“This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.” With these words Columban regional director, Fr Pat Raleigh, welcomed over 1,500 people to Dalgan Park on Sunday 1st July 2018 for ‘Family and Mission Day’, the centrepiece of Columban centenary celebrations in Ireland.
In his words of welcome, Fr Raleigh told the throng of people assembled in front of the College in Dalgan Park for Mass celebrated by Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin, “This is truly a day for us Columbans to rejoice with you our families, benefactors, supporters and friends as we come together to celebrate our Centenary, 100 years of Columban Mission.”
He said it was a wonderful occasion for the Region, on behalf of the Society, “to welcome our loyal supporters, family members, promoters, friends, Columban Sisters, members of the Dalgan Union, members from the local communities, former lay missionaries and their families”.
Many travelled long distances from different parts of the country and some travelled by train to Dublin where they were collected by buses and transported to Dalgan.
Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, Primate of Ireland and President of the World Meeting of Families, was the chief celebrant of the Eucharist.
He was joined at the altar by Fr Pat Colgan, representing Columban General Council and Fr Pat Raleigh, Regional Director. Fr Ray Husband was the Master of Ceremonies along with Fr Damian McNeice.
The newly appointed South Korean Ambassador to Ireland was also present together with his wife and members of his staff.
From early morning, volunteers and co-workers arrived in Dalgan to prepare the altar and put out chairs for visitors. “They did trojan work. My sincere thanks to all,” Fr Raleigh said afterwards.
There were a variety of different stalls promoting and selling their goods as well as food stalls. Many people brought their own picnics. Thanks to the heat and sunshine, the ice cream vendor did a wonderful trade.
A table dedicated to the sale of Columban books included ‘A Mad Thing To Do’ by Fr Neil Collins, ‘The Turning Wheel’ by Frank Hoare and Mickey Martin’s book ‘Remembering Niall O’Brien’.
Fr Collins presented Archbishop Martin with a copy of his book at the conclusion of Mass.
There were also plenty of activities for children. The concert on Sunday afternoon showcased some of the music from the countries in which Columbans have lived and worked and are working.
The groups represented the Philippines, Korea, Latin America, the Chinese Community as well as Anton McGowan and friends from Comhaltas Ceoltoirí Eireann.
In his homily, Archbishop Martin told the gathering, “Irish Catholics have a special affection for the Columbans” and Dalgan Park, the home of the Columbans in Ireland, became a household name over the 100 years.
He said the Church in Ireland has every reason be proud of the Columban tradition.
The President of the 2018 World Meeting of Families, which takes place in August and will see Pope Francis visit Ireland, said he was “very happy that this celebration of Columban Mission should be inserted into the preparation of the World Meeting of Families that will be celebrated in Dublin in less than two months’ time. Perhaps it would be better to say that this Mission Day celebration is inserted into a new drive to restore confidence in the family as a way to transmit the faith.”
Elsewhere in his homily, the Archbishop said one of the marks of the Columban tradition is that of a sense of solidarity with the families of missionaries and with a sense of support for the missionaries among Irish families.
“The Far East became a household name. Not quite the New York Times it was however a wonderful support and affection for the Columban missionary tradition,” he said.
Dr Martin recalled how on 29 June 1918, the idea of setting-up a missionary society of Irish diocesan priests was approved by the Bishops of Ireland and what was then called the Maynooth Mission to China was born.
“One hundred years later, we gather to celebrate a century of mission of a Columban movement that has spread around the world and has undertaken new areas of activity. It has become a world-wide spiritual and missionary movement embracing priests, religious sisters and lay missionaries, inserted into a wider movement of individuals and families who support and are enriched by the Columban tradition.”
He told the crowd gathered in the grounds of Dalgan, “You will find Columbans in many parts of the world. Yes, in China, but also in Korea, Burma, and the Philippines and in other parts of Asia, in Latin America and here in Europe. I think of the contribution of the Columbans to the coordination of Irish emigrant chaplaincy in Britain in the 1950s and 1960s”.
He also paid tribute to “the generous work of Columban priests and sisters in the parish of Balcurris in Ballymun”.
The Archbishop of Dublin said the words he associated with the Columbans were mission and the poor.
“The Columban tradition has been one that embraces a unified mission of preaching the name of Jesus, caring for the poor and addressing the root causes of poverty and damage to God’s creation.”
Acknowledging that Dalgan may have changed from the flourishing seminary it was at the time he entered the seminary in Dublin, he said it was home today to many retired priests who had given years and years of service.
“We are proud here today to remember their contribution. They have every reason to be proud of how they have won our recognition and affection for what they did.”
“As we look back over these hundred years, we think especially of those who gave their life in the service of the Gospel, especially those Irish priests listed among the Korean Martyrs.”
He said that in his reflection ahead of celebrating Sunday’s Family and Mission Mass in Dalgan, he kept asking himself what it was that in 1918 gave rise to this new vigour in the Irish missionary tradition.
“The Ireland of 1918 was a difficult and uncertain time. Our insecurity today about Brexit fades into the shade with the uncertainty and insecurity that existed in Ireland in June 1918. It was only two years after 1916. The horror of the First World War had not yet ended. Ireland was divided. Negotiations regarding future independence were underway but still uncertain. The possibility for the first time of a border on the island of Ireland lurked on the horizon. Economically, Ireland was at its poorest, both in urban and rural communities.”
