by Gordon Nary
Gordon: Where did you attend University and what was your Major?
Conor: I did my first year of Philosophy in St Patrick’s College in Carlow, which was, at that time, a seminary. I was a religious student back then and it was where our house of studies was located. Our house of studies then moved back to Dublin where I attended the Milltown Institute for Philosophy and Theology, completing my Philosophy studies and graduating with a BA in Theology and Ministry.
Gordon: When did you start working as a Parish Pastoral Worker at the Archdiocese of Dublin and what are your primary responsibilities?
Conor: After one year of formation and post-graduate studies in the Mater Dei Institute, a college of Dublin City University, graduating with a Diploma in Religion and Education, I was commissioned by Archbishop Diarmuid Martin in June 2010. Parish Pastoral Workers are appointed to a parish or, as it is in my case, to a grouping of parishes. Our primary responsibility is to model the vocation of all the baptised to live the Gospel. We do this through four key ways: building relationships, engaging in education, animating the faithful to become intentional Catholics involved in parish life, and leading and joining in prayer with our parish communities. On a day-to-day basis, our role or primary responsibilities vary from parish to parish. I am involved in Parish based Sacramental preparation programmes, I am also involved with RCIA – which is still very much in it’s infancy in Ireland due to the fact that, until very recently Ireland was 95% Roman Catholic and probably 100% Christian. Other areas include: supporting the various parish ministries, youth work, leading prayer, training and ongoing formation of Parish Pastoral Councils, home visitation, funeral ministry etc…. Pastoral Workers come from diverse backgrounds, many have come from business or other professions and bring different skills and experiences which can find an outlet in parish life, for example, management or IT skills or expertise, which can often be lacking in parish. In addition, we also support Diocesan initiatives, for example, our Diocese is currently on a Diocesan Synodal pathway in preparation for the 2023 Synod.
Gordon: How many parishes are in the Archdiocese of Dublin, how many priests are there, and approximately how many people does the Archdiocese serve?
Conor: There are 196 geographical parishes and one non-geographic parish – The Parish of the Travelling People. There are approximately 300 priests, 33 permanent deacons and 12 Parish Pastoral Workers with parish appointments in the Archdiocese of Dublin. As of 2016, which is the last year for which data is available, approximately 1.1 million people have self-identified as Roman Catholic in the Archdiocese, this does not reflect the actual number of practicing Catholics.
Gordon: What impact has the Covid-19 pandemic had upon the Archdiocese of Dublin?
Conor: The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic cannot be understated. Our pastoral activity has seen a sharp decline, where for a long time, only the most essential activities were carried out, such as funerals and weddings. For some time, even Baptisms were only celebrated in extremis. The sacraments of Anointing and Reconciliation, were also curtailed but creative ways were found for people to receive the sacraments. In one parish, one whole section of the church was given over to a reconciliation area, while in another Confessions were heard in the church Car Park.
We could not gather as a community or have meetings, training, run programmes or gather for prayer. In addition, there has been a severe impact on the numbers attending Mass in person, which, as the pandemic recedes, has been slow to recover – many attend Mass remotely via webcam. This has had a drastic impact on the finances of both the Archdiocese and individual parishes, as many parishes have been slow to embrace online donations.
However, there has also been a very positive impact and great things have been happening. Many parishes have embraced online Ministry, there has been online prayer and liturgy. The pandemic has led to great creativity in how we connect and reach out to not only our parishioners but indeed to other people around the country and further afield. In some respects, the Pandemic has been a blessing as it has caused us to re-evaluate how we ‘do things’ which has led to some very positive changes.
Gordon: How active has the Archdiocese of Dublin been in addressing the abortion challenge?
Conor: We are living in a society that is actively trying to show how liberal and open-minded it is. In this context, the Church has a part to play but it is a much smaller voice than in the past.
Gordon: Who is your favourite saint and why is that saint your favourite?
Conor: This is by far the hardest question to answer. I have a great devotion to our Blessed Mother, whom I love dearly. But I am also drawn to St Therese of Lisieux. When I was growing up there was a large statue of St Therese in my grandparents’ house, so she always featured in my life, and I pray to her everyday. I am also fascinated by and drawn to St John-Marie Vianney, the Cure d’Ars, and in recent times, I have been drawn to Blessed Carlo Acutis. I think it is the simplicity of their lives, which attracts me. The message that they give is that sanctity and holiness is available and accessible to everyone, no matter how small your life may seem.
Gordon: Thank you for a great interview.