In this video, Ms Ashleigh O’Neill speaks about our one of our own – Fr Paul Dempsey.

To view other four videos visit –

  • Ms Alice Taylor speaking about Fr Denis O’Connor CSsR
  • Mr George Hook speaking about Fr Alphonsus Moran OP
  • Mr David Begg speaking about Fr Aengus Finucane CSSp
  • Mr Mickey Harte speaking about Mgr Eoin Thynne HCF

Launch of “In Praise of Priests”

16th August 2010, All Hallows College, Dublin

Bishop Philip Boyce, Bishop of Raphoe and Chair of the Council for Clergy and Bishop Donal McKeown, Auxiliary Bishop of Down and Connor and Chair of the Council for Vocations launched the DVD, In Praise of Priests, at All Hallows College, Dublin, as part of the celebration for the Year for Priests 2009 – 2010.

Speaking Notes of Bishop Boyce

As chairman of the Council for Clergy of the Bishops’ Conference, I am delighted to welcome you all to the launch of the DVD In Praise of Priests that has been put together by the Catholic Communications Office to mark the Year for Priests 2009-2010 in this country. Thank you especially to those who participated in the DVD as you spoke about the positive contribution made by a priest to your lives. I also pay tribute to those who produced the DVD. I acknowledge as well those who are gathered for the Intercession for Priests here in All Hallows as you come together to pray for and renew the priesthood in the context of reflection and communion with God. This DVD is a snapshot of the immense good work done by Irish priests at home and abroad and it is right that we mark this dedication and generosity.

Pope Benedict XVI, speaking at the close of the Year for Priests in Rome, said that the role of a priest is to speak in Christ’s name. He said,

“[The] audacity of God who entrusts himself to human beings – who, conscious of our weaknesses, nonetheless considers men capable of acting and being present in his stead – this audacity of God is the true grandeur concealed in the word ‘priesthood’.”

Countless priests have lived this commitment in fidelity and perseverance and this is highlighted in this DVD as the speakers talked about the bonds of love between priests and people.

The Church in Ireland has marked the Year for Priests in different ways with dioceses organising various events and organisations like Saint Joseph’s Young Priests Society playing an important role in this regard. The brief visit of the relics of St John Vianney at the end of April offered us an opportunity to pray for priests as well as venerate the relics of this inspirational French priest. During May and June Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York and Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor spoke at different gatherings in Ireland for the Year for Priests. The production of this DVD is another form of marking that Year.

The past year too also saw the serious sins and crimes of some priests highlighted as well as the failure of Church leaders to deal adequately with these cases. This is a source of deep shame and sorrow. Again, quoting Pope Benedict,

“We insistently beg forgiveness from God and from the persons involved, while promising to do everything possible to ensure that such abuse will never occur again; …[these revelations have been] a summons to purification.”

This purification is an ongoing task for all in the Church to be converted to build an environment where all Christ’s people are cared for and cherished. Today the Church works closely with civil authorities and the independent National Office for Safeguarding Children to achieve this aim.

These revelations must not obscure the outstanding and exemplary ministry lived by priests throughout this land and beyond, whether in parishes, hospitals, schools, offices, prisons, chaplaincies, or foreign countries, often being courageous and gentle voices bringing healing, comfort, inspiration, and truth to the people of our time.

Speaking notes of Bishop Donal McKeown

There are those who find it a bizarre time to launch any material in praise of priests, in that it might well be seen as piously self-congratulatory or blindly arrogant. We all know lots of people – some in our own family circles – who have no time for clergy, either because of bad personal experiences or because of the disrepute into which religion in general – and clergy in particular – have fallen in the last decades. And yet, as the five simple interviews on this DVD show, there are many people in Ireland who have great memories of at least some of the priests that they came to know in many different contexts.

The experiences of the five interviewees are quite different. For Alice Taylor, what came across to me was the companionship that she and her family have received from a fellow pilgrim, a fellow seeker after holiness and the Transcendent, a person who has dug deep to find integrity in the human journey. For George Hook, it was the liberating and spontaneous wisdom that came from a priest in whom he had confided as a teenager – and with whom he has had no contact since. Ashleigh O’Neill was struck by a young priest who sought to share his enthusiasm with young people on pilgrimage and in parish. Mickey Harte reflects on a number of priests who helped him to proclaim a God who was interested in all that matters to us, an infinite God who gives infinite meaning to the finite. And David Begg remembers a man whose patent faith in the God of love gave him a passion for justice in the world.

Now some people will look at the unpretentious interviews and say, ‘so what?’ But a few things struck me.

Firstly, these are people whose hearts have been touched, whose desire for the good and beautiful has been nourished. Church people sometimes, maybe often, seek certainty in either a spirituality that seems to hate the world and or in the trite search for fatuous popularity that Jesus rejected in is initial temptations. One of the strengths of Catholicism has been the ability to appeal both to the head and the heart, and to cherish the here in the light of the hereafter. That is a combination that Jesus maintained. He was clear about good and bad, right and wrong, the Father and the Evil One. But Jesus also talked to the broken hearts of people, he engaged their imagination with story and he responded to the need for a healing touch that spoke louder than words. People still need those who can speak to the heart and the head and do so with integrity, seeking to serve the other, rather than themselves, trying to heal rather than just to criticise or judge. There has been ample spiritual and other abuse. We can learn from the many examples where there has been spiritual growth and inspiration

