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UCD honours Leon Ó Giollain SJ

Leon Ó Giolláin SJ has been presented with the VIA (Values in Action) award by University College Dublin, where he works as a member of the chaplaincy team.  The award is given in recognition of colleagues who bring the university’s values to life. It celebrates individuals or teams in the university who act as ambassadors for UCD values through their daily work, or who establish notable initiatives. Nominations for the award are made annually by colleagues across UCD.

In his letter to Leon, Professor Joe Carthy, College Principal and Dean of Science and chair of the adjudicating committee, offered his “heartiest congratulations,” noting that 65 nominations were received and Leon was one of only six people chosen for the award.

The citation for Leon’s award referenced a number of factors that led to his selection. Leon was recognised “for his dedication to the UCD community in providing a professional, confidential and compassionate listening ear.” In addition, it was stated that “Leon provides support, guidance and heartfelt advice to staff and students of all faiths and none, often going beyond the call of duty. He is generous with his time, making himself available outside working hours, on weekends and during holiday periods.”

The citation also referenced the fact that “Leon has helped break down barriers and overcome suspicion between the differing faiths on campus through interfaith gatherings to foster mutual respect and understanding between those from diverse backgrounds.”

It also referenced the work he engaged in daily on campus. “Through his support, Leon has  helped countless staff and students through difficult situations including bereavement and made it possible for many students to remain in their course,” the citation notes, along with acknowledgment of his work with the college St Vincent de Paul Society to provide “much-needed funds to struggling students.”

For his part, Leon says he is honoured to receive the award but is quick to point out that “it reflects more on the chaplaincy as an institution and team than on any achievements of my own.”

Leon’s time as chaplain is drawing to a close and looking back over his years in the UCD he says the award is welcome ” because of its recognition by the University of the chaplaincy’s unique contribution to the student experience and its harmony with the core values of the University – equality, diversity, and inclusion – which our charter clearly reflects”. Read his full reflection below.

The show is on the road!

As I come into the final straits of my time here in UCD, it is indeed an honour to be awarded this recognition (VIA – Values in Action Award) which reflects more on the chaplaincy as an institution and team than on any achievements of my own. With the guidance and support of the Director of Student Services and Facilities, Mr. Dominic O’Keeffe (the chaplaincy’s line manager) and financial support from the Dublin diocese which permitted the updating and refurbishment of the chaplaincy facilities in recent years, and most of all with the pooling of individual chaplains’ unique gifts, we have been able to develop a vibrant chaplaincy centre which facilitates faith-based activities and events for several hundred students on a regular basis.

This award is welcome because of its recognition by the University of the chaplaincy’s unique contribution to the student experience and its harmony with the core values of the University – equality, diversity and inclusion – which our charter clearly reflects:

St. Stephen’s Chaplaincy Centre at UCD welcomes all students who wish to explore, nurture or celebrate faith and spirituality. The Chaplaincy’s ethos seeks, at all times, to protect and foster mutual respect and communion between individuals and groups of similar and of different religious (or non-religious) persuasions. Our goal is to build unity based on respect for the richness of diversity among us.

We are ‘on the map’, as it were, and well rooted in the life of the University, which makes my imminent departure – end of May 2020 – timely and satisfying. The show is on the road! The wheels are turning! My ‘hopping off’ the wagon will hardly be noticed!

Fifteen years ago – I was still, just about, in my forties – I felt a strong desire to focus my energies on the evangelisation of youth which I regarded as an apostolic priority in contemporary Ireland – one of those ‘greatest needs’ the Society likes to identify and serve. Fr. John Dardis, then Provincial, confirmed these desires without hesitation and after some negotiations, I was appointed to UCD, my Alma Mater. In recent years, thanks also to the providential arrival of FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students) missionaries, we have successfully reached out to the ‘lost sheep’ of our times, young people who, for various reasons, have found themselves on the periphery of Christian faith and practice. That outreach continues to grow apace. The harvest is great and the labourers are few, needless to say, but the fruit of our labour is nevertheless evident. Several hundred students are currently engaged in Bible studies and there is a visible increase in students grappling with questions of faith (rather than dismissing them) and in many cases, a return to religious practice.

The chaplaincy’s outreach, consistent with the university’s ‘inclusive’ values and the growing population of non-national students, includes inter-Christian and interreligious groupings, not excluding those who profess no particular belief or religious affiliation but who still wish to engage in the conversation around meaning and values. I believe our interfaith events, though still attracting small numbers, have captured the attention and the imagination of the University which is always keen to provide (and to showcase!) a holistic student experience. Welcoming the stranger and in particular acknowledging what is for most foreign students a vital part of their identity, i.e. their faith, contributes in a unique and vital way to the inclusive thrust of the University and the welcoming environment it seeks to foster. The chaplaincy has been to the forefront of this interfaith initiative.

To paraphrase John in his conclusion to his gospel, ‘there are also many other things’ we could report – not claiming, however, that ‘the world itself could not contain the books that would be written’! – but we have done what we could and no more is asked. May the Lord bless our efforts in the past and continue to bless them into the future.

A.M.D.G

Leon Ó Giolláin S.J.

13 December 2019