MY VOCATION STORY
As a child I was introduced to Christ not just in the formal way of prayer but also by the living faith of my parents as witnessed in their everyday lives. My earliest childhood memories are probably similar to those of most children raised in the 60s in an Irish Catholic family. The family rosary was an integral part of the evening ritual immediately after tea. Chairs drawn to centre of floor, everyone kneeling down, and beads in hands, the rosary was recited. It was said every day without fail, complete with all the trimmings and with the image of ‘The Sacred Heart’ watching over proceedings, red lamp aglow from its prominent position over the open fireplace. The love of Christ was very much alive and present in our home in the way our parents loved us and instilled in us the values of Christ’s sense of compassion, forgiveness, honesty, and respect.
Even though my father, John, died at the young age of forty eight, my mother, Rose Anne, despite being devastated and broken-hearted managed to cope with rearing three children and working in Ballinamore Textiles factory only by the strength of her faith and her firm belief that God would ‘get her through’ the bad times. It was impossible for me, then, to grow up without a strong sense of Christ being at work in the ups and downs, the trials and tribulations as well as the joys and
successes in my life. It is of course when I reflect on the various milestones in my life that I can appreciate just how active God’s Spirit was at work in my life’s journey.
I remember learning in Secondary school that a vocation is ‘a manifestation of the will of God’. What we weren’t told was how long it would take for Gods will to actual manifest itself! I suppose when I look back on my teenage years I always had an interest in the religious life. This interest would never be consistent however; it was either very strong or almost non-existent. It depended on events and people that always put my focus back on the priesthood. In retrospect I suppose I was very naive in that I was half expecting God to give me a call, if not in a clap of thunder, the least he could afford me was a gentle whisper. Well he did call but not in the way I expected.
Again in hindsight, he called me so often; he must have been hoarse trying to get my attention. I now know that he chose the time for me to be ready, time when I would overcome low-self esteem and gain some confidence to be able to say yes to him and start the journey to religious life. From the early 90’s a series of events happened that made the call very loud and clear. In 1994 a group of people from Belfast were undertaking a peace walk from Armagh to Knock in Co Mayo over a period of five days. On their second day they walked 36 miles from Clones in Co. Monaghan to Ballinamore (my home town) where they had Mass in the Church and stayed with local people that night. The Mass was celebrated in a way I had never experienced before. The music, singing and praying was such that the sheer sense of joy was so tangible, one could almost touch it. The Spirit was vey present and active in the Church and in the people that night.
I gave one of the walker’s accommodation in my house that night and had a long conversation with him about life in Northern Ireland and what it meant to actually live in the midst of the troubles. I discovered that all the walkers had one thing in common. They were all members of the Cursillo movement. The Cursillo Movement was founded in Majorca in 1946 by a man named Eduardo Bonnin who died in January of this year. Cursillo de Christiad, which means ‘a short course in Christianity defines itself as a movement of apostolic action. Its objective is to create Christian groups that work together to become catalysts for community evangelization. The Cursillo movement believes that it is the testimony of these groups and of the cusillistas i.e. those who partake in Cursillo weekends themselves, which will Christianise communities.
As a result of my conversation I was invited to partake in a Cursillo weekend. I participated in the weekend in Belfast the following September and have worked on numerous Cursillo weekends since then to the present in Belfast, Derry, and Dublin. The structure of the Cursillo is that it runs from a Thursday evening to Sunday Afternoon. A series of talks are given by laypeople on the basics of what it is to be a Catholic. The three days are said to be three encounters. Friday is encounter with oneself, Saturday is encounter with Christ and finally the Sunday is an encounter with the greater Christian community. The format is such that you come away from the weekend feeling that you have indeed felt the total self-giving love of Jesus in a very physical way. This very real encounter with Christ was the beginning of a new found confidence and self belief that maybe I could indeed have a vocation and have the ability to proceed in studying for the priesthood but I still wanted to ‘hear’ the call.
Because I had made so many friends through being involved in Cursillo mostly from Belfast, I decided to have my 40th birthday celebrations comprising firstly a Mass followed by a party in west Belfast. This occurred in April of 2000 and it turned out to be a wonderful night with family and friends. At the end of the night I was presented with a present of a paid trip to Medjugorje in Bosnia where Our Lady was reportedly appearing to six visionaries since 1984. I went to Medjugorje in May 2001 with the full intentions of praying for guidance and discernment with regard to having a vocation and the ability to pursue it if indeed I had one.
