Best wishes to our co-worker Claire Carey as she retires!

On the Feast of St Clare, the community in Dalgan gathered to thank Claire Carey for her many years of service to Columban Mission and to wish her every blessing and good health in her retirement.

On behalf of the Region, Fr Ray Husband, Regional Director, thanked Claire for her very dedicated engagement in mission outreach.

In his social media tribute, Fr Pat Raleigh recalled, “As a Missionary Society we have been blessed with very dedicated and committed Co-workers, Lay Missionaries and associates in every Region and Mission Unit. This is very true of the Region of Ireland. Claire Carey gifted us with many gifts. Claire, Michael O’Sullivan and Ger Clarke worked very well as a team always coming up with new ideas on Mission.”

In September 1993, Claire began her Columban journey as a lay missionary preparing for mission overseas. Speaking to, she recalled how she was teaching at the School for the Deaf in St Mary’s Dominican Convent in Cabra for 16 years. “It was very specialised and interesting work.”

The five lay missionaries who were sent from Dalgan to Korea in 1994: (left to right) Helen Farrell, Michael Kenny, Chrissie Fitzpatrick, Padraig Hurley and Claire Carey.

“We got the Far East magazine when I was younger. My family had strong links to the Columbans. My father had been a seminarian with the Columbans, though there wasn’t much said about it. And we had a family friend, Fr Sean Conneally, who spent most of his mission in Korea. He would drop into our house on his way to Dalgan. I particularly remember the time around his ordination – the excitement.”

Taking a career break from teaching, Claire did a lot of travelling. “The traveling and the journey opened my eyes to the broader Catholic Church. To go to Mass and see the fervent faith of the people in Malaysia or Thailand. It was most inspiring.”

“I became more thoughtful about my faith life. I taught religion to the children in school, and it was one of the things I always found very joyful. But I didn’t feel terribly connected to the local church. By the time I had finished my travels, I was asking myself if I could volunteer in some way.”

“When I came home, there was a big stack of Far East magazines that had been sent to the house and hadn’t been thrown away by the person who was renting the house. In one of them, I found an ad for the Columban lay mission programme.”

Marking Care for Creation at Cabra West parish in Dublin, Claire Carey, Columban Fr Liam O’Callaghan and the parish team.

The programme offered six months training in Dalgan after which participants could be sent overseas for three years.

“I loved the idea of the training programme beforehand. The course they offered was very varied. They used all the resources they had on the premises and their connections to give you a very big picture of the Church. It was a most enjoyable time.”

“In September 1993 I applied and joined a group that was undergoing training with a view to going overseas. We were a group of seven. We were a completely diverse group of people – nothing connected us except that we appeared together on that day in Dalgan.”

“In the end five of us decided to go overseas. The option was there for participants to step out of the programme at any time if you decided that it wasn’t for you. So, five of us went, and we are still all in contact. I was the eldest. I was in my mid-30s. There were three women and two men and the youngest was just 23. We formed very close friendships. I think it was the key to the programme. They gave us the resources which helped us to rely on each other and get used to relying on other people, rather than on our own resources.”

The Invitation to Mission group visiting Fr Ed O’Connell in Peru in 2018.

“We were the first lay missionaries to go to Korea. In February 1994 we departed. It was heady days in Ireland for Columban lay mission. The year before us, Mick Scully had trained two groups of about seven and five and they had gone overseas to different countries. Some went to Chile, some of them went to the Philippines.”

From 1994-1997, Claire worked as a Columban Lay Missionary in Korea on Migrant Outreach work. “When we landed in Seoul we were blown away. Korea was a fabulously developed country in terms of city and planning. And the technology – email and things that we’d never even heard of. The infrastructure of the country and the capacity to build and develop – it was mind blowing compared to what we saw here in Ireland at the time. They had huge industrial complexes and they needed workers by the bucket load. There was a lot of illegal workers coming in from all over Asia to work in the factories. So, I began working with a group that was helping migrant workers. By the time I returned to Ireland in May 1997, migrants was only just beginning to emerge as an issue.”

Claire Carey with former lay missionaries Save Momo, Eden de la Cruz, and Angie Escarsa on the Knock to Croagh Patrick walk.

Claire went back to teaching for the next four years. Then in 2001, the regional director in Ireland at the time, Fr Neil Magill, approached her to see if she would be interested in the role of Columban Lay Missionary Co-ordinator in Ireland. She took a career break and took up the role for the next four years. “There was a big crowd of lay missionaries in Ireland at that time. There were Fijians, two teams of Filipinas, then the Koreans arrived, and Chileans also came to Ireland during those four years. It was very fulfilling work, I really enjoyed that time.”