“It is remarkable that at that moment a group of priests in Maynooth would have come up with such a far-seeing sense of what mission means. We have to learn the lesson that renewal in the Church comes when the Church rises above being locked within its own cares and rediscovers its call to reach out and be missionary.”
The Archbishop told the assembled Columbans priests, Sisters, lay missionaries, co-workers, family and supporters that the Columban tradition is not just one of not being trapped in the local but also of having the courage to reach out into the world of uncertainty and the unknown.
He said that today, “we have to come back to that sense of not being trapped in the crisis of the moment and dreaming again of an openness to being truly missionary disciples”.
“The message of Jesus is always a message that challenges us to rise above conformity.”
He concluded by noting the affection Irish Catholics have for the Columbans. “One witness to that affection is the only writing we have from Matt Talbot. It was a handwritten – hand scribbled – note of a small donation from “a poor man Matthew Talbot”. That affection for the Columbans is still alive and well and is clearly visible here today,” the Archbishop said.
In his words of welcome, Fr Pat Raleigh recalled how 50 years ago when the Society was celebrating its Golden Jubilee, and just before he left for the Philippines, “Little did I think I would be standing here today, fifty years later, to welcome you all to our Family and Mission Day celebration.”
Elsewhere he acknowledged the Society’s debt of gratitude to Bishop Edward Galvin from Newcestown, Co Cork and Fr John Blowick from Co Mayo, for their foresight and vision in founding a new Missionary Society.
“To initiate a new venture like ‘The Maynooth Mission to China’ in the turbulent years between 1916-1918 demanded a huge leap of faith, courage and trust in God’s Providence (something we may not fully appreciate today). It was right in the middle of the First World War and within six months of the Dublin rising. Conditions for the Irish people were very difficult and hard as they are indeed for many today,” Fr Raleigh said.
Of the Centenary Cloth on the altar, he explained “It arrived this morning from Birmingham and prior to Birmingham from Australia. It has travelled to all the countries where we Columbans work and every country where we work is represented by the names of not only Columbans but also of family members, donors and benefactors.”
Fr Raleigh paid credit to Archbishop Diarmuid highlighting how busy he is and yet he had made time to come to Dalgan for the Columban Family and Mission Day.
“I do not know how you find time to do everything as you are not only Archbishop of Dublin and Primate of Ireland, but you also a member of many other Committees. We are extremely grateful to you for taking time out today to be with us in giving thanks to God for his many blessings over the last 100 years. We thank you and the Archdiocese of Dublin for your contribution to the Church in Chile by generously over the years loaning some of your priests to work in Chile as Columban Associate priests. Currently Fr John Greene is in Santiago and thank you for extending his term.”
At the conclusion of the Mass, Fr Raleigh recalled the words of Fr John Blowick referring to the College building which he felt were appropriate for Family and Mission day: ‘Built for you by the generosity of people who couldn’t afford it’.
“This is so very true. As a Society celebrating 100 years of Mission we are hugely indebted to people like yourselves, to our families, benefactors, living and deceased for your wonderful generosity over the years and which still continues today. On this the occasion of our Centenary I genuinely thank you.”
“We also owe a huge debt of gratitude to the people of the countries where we have served and are serving. Fr Neil Collins, in his excellent book, ‘A Mad Thing To Do’ puts it very well when he says: ‘When we went on cross cultural mission it was our hosts who welcomed us and were patient with our cultural clumsiness. We shared with them our faith only to find that they had much more to teach us. Some of them faced ridicule, danger and even death for living out the gospel’ as they do today in many parts of the world). We owe them a huge debt of gratitude.”
Addressing those who live adjacent to Dalgan, the Regional Director told them, “We are indeed very happy that you can enjoy our woodland and river walks. We hope that those of you who avail of them appreciate the gift of God’s creation and that you find rest and peace. We have been very pleased to make these amenities available.”
On the theme of ‘Mission Today’, Fr Raleigh highlighted how a number of Columbans have met with violent deaths over the years. Their photos are displayed on the back of the College Chapel, including the photo of Sr Joan Sawyer, Columban Sister who was murdered in Peru. We salute and honour them today.
“Over the course of history many more suffered great hardships and some were imprisoned.”
“We have experienced and continue to experience many changes in our understanding of mission over the years. We have tried to adapt to the changing situations and challenges that each decade brings, but of course always recognising the centrality of the person, message and mission of Jesus and his love and compassion for all.”
“As we reflect back over the years we have tried to be faithful to the message of Jesus and to follow in his footsteps of reaching out to the poor and the most vulnerable and in more recent times in caring for the environment and dialoguing with people of other faith traditions or none.”
He continued, “The Ireland of today is very different to the one I grew up in. While there is a better quality of life for many there is a growing percentage of the population who are experiencing difficult times, homelessness being a major problem.”
“On the positive side Ireland has become a more diverse and multicultural society. People from other cultures have greatly added to the richness of who we are as a nation.”
“Was this whole new venture initiated by Bishop Edward Galvin and John Blowick ‘A Mad Thing To Do’? It probably was but history will show that God has been full of surprises. Over the past 100 years we have made a difference and have made small inroads and footprints into people’s lives and for this we are most grateful.”
Concluding Fr Raleigh said, “We place the future in God’s hands. It is very appropriate that the theme for our Centenary is ‘Sharing Gospel Joy’. We are encouraged and grateful to Pope Francis for his message to us on the occasion of our Centenary when he asks: ‘that we deepen our commitment to finding new ways of bringing the newness of the Gospel to every culture and people and that we do so with joy’.”