Secondly, Ireland can turn to NAMA to sort out the bad debts of the consumerist ideology that had consumed us all. It will take an awful lot more to sort out the rubbish heap of shattered dreams, lost trust and broken promises that fester in the corner of modern Ireland. Church, politics, bank and even the weather seem to have conspired against the hopes of Sean and Mary Citizen. The ground is unsteady under our feet. It is hard to know where we can build reliable foundations for the future. And it is precisely in a time like this that we need people who have what even secular management theory calls ‘spiritual intelligence’, that ability to take the rubble of the past and make it into foundations for the future. In the North we know just how much there is the uncertainty as to whether that rubble is best used for foundations or just as a store house for new weaponry. But every period of crisis has produced wise figures who could transform the story about the future. The Old Testament produced the prophets, the fall of Roman Empire made space for the energy of Irish monasticism – and post-war Europe saw Schuman, de Gasperi and Adenauer dream the impossible dream of a united Europe. It is interesting that in times of human crisis, it has been from these from people with religious faith that great wisdom has come. Ireland still needs people who will have the confident restlessness that characterises wise leaders. A depressed people does not need more mass produced cultural negativity. We need the happy complainers who can name evils of the past and present – without losing faith in human nature and institutions into the future. Pope John Paul, writing in 2003 in his letter Ecclesia in Europa, focused on the need for hope in our modern continent,[1] whose widespread nihilism has infected our Irish psyche as well. It was the former Czech president Vaclav Havel who is quoted as saying that hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out. That makes it possible for everyone to confront and even live with the reality of evil and pain. It is with that sort of conviction that we need to face the future with a little less trepidation. Priests, religious and lay leaders at all levels – whatever their personal frailties and even sin – reflect that language, that longing. If that voice is snuffed out, the country will be immeasurable impoverished.

Thirdly, there is much self-loathing in our society. People are pained by their own experience, or detest their bodies or seek salvation in having or doing rather than in being. The associated reality of addiction is more to be pitied than condemned. These priests mentioned in the DVD seem to have been able to help individuals to knit together the various fragmented parts of human life and to see good despite the apparently insurmountable odds that some of them faced. There is a huge hunger to be loved and to believe in love. Every society needs, not just more biscuits, face cream and electronic gadgets but people who can promote love, belonging, community and identity. Pope John Paul II spoke of the need, not just for any sort of spirituality but for a ‘spirituality of communion’[2] . And Pope Benedict XVI was so clear about the power of loving and being loved.[3]. A message that I am lovable only because of what I have or wear or look like is a recipe for self-hate. Good preachers of the Word of God – like those named in the DVD – have always known how to knit up the ‘ravelled sleeve of care. That means human beings who have a human warmth, emotional intelligence, a personal integrity and a desire to serve others. Ireland without those would be a hell on earth – and that is how too many of our people already experience life. The priests praised in the interviews – and thousands of other clergy, religious and laity – have known how to face that reality.

We are here in All Hallows because in this month every year, priests gather here to seek nourishment, fraternity, encouragement and grace. It is also the time of the year when exam results come out and serious life choices face our school leavers.

To the priests here, I say, ‘thank you’ for all your quiet dedication and service. There might not be a DVD made about you – but that does not mean that your work and witness, your repeated experience of Cross and Resurrection have been in vain. There are people out there who would be happy to testify to the good work that you have done, to the heads and hearts you have touched. But most of you wouldn’t even be aware of what good you have done and certainly wouldn’t want a DVD made about you.

To young people, I say, Ireland needs people of idealism and generosity. Don’t let anyone beat your dreams out of you. Live up to the best that you can be, not down to the level that some will say is all you can expect of yourself, others and life. Don’t vanish into a private world where rights are less important than privileges. Believe in better – but don’t expect it to be delivered by a new Sky TV HD package. You can see life in High Definition around the corner and it is at the same time beautiful and frightening. Seek for self-transcendence in life, not just self-fulfilment. Seek to live a good life and not just to endlessly chase after the good life.

I welcome this DVD. I don’t see it just as an empty voice singing the praise of some clergy. Ultimately, it is not even praise of priests, even though specific names are mentioned. Rather it reflects what spiritual people can do – and how much they are appreciated. It could be used in parish, at home or in education to reflect on a variety of things:

  1. for personal reflection when a person/group asks/shares on what memories they have of clergy – good and bad;
  2. to reflect on what the interviews say about the deep needs of the human heart in modern Ireland and on how ministry might be honed to respond to that in Jesus’ name;
  3. to reflect on what role church personnel might play in relation to
  • young people;
  • the reality of poverty at home and on a global scale;
  • the world of popular culture, including sport;
  • supporting faith development within the family context.

The challenge for the Catholic Church in Ireland is not to ask how we can get our strength back. Renewal will not come by sniping at the new ideology that now holds sway. The answer will come when we open ourselves together to Jesus’ teaching and silence, to his activity in word and sacrament – and make ourselves humbly available to be used by him to heal the broken heart of the world. Where that happened and happens, God’s grace can heal lives and give strength to weary limbs. Good priests, great religious men and women and marvellous lay people have always done that. They deserve to be celebrated.

[1] Ecclesia in Europa, 2003, para 7-10

[2] Novo Millennio Ineunte¸ 2001, para 43

[3] Deus Caritas Est, “Love is indeed ‘ecstacy’… a journey, an ongoing exodus out of the closed inward-looking self towards its liberation through self-giving, and thus towards authentic self-discovery and indeed the discovery of God.” Para 6