by Gordon Nary
Gordon: When you received your vocation, with whom did you discuss it, and what was their response?
Father Seamus: It is a long time ago. I went to school with the Augustinians. During my final year (1963-64) one of my fellow students died. That got me thinking. The Religious life wasn’t very attractive for me, but I felt I had to try things out. I didn’t talk with too many. Somehow, I felt that this was a personal and lonely journey I had to make. So I went to Novitiate at Orlagh with the Augustinians in August 1964.
Gordon: Where did you attend seminary, and what was the most challenging course that you took, and why was it challenging
Father Seamus: Student days were long and very challenging. Novitiate. Two years Philosophy. Three years at University College Dublin, studying Commerce 3 years in Rome. One year at HeythropCollege in London and working in a parish in the East End. The most challenging? Simply staying with the journey. I wanted out. I wanted to work. I wanted to see what this life was about as a priest. The Study so often made little enough sense and was artificial. I felt the working life could never be as bad as the educational aspect of student days. By the way, the companionship of student life was a real community.
Gordon: What was your first assignment and what did you learn there?
Father Seamus: My first assignment was to Hoxton Parish in the East End of London. It was great. It was real. It was rough. It was demanding and it was wonderful. God was very alive in the lives of ordinary people.
After then I was due to go out to Nigeria but my visa didn’t come through. I stayed in Limerick for some six months. Then I transferred to Drogheda. That community was very experimental. We worked with the youth in a big way and in the medium of music. It was highly unchurchy. The world of Liturgy opened up. The sixteen local bands took part in our Masses. The Word became flesh in the real stuff of people’s lives. The language had to change. The safe jargon of religious culture had to be left aside as we learned how the Word became flesh. It was a wonderful time. It was the real education.
I then transferred to Dundee, and again youth were everywhere, and the place was thriving, and the church was buzzing. Those nine years were brilliant. God was very much alive. The local church was everything and Church came alive. It was an easy and delightful time. Everything I believed in, was happening. The only limits were the limits in my own imagination. The people were wonderful.
After that, I went to Edinburgh and again a new Diocese and a new challenge. But the faith world was good. I then became Provincial for England and Scotland. I resided in Carlisle and spent most of my time traveling the length and breadth of the two countries. That stretched me in so many ways. I was much happier as a worker priest rather than as a leader Provincial. But the faith and truth of the friars in me; was humbling. When I finished my eight years, I came to Finglas.
Gordon: When were you appointed pastor of Rivermount Parish and approximately how many parishioners do you have
Father Seamus: I am almost 24 years in Rivermount Parish. The people are known as disadvantaged. The practice rate I very low. The numbers are supposedly 13,000. The attending ones are about 300 per week. But we are totally involved in the community and are at home in every home. There was much crime in the area but again the spontaneity and honesty and sheer goodness of the people have been inspirational.
Our Church life has been very open to the lives of the people. Our Liturgies are custom-made for the people we serve. Our funerals are personalized. Everyone is made to feel welcome and at home. It is their home. It is their place. It is their language. Church language is foreign and false for most of them. People haven’t been formally educated but their directness and truthfulness are mighty.
Our Liturgies are all participatory. We share at every Mass. Everyone listens to the Readings and has their own books. They speak on what God stirs in them. It is quite amazing. We learn and are moved every day of our lives. Again it is real.
The nonsensical language in the Liturgical books is an abomination. It is not prayerful. It is not Godly. It is not faithful.
Our work in the schools too has been most rewarding. It is a great life. But it is a shared life. The Salesians and ourselves; the Parish Team runs everything (meet every Wednesday to plan everything – eight people.) We couldn’t do anything without the team. A clericalized version of Church life is abhorrent to pastoral life. Of course, the women are the strong leadership. The laity has emerged as real leaders. They have been shaped by their experience in living. Their education isn’t formal but is shaped by home life and community involvement. We are humbled and inspired by them.
Gordon: What impact has the Covid-19 pandemic had on the faith of your parishioners?
