. How much change there has been with so few in Maynooth now – scarcely the makings of my September 1981 class now make up the full student body of seminarians. This is such a change – when you think that at that time there were seminaries in Carlow, Kilkenny, Thurles, Waterford, Wexford, Clonliffe College in Dublin, All Hallows – not to mention all the religious orders and now all gone with the exception of Maynooth (and of course the Irish College, Rome). Such change!
Earlier today I had the joy of celebrating the wedding mass of a young couple in Kilmovee. Later I baptized a little girl in Brusna and shared the evening at a wedding reception in Co. Roscommon. So much joy has come into my life due to that date, September 13th 1981 and today I think I just want to say thanks for that. Thanks to all who have walked into my life since that day: people I’ve met in parishes and through ministry. Overall it has been a good life, not without its puzzling moments but I’d like to think were I back there again, outside the house in Moygara in 1981, I’d be happy to sit in with Mary and Bill and head towards the Plains of Kildare 🙂