Never in my wildest dreams have I thought I’d be typing this: The Diocese of Cork and Ross, in which I minister, doesn’t have any student priest in our national seminary. Nor does it have any students in any seminary. Anywhere.
The diocese has one seminarian who this year is doing an optional course in ministry in a hospital.
St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth, was opened in 1795 to train priests for Ireland. For most of the time since, it was one of several colleges training Irish seminarians. It’s now the only one on Irish soil and its future is in doubt given the small enrolment in recent years. There are five first-year students this year.
The lack of seminarians combined with the ageing profile of serving priests effectively means that this generation of Irish people is likely to witness the disappearance of priests from the Irish landscape – unless there’s a very dramatic intervention of some sort and this is very unlikely.
I know the seemingly endless revelations about awful crimes and cover-ups committed across the world by clergy and religious will justify some people saying it’s no great loss. And I know that anger is justified.
Personally, one part of me is sad to think that the thousands of honourable men who were trained in Maynooth and gave their lives in service across the world have their memories spattered by the tar of a very wide brush.
The other part of me tries to unpack how to build up steam and hope and sail on, given that I can see exactly where the iceberg is because this one is above water now and no one is on the bridge.
But we are making history. It’s just not the kind we hoped for!