The Priest as an Agent of Change

The Priest as an Agent of Change:                   Fr. Francis Mitchell

In an era when updating of skills and in-service training are important in many professions and careers, the Archbishop and priests of the Archdiocese of Tuam gathered in Westport from 9 – 12 October for their eleventh annual In-Service.

The theme chosen for this year’s gathering was “The Priest as an Agent of Change”.  The organising committee allowed the words of the late Pope John Paul II to guide them in preparing for the In-Service: “There is no profession, job or work, which does not require constant updating if it is to remain current and effective.  The need to ‘keep pace’ with the path of history is another human reason in justifying ongoing formation” (Pastores Dabo Vobis, chapter 6, section 70).

Dr. Patricia Casey, Professor of Psychiatry at the Mater Hospital and UCD, was invited to deliver the key-note address on the opening night, when the priests were joined by over one hundred Religious and lay guests representing the fifty six parishes of the Archdiocese of Tuam.  Professor Casey spoke on Ireland: a changing landscape and she very skilfully and positively outlined and addressed the situation in which priests are called to work now and the path of history that has led to this point.  Dr. Casey’s contribution may be viewed on the diocesan web pages at:
http://www.tuamarchdiocese.org//DrPatriciaCasey.htm

Fr. Conal Ó Cuinn, S.J., addressed the theme by focussing on Human and Spiritual Development in the Life of the Priest, and while his was a very upbeat and enjoyable presentation, it was also quite challenging in that those present were helped appreciate how people can read the same situation differently and how difficult it can be for each person to change from what is familiar and comfortable – something quite necessary if priests are to change and grow, and ultimately if they are to help effect change.

Accountability, in its most positive form, is also something that is accepted now as the norm in many professions and careers.  Pastoral Supervision was the topic addressed by Fr. Pat McHugh, a priest of the diocese of Clogher and a member of staff at the Western Theological Institute.  Pastoral Supervision is a process by which the priest is enabled to discuss his work and ministry with a skilled and trained person, or with a group of his peers together with a trained person, and through which he will, in a supportive environment, be given constructive feedback that may help for the future.  Fr. McHugh facilitates a group of priests from the diocese who gather regularly for Pastoral Supervision and he outlined the process and the benefits of same.

Theologians Fr. Hugh Connolly and Fr. Michael Drumm addressed the priests on the third day.  Dr. Connolly, Vice-President of St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth, addressed the topic The Priest and Pastoral Relationships.  A body of research in this area is developing and it was felt by the organising committee to be one of special importance.  The Australian Bishops and the Conference of Religious in Ireland (CORI) have each published guidelines on best practice in pastoral situations, and given that Dr. Connolly is someone with expertise in this area his input was very much appreciated.
Dr. Michael Drumm, Head of Theology Dept., Mater Dei College, spoke on Change and Conversion: A Theological Perspective, and with characteristic good humour and competence outlined that change in the Church is not something new but rather something that has been part of the life of the Church and its members from the very beginning.

Just as the In-Service opened with an expert lay person so it closed!  The Church and the Media Today was the theme of Seán Staunton’s closing address.  Mr. Staunton, a journalist of many years experience and former Editor of The Mayo News, presented a very well researched paper, and as well as challenging priests in particular to make use of the many opportunities the media present to spread the Good News, he also had some very helpful practical suggestions on how best to go about this.  The text of his lecture can also be viewed on the diocesan web pages at: http://www.tuamarchdiocese.org//seanstaunton.htm

Prior to and throughout the In-Service the Archbishop and priests were delighted to have the assistance and advice of Ms. Mary Connolly on all matters liturgical.  Mary, a Primary School Teacher by profession, holds a Master’s Degree in Liturgy from Mary Immaculate College, Limerick.  This was her second year to contribute to the In-Service in this capacity.

Fr. Paddy Gilligan, chairman of the Council of Priests and chairman of the Organising Committee, explained that “this year’s In-Service was held in the lead-up to the Diocesan Assembly which will take place on 11 – 12 November.  For that reason it seemed appropriate to have the priests consider the issues of change.  No matter what the outcome of the Assembly it will involve change for priests and people.  I hope that as a result of the In-Service we priests will be in a better frame of mind to adapt to the changes“.  The theme for the Assembly will be: “A Future Full of Hope”.

Overall the mood among the participants was positive and upbeat, and on a very human level it was an opportunity for priests to meet those they may not have had occasion to meet since last year’s gathering.

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