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Sacred Heart Church, Limerick – Where are we now?

A difficult and sad time - but a time of hope Dermot Murray SJ gives the background to the closure of the Sacred Heart church in Limerick and he explains where things stand now, both with respect to the purchase of the property and to the continuing work of Jesuits in the city.


Last April, Fr. John Dardis, S.J., Provincial, announced that Sacred Heart Church would close in June 2006. He had already consulted Bishop Donal Murray on the matter and took this decision after long consultation and much prayer. The reasons are well known – an ever decreasing number of Jesuits, the number of functioning Churches close to Sacred Heart Church, changing needs in the Limerick area. The decision was met with some dismay. Nevertheless there was some consolation in the fact that the Province would establish a Centre of Spirituality in Limerick – not to replace Sacred Heart Church but as a new apostolate in the city and county, very much in line with the Jesuit ethos of looking at needs and trying to meet these needs in the light of available resources.

Although a small number of people expressed their consternation at the decision to close Sacred Heart Church, and some continue to make their feelings known – for example the editorial column in the Limerick Leader – in general people have accepted the decision, albeit with much sadness, as have the Jesuits themselves. This Holy Week the Jesuit community and congregation will celebrate the Easter Ceremonies together. We will continue to worship in the Church until the final celebration of thanksgiving for the many years of service given by the Society of Jesus to the people of Limerick through the ministry of the Church – and for the faithfulness of so many to Sacred Heart Church since it opened in 1868.

The process of closing a Church is complex and difficult. The local Bishop – who has been very supportive all through – is consulted and permission has to be obtained both from the Vatican and from Fr. General. In addition, since the Society of Jesus is a charity, the procedures laid down by the commissioner for charitable trusts have to be followed.

In addition to acquiring the various permissions outlined above, the following steps were taken locally:
1. a small task force – consisting of the Superior of the Community, an architect, an accountant and a person well versed in property was set up to help the superior to oversee the process;
2. in accordance with the requirements of the commissioner for charitable trusts, three valuations for the property were obtained from three different estate agents;.
3. an estate agent (Sherry, Fitzgerald, O’Malley) was then appointed to manage the sale;
4. in consultation with the estate agents, it was decided that that the sale would take place by public tender. (Thus, after normal advertising inviting tenders to be submitted by a specific date, various tenders were received by the our solicitor by the date laid down.);
5. on the due date, these tenders were opened by the solicitor in the presence of the clients;
6. as the highest tender was in excess of the valuation already established, and in accordance with legal advice and having obtained the necessary permissions, the highest tender was accepted on March 15th 2006.

The tenders remain confidential. However, Mr. John O’Dolan, a builder and developer from Galway has since declared himself to be the purchaser of the property.

Because the Church and the Residence are protected structures, the local authority will have considerable say in the future use of the property and any changes that are proposed to the building itself.

It had been hoped that the final Eucharist would be celebrated on the Feast of the Sacred Heart, June 23rd 2006; however Bishop Murray will be in Lourdes with the Diocesan Pilgrimage at that time. So, while there will be a celebration to mark the end of the Novena to the Sacred Heart – to be given by Fr. Tom Morrissey,S.J. – the final Celebration will take place in the evening of Friday, June 30th. Bishop Murray will preside and preach.

On a personal note, this has been a very difficult and sad time for our faithful congregation, for the community and for myself. The more I celebrate the Eucharist, the more I pray in the Church, the more I fall in love with it – and this is true for each member of the community and for those who worship and have worshipped here over many years. Many tears will be shed when Sacred Heart Church is finally closed – but there is some consolation in the knowledge that a new Centre of Spirituality, for which accommodation is already being sought – will enable us to continue to serve the people of Limerick in accordance with changing needs and our own changing circumstances as we have done for over four hundred years.

In the meantime, we soldier on – celebrating the Eucharist, presiding over various devotions, remaining available for confessions and for counselling. Please pray for us during the weeks and months ahead that the Lord may be with us and with those who accompany us in our journey and give us a share in that freedom that was so much a feature of the early Jesuits and remains one of our characteristics to this day.

The Lord works in strange ways – who could have foreseen the extraordinary changes in Irish Catholicism twenty years ago? Our hope and our prayer is that He continue to work in us and with us and through us so that, in these changing times and through our continuing but changing ministry, many people may come to know Him more clearly, love Him more intimately and follow Him more closely.