On the second day of my pilgrimage I went to the 10am Mass in English in the Church of St James in the small rural village in the valley between the hills. The main concelebrant was an Irish Priest from Cork but who was living and working in Fall River in the State of Massachusetts in America. Fr Edward A. Murphy spoke during his homily about his own vocation and how he had failed his exams in the seminary he was attending in America and was subsequently asked to leave. Feeling devastated he himself went on pilgrimage to Medjugorje to pray for guidance. He said that he felt a strong sense of being told by Our Lady to try again. On returning to the States he did apply and entered a different seminary and consequently achieved his degree in Theology and Philosophy without any great difficulty. The difference he said was that in the second seminary the rosary was recited every evening in addition to the Divine Office.
Despite the fact that the congregation in St James’ Church was full to capacity on that specific day, I felt that there was no one else present and that Fr Murphy was talking directly to me. It was as if Christ Himself was speaking to me through this priest reassuring me in all my uncertainties and fears. I made a point of talking to Fr Murphy after the Mass and he too reassured me that once I made the decision to say yes to Gods call, I would lose whatever fears and doubts existed and would overcome any obstacles that I felt were stopping me in saying a profound ‘yes’. I went home from that pilgrimage feeling very secure in the knowledge that I had indeed heard the call very loud and clear.
On returning home I contacted the vocations director of the Irish Capuchin Franciscans which set in motion a process of discernment and assessments which lasted over a period of twelve months. Having passed the various psychological and psychiatric assessments all that remained was an interview to gain admittance to All Hallows College to begin studies in theology and philosophy. On completion of that interview in the College’s coffee Dock, I was invited to have a tour of the rest of the college. As I looked around the coffee dock I noticed two men sitting at a table in the opposite corner of the room. On closer inspection I was shocked and surprised to see that one of the men seated was Fr Edward A. Murphy who had just one year previously given me the confidence to begin the course of action in which I was now engaged. Fr Murphy was there for the annual ‘Intercession for Priests’. This encounter was such a positive confirmation that Christ was directing the events in my life and that I had no need to fear the future. This was another Christ centred moment on my vocation journey.
I joined the Capuchin Franciscans in 2002 as a postulant which was also my first year in All Hallows. This was a huge transition for me in many respects, moving to Dublin, living in community, and returning to education after almost 22 years. After a few shaky months I settled in to this new life mainly due to the friends and support I received in All Hallows and some very close friends and family at home. After that I had to take two years out from college as part of my novitiate and post novitiate programme to gain a better insight into living as a Capuchin Friar and explore various pastoral roles which for me was working for one year in Belfast. The highlight of that year 2005 was as a counsellor with the ‘Ulster Project’ bringing twelve teenagers, six Catholic and six Protestant to Ohio in America for the month of July.
For someone reading or hearing my story for the first time it would be easy to say that all these events when I felt Christ very close were just coincidental. And were it not for my parents who were truly my first and best teachers in the ways of faith, I would probably have said the same. But having had a good grounding in a Catholic upbringing and finally having access to a good Spiritual Director with whom I felt comfortable and open, I was able to reflect and realise that these were in fact God incidents. These were indeed moments of grace when Christ was truly present in a very tangible and heartfelt way. I was fortunate not just in experiencing these occasions but in being able to explore them more deeply and definitely in conversation with a qualified and understanding spiritual director.
As a result of having sessions in spiritual direction I can honestly say that I have been helped in my own restlessness. Along my life’s journey I have experienced many mixed emotions of joy and sorrow, fear and love, anger and peace, success and disappointment, and have often wondered where I was being led. Through the conversations and the silences with my spiritual director I have been able to explore and reflect where God was in all those events in my life I mentioned earlier. Now, it is not a question for me of is God present in my life but rather where is God leading me in this or that situation. The more one is open to see God in every life experience, the more one feels in contact with the divine that all- encompasses us.
Today, I am working in the inner city parish of Priorswood, Dublin 17 having been ordained in 2009 in Ballinamore Parish Church of my youth. A Priest though is never a priest on his own. He is chosen from a family and a community. I have been blessed to have been chosen from a wonderful, encouraging and loving family and a very supportive community. I can honestly say I have never been happier and I want to say a sincere thank you to my family, and all my friends who have supported and encouraged so much me over the last eleven years.
Pace e bene,
Br Seán Kelly, OFM,Cap.
Pace e bene,
Br Seán Kelly, OFM,Cap.
If you are interested in joining the Capuchin Franciscans please contact either myself at firstname.lastname@example.org or on 087 0550584
or our Vocations Director Br. Terence Harrington at Tharr@eircom.net or 086 3230638.