Sunday 18 March 2018

Irish Army officer surrenders his post to be a soldier of God

Ordinations hit a new high as fresh calls for married priests emerge

CALLING: Former Army officer Seamus O’Rourke, who has had a late vocation to the priesthood. Photo: Tony Gavin
CALLING: Former Army officer Seamus O’Rourke, who has had a late vocation to the priesthood. Photo: Tony Gavin
Claire Mc Cormack

Claire Mc Cormack

They couldn't be more different - bus drivers, barmen, mathematicians, engineers, accountants, businessmen and soldiers - yet they have all turned away from secular life to enter the priesthood.

This year, 14 men from all over the country have been ordained into the Catholic church - almost three times higher than 2013 figures.

The youngest - a former music teacher - is just 27-years old, while the eldest (56) served with the Irish Army in Lebanon.

As a child, Longford native Fr Seamus O'Rourke was fascinated with the Army and technology.

At 22, he joined the Army Signal Corps and trained as a telecommunications technician. He was deployed to Lebanon where Irish troops were stationed to prevent fighting between the Palestine and Israel. "It was very challenging being in such a hostile area. It was dangerous and a number of our guys were unfortunately killed," Fr O'Rourke told the Sunday Independent.

After 11 years of service, Seamus took up a position with the Civil Aviation Authority in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia where he stayed for three years.

Despite his passion for the work, God's call became stronger.

"It was a moment when I had a greater awareness of prayer and the meaning of life. Through my army years I saw first hand how fragile our existence is," he said.

Although he resigned from the Army in 1989, he continued to work in aviation for about two decades.

But then, after his mother's death in 2007, Fr O'Rourke's search for fulfilment came to a crunch.

He decided he wanted to become a priest.

He entered the diverse class of seminarians in Maynooth in 2009.

"It is a wonderful privilege to be part of such a large class with lots of different experiences and backgrounds and we're hoping to make the best use of all of that," said Fr O'Rourke, who will take up duty in the parish of Carrick-on-Shannon, Co Leitrim on September 1.

Other new priests include Fr Robert McGivney (28), from Navan, Co Meath, who began his religious studies shortly after completing a four-year degree in mathematics in Trinity College Dublin.

Former barman, Fr Chris Derwin (32), from Rathmines, is now the youngest priest in the Archdiocese of Dublin.

Although the increase in ordinations is welcome news for the Church, the Sunday Independent understands that bishops are currently setting up a commission to discuss the possibility of ordaining married men to the priesthood.

Fr Gerry Alwill, a spokesman for the Association of Catholic Priests, said radical measures are needed to tackle the shortage of priests.

"It's great to see 14 new priests but it's only a drop in the ocean on what is needed. And the possible ordination of married men is at least a slight twinkle of light," he said.

"There are signs of a movement and a realisation that the celibacy issue is an important one the Church is seemingly willing to look at it," said Fr Alwill.

When asked if this move would mean that priests would be allowed to marry in the future, he said: "At the moment, the way it is being phrased is that married men will be ordained. But I suppose the logical follow on would be that eventually the ban on priests being married could probably be lifted."

According to the ACP - representing almost 1,000 priests - "wanting to marry" is the main reason men leave the priesthood. Other decisions to leave are down to frustrations over church teachings or objections to the Church's approach to certain issues.

"The scandals where priests have had relationships with women is an indication that quite a number of priests would have found the single life difficult," said Fr Alwill, adding that the vast majority of lay people would support the change.

"It's time for our church to listen to the voice of God's spirit by speaking to the voice of the lay people, they are part of the Church too so all people should have a say in the decision - lay and cleric," he said.

Sunday Independent

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