Just two Catholic priests in Dublin are under 40, while a further 44 are aged between 70 and 75 and “in the next four or five years will be going into a more retired sort of life”, Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin said today.
“We already have in Dublin two parishes where there is no permanent priests or resident priest, and the people look after that.”
The Archbishop was speaking at Dublin’s Pro Cathedral this afternoon following the ordination to the priesthood there of Fr Séamus McEntee (48).
He noted how, in two Wicklow parishes, "we have, for example, two neighbouring parishes. One had 1,100 people and two priests. Next to it, 11,000 people and two priests." This suggested, he said, that "we have to look at a way in which we come to a greater sharing of responsibility in the church".
Looking to the future, he said “the image of the parish in 10 years’ time will be very, very different to the image of the parish we have today. There’ll be more lay people, deacons, religious, all working together under the leadership of a priest. It’s important that the priest would give real spiritual leadership. It’s not just about running other things in the parish. In the past priests did all sorts of things that weren’t essential.”
But priests won’t be spiritual leaders in the abstract, he said. A priest “will have to be somebody who can stand beside the men and women who live the difficulties of having faith in today’s world, who has the spiritual maturity themselves to stand beside those people and help them along the journey”. For his part, he said, “I’m not afraid of a strong lay leadership in the church. I welcome it.”
With eight seminarians from the Dublin archdiocese studying for the priesthood in Maynooth, two of whom were among 15 men ordained deacons by the Catholic primate Cardinal Seán Brady in Maynooth last Sunday, Archbishop Martin said "the numbers are going back up slightly".
He said: “We are very demanding on our seminarians. I want people who…mistakes were made in the past. We have to be quite strong in choosing people.”
Of the newly ordained Fr McEntee, he said: “I’m very pleased. He’s a very fine man. We need more priests. We need good priests. And the way to get more priests is for all of us to be good priests. You can see the affection there is for this man from the parishes where he worked... I’ve very happy for him, for his family. He’s had a very interesting career.”
Before entering Maynooth in 2009, Fr McEntee, who is from Rathcoole, Co Dublin, spent over 10 years selling cars. In the 1980s he studied at the College of Marketing and Design before going to London, where he worked in human resources and retail. In the 1990s he spent five years with the Missionaries of Charity in Mexico, founded by Mother Teresa, and studied philosophy in Rome.
Speaking this afternoon, Fr McEntee said: “My faith has always been a part of my life, and this is just maybe for me a flowering, an opening up into something that is more fruitful for me. It’s not just starting today. It’s been a journey to get to this point - and it’ll continue until the day I die.”
He said: “I have really good friends who are priests and I’d seen how joyful they are before I decided. I had been working in the business world and I thought, if they can be happy, I can be happy too as a priest. So the happiness and the joy of priests in the diocese encouraged me.”
He sold cars at O'Donoghue's on Dublin's Kylemore Road. "I used to sell Fiats." It was "the brand that used to take a lot of knocks and jokes about 'fix it again tomorrow'. I used to believe when I was selling cars that you didn't have to be good, you had to be extra good. You have to go that extra mile.
“You had to show people that the car is reliable, that it has a good pedigree, there is a warranty with it…all that kind of thing.
"It's kinda not just keeping it standard and playing it safe. It's kind of just going a bit more to say...believe in the car... but believe now, I'd say, in Jesus Christ. Believe in the good news.
“Believe in yourselves, that within ourselves we have something to offer and that life is not just a mediocre life. It’s not just a mediocre car. Give it a try and give more of yourself.”
He worked “a lot with business people selling vans as well ...so I’ve seen the ups and downs of businesses, struggles and all that kind of stuff... through the 2000s. I saw people lose their businesses… I worked in London on the stock exchange…”
But today he was “just really happy. At this moment in time where I am right now, I feel it’s the right thing and I’d like to hold onto it and savour it and carry this with me when the times may not be so good.”