“I never trained a group to go overseas. It was something I had hoped would happen. But when I told people in 2001 that they would have to go away for three years, they just all looked at me and said they wouldn’t be able to commit to three years. They were willing to give a year but not three. Whereas in the 1990s, when we were going, we all said three years was fine.”

Claire continued in the role of Columban Lay Missionary Co-ordinator until 2005. Then she embarked on an MA in Pastoral Theology at CTU (Catholic Theological Union) in Chicago. “I felt that the circle had worked rather nicely. I had been a lay missionary and now I was working with the lay missionaries and working with the Columbans. But I sensed the change in the air and one of the things that bothered me was that I didn’t have a qualification in theology. I had all my teaching qualifications, but I didn’t have that.”

“So, I decided to re-mortgage my house and head for studies in America. I had a cousin living in the Midwest and I knew that the Columbans were involved in the graduate school in Chicago. So, I went to the Chicago Theological Union and did a Masters in pastoral theology. It was absolutely fantastic. It was probably the highlight of my career, even though Korea was terribly exciting, it was very challenging. Whereas Chicago was exciting, but the challenge was easier. Studying to your heart’s content and having a little bit of fun, living on the campus – I felt I was back in my 20s again. The Columbans had a seminary house nearby and there was a couple of Irish Columbans there. So, I didn’t lose the connection. I spent a third year doing a training programme in spiritual direction.”

After my three years in Chicago, I came back to Ireland in 2008 and I was eyeing a job as a pastoral worker, but Columban Fr Noel Daly approached me to try and develop the supporters’ network.

From 2008 to the present, Claire took on many roles within the Region – Mission Education along with Ger Clarke and Fr Pat Raleigh, Companions in Mission, Mission Promotion and Mission Appeals which involved visiting parishes and schools around the country.

In 2011 Claire became part of a new venture at the Columban Centre on Dublin’s Store Street, where she worked closely with Michael O’Sullivan, Sr Monica Kelly, Sr Lucia So, and Angie Escarsa. The main focus of the work at the Centre is pastoral outreach to migrants and interfaith work. “The Columban Fathers and the Columban Sisters and the Columban lay workers had a mix of outreach and welcome to the stranger.”

“I think the legacy the Columban Centre is that it challenged the local Church to go beyond putting money in the box for Trócaire and thinking the problems are ‘over there’.”

“Welcoming the stranger and being open to people of different cultures was something we badly needed in Ireland at that time and still do. It was the missionary groups that were open to dealing with migrants, and different NGOs were keen to get involved in that. It was the start of the idea of a multicultural Ireland – workers and their families coming to live here.”

“Fr Bobby Gilmore was one of the lead people who was saying at that time that we have to identify ourselves as being available to migrants. That’s how another Columban project, the Migrants Rights Centre Ireland (MRCI) developed. I think it is a great legacy – a great witness.”

Claire Carey with lay missionaries Kyungja Lee (l) and Angie Escarsa (r).

“The local Church was also involved, but it doesn’t often get the recognition for that. Dublin diocese was very strong and Crosscare has done a lot over the years for migrants and people that came and found themselves in difficulty. Migrants are people who are free to migrate here and live here but come up against but come up against difficulties. Just as the Irish did in America or in London. They faced problems over rent, health, or marriage. And they need support.”

Looking back over her time working with the Columbans, Claire says that though she is now retired, she can’t imagine herself without being in contact Columbans into the future.

“They have been by my mentors and my friends, my work colleagues as well. In my hour of need – they were my support. I couldn’t imagine not being involved in some way in a voluntary capacity, just keeping in touch, or keeping my hand in. I don’t think my faith life would have been as rich without the engagement I had with the Columbans because they gave me what I couldn’t find in the local church. The Columbans gave me an expression of my faith and my call to mission. They gave the laity and, especially women, an opportunity to involved in their work. They facilitated that to happen and for that I am very grateful.”

Expressing their thanks on behalf of the Columbans in Ireland, Fr Ray Husband and Fr Pat Raleigh told Claire they wished her a creative and happy retirement but above all good health. “New horizons will open up for you. We thank you for your commitment to Columban and God’s Mission in Ireland and Korea. We are sorry to see you leave but your friendship with the Columbans will continue. You will always be welcome to Dalgan. Claire, you have been a great gift and blessing. Thank you.”

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