Behind the News: Leo Creelman, priest-to-be

Fifteen new deacons were ordained into the Catholic Church at St Patrick’s College in Maynooth last weekend

Ordination: Leo Creelman and his fellow deacons lie prostrate at St Patrick’s College. Photograph: Paul Keeling

Ordination: Leo Creelman and his fellow deacons lie prostrate at St Patrick’s College. Photograph: Paul Keeling


Leo Creelman says that the laying on of hands by Cardinal Seán Brady and lying prostrate during the litany of the saints were the highlights of his ordination ceremony at the chapel of St Patrick’s College, in Co Kildare, last Sunday.

The 50-year-old former businessman was one of 15 men ordained as transitional deacons, the first step in a three-part process to become a priest, following five or six years of studying philosophy and theology at NUI Maynooth and St Patrick’s College. The ordinands have one more year of parish work and study before they graduate as bachelors of divinity.

“I wanted to be a priest since I was 10, but I thought I wasn’t good enough,” says Creelman, who has worked in retail businesses in Northern Ireland and in real estate in the United States.

One of nine children, including a twin sister, Creelman says he was always involved with parish life as a child. “I was an alter server, and we lived in Coleraine, Co Derry, which was a predominantly Protestant town, so our social life was parish-based. The local curate lived to one side of us and the parish priest on the other. I had friends who were priests as I got older.”

Having lived as a layman until now, Creelman says he doesn’t see celibacy as a restriction. “I was with one girl for five years, but I felt priesthood was always there for me. I spent a lot of time praying about it, but I was also resisting it for some time. I see celibacy as a gift, because you can give yourself 100 per cent to the work of God.”

As for his experience in business, including running ice-cream shops and a cafe, and selling holiday homes in Florida, Creelman says he hopes they will be strengths he can bring to parish life. “I did enjoy setting up businesses, putting managers in place and going on to the next project, but I knew something else was tugging me in another direction. I’m a good administrator, yet I’m happier talking to people than doing bookwork.”

Although he is aware that Catholicism is no longer the force it once was in Irish life, Creelman says that, in parishes, there is still great support for priests. “On a national level the church can be seen as countercultural and be attacked for preaching against what people want to do. But we are proclaiming the teaching of Christ, with all its academic inputs, 2,000 years of tradition and the magisterium, the teaching authority of the Catholic Church. ”

During his final year of study, Creelman will work at weekends in a parish in the diocese of Clogher. What are his hopes for the future? “I’d be happy to help out wherever the bishop sends me. It’s not about me. You never know what will happen. Nothing is set in stone.”

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