Ireland was the chosen destination this year for an induction tour for the eight Jesuit novices currently doing their novitiate (the first two years of Jesuit formation) in Birmingham. The purpose of the novitiate is to help the novices discern more deeply their vocation to the Society of Jesus. They do so through a variety of means and experiences appropriate to this initial stage of formation. Their trips to Ireland are part of this process. The novices pictured at Emo Court with Fr Kevin O’Rourke are from left to right: Paul Prior (Ireland); Paolo Beltrame (Itlay); John Bosco Noronha (Britian); Thiranjala Weerasinghe (Sri Lanka); Ian Jackson (Britian); Desmond Gibney (Ireland); Matthew Tumulty (Ireland) and Dunstan Rodrigues (Britian, front, kneeling).
A highlight of their excursion was to help out at the National Ploughing Championships. For the last four years the Jesuits in Ireland have had a stand there, offering a blessing with the cross of recently beatified Irish Jesuit Fr John Sullivan. Fr Kevin O’Rourke SJ is assistant novice master in Birmingham. He has also worked each year at the ploughing and was looking forward to having the novices lend a helping hand with the blessing and handing out of leaflets. But it would seem the Lord had other plans. Irish novice Desmond Gibney SJ gave us this report of the novices’ September trip to Ireland.
New novices in old novitiate!
Mid-September marked my second trip back to Ireland since joining the Jesuit Novitiate in Birmingham on 15 August 2018. The first trip coincided with the World Meeting of Families and the visit of Pope Francis, and an account of that trip has featured in a blog post written by one of my fellow-novices.
The novitiate in Birmingham serves the Jesuit Provinces of Ireland, Britain and the Low Countries, and each year the novices and novice master undertake a tour of one of the three Provinces. This year, Ireland was the destination, and the centrepiece of the trip by eight novices led by our Novice Master Fr Simon Bishop SJ, was to attend the National Ploughing Championships at Screggan in county Offaly.
It took some explaining to make sure that all eight novices (drawn from Britain, Italy, Sri Lanka as well as Ireland) understood the significance of this event. It is in fact one of the largest outdoor annual events in Europe, but simply called “the Ploughing” by everyone in Ireland!
Part of our work at the Ploughing was to pray with those asking for help through the intercession of Blessed John Sullivan SJ, and that seemed like it would be an easy task for me, as I have previously written about my family’s devotion to the crucifix of Blessed John Sullivan.
Our busy schedule between Sunday 16 September and Thursday 20 September included visits to the Jesuit communities in Belfast and Portadown. We also had an opportunity to talk about our vocations and decision making to fifth year students in Belvedere College, facilitated by faith development directors Padraig Swan and Eoghan Keogh. Enjoyable too was a visit to the Franciscan Sisters of the Renewal at their convent in Drogheda.
There were a number of special moments during the five days, including three different tours of Belfast guided by members of the Jesuit community there. We were also given an explanation of the background to the iconic photograph of an open-air concelebrated Mass for Garvaghy Road residents in July 1997.
But for me, the highlight of our tour of the Irish Province was the Sunday evening Gospel Mass in St Francis Xavier Church on Gardiner Street in Dublin’s inner city. The Gardiner Street Gospel Mass is now in its 19th year, and is a contemporary but reverent celebration of the Sunday liturgy.
After reading the Gospel (Mark 8: 27-35), where Jesus asks His disciples “Who do you say I am?”, and St Peter replies “You are the Christ”, the celebrant Fr Jake Martin SJ observed that while St Peter certainly had a ‘way with words’, his actions sometimes let him down! That provided an opportunity for Fr Jake to invite the congregation firstly to reflect and then write down on pieces of paper provided, who Jesus is for them personally. I found it to be a very moving experience when most people present came up in ones and twos to place their pieces of paper in a basket at the front altar, and later in the Mass when a selection of these anonymised reflections were read out by one of the lay members of the Gospel Mass liturgy team.
By this stage you might be wondering how we got on at the Ploughing. Unfortunately, Storm Ali put paid to our plans to attend the Ploughing on Wednesday. The organisers deemed it too risky to open for the day and many thousands of disappointed visitors had to return home as the stewards began the onerous task of cleaning up the damage inflicted by the storm. But we did get to see Mary Berry of ‘Great British Bake-Off’ fame who was staying in the hotel where we had supper! She was another casualty of the cancellation having been invited over to meet her many fans at the event.
We rounded off our day in county Offaly with a visit to the former Jesuit novitiate at Emo Court, where the guided tour enabled us to count our blessings for our regime in the Birmingham novitiate, compared to that faced by novices in Emo for forty years in the middle of the twentieth century!
Desmond Gibney SJ
Jesuit novice from the Irish Province
Manresa House, Birmingham, United Kingdom