Father Seamus: The obvious and usual problems – sickness; loneliness; lockdown. The people who have gone to the hospital and can’t be visited. The dying and then the deaths. People miss badly meeting. We keep in contact through Facebook Services. Again we try very hard to make sure that real Liturgy occurs online. Not the formal nonsense that is so mechanical. People tune in. Sometimes in the thousands. In some ways, our congregation has increased in multiples - across the world. We are always amused at how many take part especially those who would never come to church when Masses open to everyone.
Gordon: When and why did you join the Association of Catholic Priests?
Father Seamus: I joined at the beginning. Over ten years ago. Why? Because priests needed the support of other priests. It has become a lonely time for priests. They had lost their status in society (happily). They had aged. No more were people joining. As a Religious priest; I had plenty of companions and community. Not so the diocesan people. Also, I firmly believed that the Vat Council Agenda had not been implemented in any real way. Now we can see that Francis is doing everything to carry that forward.
Gordon: Please list the publications for whom you have been a contributor.
Father Seamus: I write every week for the ACP. I feel it is my duty to spread my ministry. The Church and therefore many people have invested in me. I owe it to them to speak. I am not a writer really. I throw out ideas. I play with words. I am fearless. I love my God. I love the world of God. I love the world of nature and poetry. I hate to see God and Church and Faith being made sterile and limited. I hate the formality that is often presented as God. The smallness of God in many versions promulgated is a disgrace. I write to counter that. I also love my life as a priest. I share therefore the joy of faith. I will be 75 this year. It has been a great life. Every day is a challenge. The people are wonderful. The playful God is everywhere. The teasing God is lurking in every corner. The expansiveness of God drags the best out of us. That story has to be told.
I have written in many magazines. For the above reasons.
Gordon: What are the challenges to Religious Vocations’ in Ireland?
Father Seamus: God is not known. The church is not popular. In fact, much of the media characterizes Church and clergy and religion in a caricatured fashion. We deserve it in so many ways. We created a crazy structure. We were riddled with a sin-culture. Everything was formulized. Liturgy was often dead. Confession was everything. The clergy ran everything. The Bishop was lord. It was ridiculous. And very wrong. We needed the collapse. Clerical abuse shattered the whole edifice. It brought down the building. And the foolishness of much that we did deserved such a catastrophe. Our standing on sexual matters was utterly stupid and ungodly. I hope we have learned something as we go forward and can become more humble.
Gordon: What impact will the Bishop's campaign to stop euthanasia have?
Father Seamus: Of course euthanasia is a major question. But Church leadership has lost credibility. Whatever they say will have little impact. Our church cannot be saddled with only a view that is against. Against abortion; against gays; against euthanasia. What are we for? Where is the bigness of God, the wonder of God, the beauty of faith, the miracle of everyday life? Our Agenda has to be new and exciting and imaginative. The very muscles of our minds, hearts, imaginations have to be stretched. We cannot become stuck in the poverty of our minds. We cannot take refuge in forbidding things. This God of ours is very big. We have to become big too.
Gordon: With so much of the population of Ireland Catholic, why is abortion permitted?
Father Seamus: Again – we have destroyed our arguments in how we treated the issue of abortion. Pro-life has to be exciting. It is again much bigger than being against. We have lost all the major arguments in Ireland. In fact, many of the Referenda’s were lost because of the stand that the Church took. Almost we were seen as a provocation; a restrictive presence; a sour and dour structure which was destructive to an evolving state. We have to learn a very new way of being Church.
Gordon: What is your favorite prayer?
Father Seamus: Prayer. I have found the shared response to Scripture in our Parish, the most enlightened Prayer of all.
Other ones that inspire me always: Jacob’s ladder Gen ‘God was in this place and I never knew it.’
Job’s book. Chapter 38. When God turns on Job. Humility.
I Kings 19. God not in the earthquake or the fire or the thunder but in the sound of a gentle breeze.
Jonah. The reluctance of Jonah and then the sulk when the castor oil plant was taken away from him.
The burning bush with Moses. Take off the shoes. Always speaking to me and to us.
Adam and Eve in the garden. Their nakedness. Their blushing. We fear the honesty of life.
The Caananite woman. When Jesus appeared to insult here; But she would do anything for her daughter. It is very beautiful.
Gordon: Thank you for a beautiful and incisive interview.