FOUR Irish men who were ordained deacons in Rome have been praised for their courage in undertaking a lifelong commitment to celibacy and service.
Archbishop Dermot Clifford of Cashel and Emly told the four seminarians from the Irish College in Rome that the election of Pope Francis "signalled a time of hope and joy for the universal church".
Pat O'Donoghue (35), from Castlemartyr in east Cork, worked as a pharmacist for a number of years before giving it all up to serve God. A graduate of Trinity College Dublin, he first began training for the priesthood in 1998 but dropped out for a while before rejoining St Patrick's College, Maynooth.
He is currently studying for a masters in theology in Rome. He and the three other new deacons assisted Pope Francis during the Good Friday liturgy in St Peter's Basilica last week.
Asked about a life of celibacy, he told the Irish Independent: "When I was in college I did the normal things young people do but I've spent a number of years now contemplating this and looking at the spiritual side of celibacy."
He said celibacy had to be seen as "more than just the denial of marriage".
"I feel it is a positive thing, freeing me up to dedicate my whole person to God and doing God's work and serving others."
He was joined in ordination by a medical doctor, a law graduate, and a school-leaver.
The ceremony at the Basilica of Saints John and Paul in Rome was attended by more than 100 family members and friends.
Mr O'Donoghue was ordained along with Liam Boyle (25), from the Diocese of Raphoe, Brian Fitzpatrick (35), of the Diocese of Dromore, and Dominic McGrattan (29), of Down and Connor.
All four are currently studying theology at the Gregorian University in Rome following previous seminary studies at either St Patrick's College, Maynooth, or St Malachy's College, Belfast. They must complete a final year of study before becoming priests.
Deacons can baptise, perform marriages, anoint the dying, visit the sick and housebound and preside at funerals.
There is a long tradition of Irish bishops sending seminarians to Rome for priestly formation. The Irish College dates back to 1628 when there was no seminary in Ireland. Maynooth was set up in 1795.
There are currently 11 Irish seminarians at different stages of preparation for the priesthood at the Roman college.