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Newman and a new way of formation

Dermot Mansfield SJ hosted a unique modified retreat over two nights for laity in leadership roles in the Diocese of Elphin.  The theme of the retreat was ‘St John Henry Newman -Saint For Our Time’.

Dermot had Irish Jesuit Communications record his two talks on the topic via Zoom. The videos were made available to participants to watch and reflect on before engaging with Dermot, again via Zoom, on Tuesday 19 May and Friday 22 May 2020. The first video focuses on the life of  St John Henry Newman and the second, on the Saint’s relevance for today.

Dermot had originally been invited by the Pastoral Faith and Development Services team, with the support of Bishop Kevin Doran, to deliver a full-day retreat in person but the Covid-19 pandemic made this impossible.

The online retreat worked really well, according to Justin Harkin, Director of the Pastoral Faith and Development Services team, with up to 90 people from the diocese of Elphin taking part.

“We were eager to offer people exposure to St. John Henry Newman” explains Justin, “and also exposure to Dermot, as a Newman scholar and biographer, and as a highly renowned Spiritual Director and past Director of Manresa Jesuit Centre for Spirituality.”

Over the two evenings in May, up to ninety clergy and laity from the Elphin diocese and further afield joined the online conversations with Dermot.

According to Justin, participants were particularly struck by Fr. Dermot’s illumination of St. John Henry’s struggles, achievements, writings, commitment to prayer, friendships, various fields of education, and ‘care of souls’.

The engagement and questions from participants via Zoom drew out many facets of Newman’s life, says Justin. “Especially his commitment to prayer, the ordained ministry, education, and holistic formation of young people. And also his experience of doubt and quest for and commitment to truth and conscience.”

It was also illuminating, he said, to hear of Newman’s understanding of the role and mission of the lay faithful and other insights he had that are now incorporated in Vatican II documents.”

Justin noted that participants also welcomed opportunities to pose questions of Dermot regarding the application of Newman to contemporary challenges, such as the role of women in the Irish Church, a  holistic vision for schools and universities, the relationship between the clergy and laity into the future, the supremacy of conscience and the pursuit of holiness and happiness in contemporary life.

“This began as an experiment in nurturing hope and encouragement at a challenging time for many people.” says Justin, adding, “It evolved into being two of the best evenings of on-going adult faith formation we have experienced in recent times without detracting from our original aspiration.”

He adds, “We are deeply grateful to Dermot and his Jesuit friends. Not only has he opened a window on Newman but through his personal witness and engagement with us, he has shone a light on Christ, ‘the way, the life, and the truth.’  We look forward to being nurtured by him again at a later date.”