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Quality presence for Northern ministry

Terry Howard SJ speaks to Pat Coyle of Irish Jesuit Communications about his work in Belfast over the last nine years. This includes being a quality presence as chaplain to students and staff at Ulster University and acting as spiritual director for lay people and clergy from his community home. He also describes what it is like as a Southerner living in Northern Ireland and shares many personal lessons along the way.

Terry first worked as spiritual director for St Malachy’s seminary until its closing in 2018. As a result, he was freed up to work with young adults in Ulster University. Referring to the role as chaplain, he says: “The quality of who you are is going to be the most important aspect of your presence here… There’s more picked up by osmosis than by direct speech”.

Terry acknowledges that experiencing deaths of students is a very difficult part of his ministry. He has seen the impact a death has had on friends of the deceased student and has tried to console them in different ways. Due to the many denominations of faith and unique circumstances in Northern Ireland, he has not presided over many funerals and so he had to let go of what he originally expected.

The Irish Jesuit was surprised to work with so many staff of the university who have a need for his presence, especially given the lack of stability in their jobs. On top of his work in seeing people from his community home, he has come to value his own gifts and talents. “I’ve learned to appreciate that I have a gift for spiritual direction… that developed sense of being able to spot God’s movement in somebody’s life through listening.”

Terry has learned to respect and appreciate the people of Northern Ireland. He has a wish for more Jesuits and others to experience the same. “There’s a whole reality here that needs to be respected, and I’ve learned how to let Northern Ireland be Northern Ireland.” He continues, “What more concerns me is that we get to know each other. That’s what’s going to make the difference.”

Listen to the podcast above for the full story.