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And the verdict is…

Well-known broadcaster Sean O’Rourke was guest of honour in DIT Bolton Street on Thursday, 1 February, for a novel launch of a new book by Fr Alan Hilliard, Head of the Pastoral and Chaplaincy Service at the Dublin Institute of Technology in Bolton St, Dublin. On request, 8 students had already ‘dipped into’ Alan’s book, and Sean O’Rourke conducted a panel discussion with them on their responses to what they’d read.

Professor Brian Norton, who welcomed the large gathering present on the night, described Alan’s book as a thought-provoking series of short reflections that were both highly accessible and insightful. The students said they appreciated the inclusive nature of the book which is written in such a way that it speaks to all types of people of all faiths and none. They told Sean O’Rourke that they liked the personal nature of Alan’s stories as well as the down-to-earth way he dealt with issues like illness, especially dementia in the family, or the importance of finding spaces of peace and meaning in the chaos of life. There was ‘a light yet deep touch’ to Alan’s ruminations that they found helpful.

For his part, Sean O’Rourke said it was a book he could see himself reading during Lent. He said the title, Dipping into Lent, perfectly described the way the book “invites you to dip in to explore some of the forty short reflections that touch on a diverse range of topics.” The presenter of RTE radio one’s Today programme also invited each of the students to say something about themselves, and to select a piece from the book, and say why it was relevant to them. Their responses included an acknowledgement of the spiritual connection the book afforded them, the pragmatic nature of the issues Alan addresses, and the sometimes humorous take he has on life and its mysteries. All of them warmly recommended Dipping into Lent as a source of accessible wisdom and reassurance.

There was praise on the night also for the engaging and refreshing way the book is presented. The topic titles are actually an intriguing index of hashtags such as #detox or #moving_on,  or #death_in_a_laundry_basket.  The reflections are accompanied by short but apposite quotes, from philosophers, songwriters, popes, saints and scholars, that sum up the theme of each one. The book itself is illustrated throughout by photos taken by the author but presented as a semi-photo, semi-watercolour sketch.

The book is published by Messenger Publications Ltd and many of the staff, including Cecilia West, Caitriona Maher, Paula Nolan and Donal Neary SJ, joined Alan’s family and colleagues on the night. The author thanked Messenger Publications Ltd for asking him to write the book, which he dedicated to the students and staff whom he encounters on a daily basis in his role as Chaplain in DIT. “Their many and varied situations have encouraged me to dip more deeply into the mystery we call life. I am continually challenged but continually refreshed by their presence,” he said.

Speaking after the event, Donal Neary SJ, editor of The Messenger, said,”When I heard the feedback from the students, I was more convinced of the value of this Lenten book, and I’m proud we published it.  It really was a most inspiring evening, rooted in an up-to-date take on spirituality and faith.”

The event finished with a reading selected by special guest Norah Casey, former Dragon’s Den panelist. She was accompanied by classical guitarist Hilke Billerbeck, from the Conservatory of Music in Hamburg.

Dipping into Lent, by Fr Alan Hilliard Hilliard, (Messenger Publications 2018) priced €7.95 is available online from the Messenger website and in bookstores.