Steps retraced

It’s 3.30am and I can’t sleep. Never good at counting sheep, I’ve decided to virtually scribble a few lines here.

Earlier this evening I arrived in Maynooth and joined some classmates, two of our former deans and some family members of two deceased classmates for Mass in St Mary’s Oratory.

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The gathering is for what’s called Maynooth Union Day and usually takes place in June but has been brought forward this year due to the Eucharistic Congress taking place next month. The focus of this day, each year, is to gather priests – former students of Maynooth – to celebrate the anniversaries of Ordination. The groupings are loosely arranged in five year spans, e.g. Five years ordained, Ten years ordained etc. there will be men here tomorrow who have been priests for the past year or maybe sixty years. It’s a worthwhile gathering.

My class is here this year because it’s twenty-five years since we were ordained during the summer months of 1987. Certainly I find it hard to believe that a quarter of a century has passed since I headed West to prepare for ordination. Indeed that year, another Gurteen man was celebrating his Silver Jubilee and he seemed light years away from me. I’m happy that we will both be here tomorrow and the gap doesn’t seem as big now!! Happy Golden Jubilee, Greg Hannan.

I’m staying in the college tonight. The room I’m in is a student’s room – they’ve gone home now for the summer and the rooms are available to guests during the holidays. The room I left in June 87 is just down the corridor from where I am now. They have been decorated over the years, wooden floors, wardrobe and desk and the corridor has been carpeted but there’s a comforting sameness about it all. A sameness that says the journey continues.

How many have passed through these rooms, walked these corridors and made their own of this place is beyond ready reckoning. Thousands, for sure. Each one hoping he’d see it through and make a difference. Some opted to pull the door after them before ordination and to walk other paths. For others that decision came sometime later and priesthood was no longer a place to call home. All though spent time in rooms like I’m in now. I’ve no doubt, like me, many had sleepless nights too – wondering, praying, doubting, hoping, searching, finding, deciding and journeying on and around this road to Emmaus.

So spare a thought for all who came to Maynooth – most of them at the latter end of teenage years, hoping they were doing the right thing and wanting to be good priests like the ones they’d seen at home or in school. It’s doubtful many came here to fail or to hurt. Yet there has been failure and hurt but I’m convinced – I have to be convinced – that was not the starting point or intention.

They’ve put our Classpiece inside the main door of the college alongside the classpieces of the classes of fifty and sixty years ago. Looking at those photos of my classmates it’s certainly true that most of us have changed. There’s weight where there wasn’t. Baldness where there was hair but we are still the men in the picture. I think we have to make something of that, to be something of the man in the picture who left a room like I’m in tonight to head North, South, East or West to find a “Yes” that was rooted in Faith and do our best.

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I’m sleepy now! Chances are you are too so goodnight!