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  • Writer's pictureProfiles in Catholicism

An Interview with Reverend Seamus Mac



Gordon: When did you decide to become a priest, what was the response of your family?

Reverend Seamus: I suppose I would say that I experienced the “call” to priesthood (or service of God), at quite a young age, particularly during the preparations for my 1st Communion, and later I developed a deep life-long love of Mary, the mother of Jesus, after the Pilgrim Virgin Statue of the Lady of Fatima visited our parish around the same time.

 

In my teens, I travelled with many thousands of other young people to see Saint John Paul II in Galway.

 

He told us that the future of human life was at stake, and implored that we should become more involved in the Church.

 

I responded by joining the Legion of Mary, initially volunteering to help in a hostel for down and outs in West Belfast, and then travelled throughout Ireland and the UK in missions of evangelisation, spreading the Faith to other young people.

 

I realised that I was homosexual at a young age, in a very homophobic society and eventually learned about the Church’s stance in the Catholic Encyclopaedia, which said that I suffered from an inherent disorder, recommending a celibate life. (There was no internet or on-line search engines in those days). I had always wanted to be a priest, so this wasn’t a huge problem for me.

 

I grew up in a devout conservative Irish Catholic family, one of eight kids, and my parents were delighted when I chose to enter monastic life.

 

Gordon: Where did you attend seminary, and what was your favorite course, and why was that course your favorite?

 

Reverend Seamus: I joined the Passionists aged 18 and after a spiritual year which had challenged me to build my personal faith on a more secure foundation, growing a deeper relationship with the person of  The Christ, I went on to study in the Milltown Institute of Theology and Philosophy, Dublin. (a few years after Pope Francis had lived in the Jesuit community there while studying English). I thoroughly enjoyed my time there, under many of the most influential Religious professors of the time.

 

While there, I encountered Frere Roger and his brethren from the ecumenical community at Taize, when they held their European meeting in Dublin.

 

The civil war between Christians in my home city of Belfast was now in its 15th year, continuing to result in daily reports of  murder and mayhem. I was inspired to leave the monastery and to work for peace and reconciliation in my home town. I enrolled in Queens University studying Social Anthropology, Scholastic Philosophy and Biblical Studies. I particularly enjoyed learning about the Essenes or Qumran Community.

 

Using these source texts as my influence, I helped to set up The Solas Community of Reconciliation, an interdenominational group of lay people which focussed on bringing together youths from the opposing communities, and I pursued part time courses in Ecumenical Studies under Irish School of Ecumenics.

 

One particular course, Christian Citizenship, was based on a text focussing on the possible outcomes for peace in Northern Ireland. (It was almost prophetic).

 

I met my partner, also a devout Catholic, and we spent years fighting against our relationship, which was contrary to the teachings of our Faith. Despite that, we had a wonderful life together for almost 30 years. I was encouraged to work in banking by an old school friend and, when peace began to be established at home, we relocated to the wilderness of  County Donegal.

 

I continued to hear the “call” and spoke at length about it to one of our old Solas Community brethren, who is now an Anglican rector. He offered to put me in touch with an “affirming” Bishop in his Church, but it just wasn’t the right time for me.

 

My partner, Kevin, became seriously ill and passed away a year later in 2017. We had accepted that our relationship was an expression of God’s love decades earlier, and the thousands of people who showed up for his funeral was a testament to that.

 

We had drawn up a bucket list of things we still had to do some days before he died, and when the extreme pain of grief allowed, I began to go through the list. Both of us had a tremendous affiliation with the story and faith of Bernadette of Lourdes, having walked there from Cherbourg on the first year we met in college, and we always talked about walking the Camino de Santiago de Compostela since we spotted a sign pointing in its direction in the foothills of the Pyrenees at that time.

 

I went on pilgrimage to Lourdes in Easter 2019 and then began to walk the first 400km of El Camino. I felt that Kev was with me, pushing me up the mountain during the first days. The walk was very difficult at first but was also very healing, with many tears, and I heard the “call” as loud as ever and determined to research the possibilities of priesthood.

 

We had an old apartment in Spain and I thought about serving the English speaking community there, while allotting some time to serve the pilgrims on El Camino. I reached out to the Bishop of Europe in the Church of England, who responded positively.

 

However, I returned to Ireland just as the Covid lock-down was imposed, and through time began to wonder if The Roman Catholic Church would accept me to serve as a priest in my homeland. I was open about my homosexuality and prior relationship, but expressed willingness to live a celibate life. I contacted the Vocations Centre in Maynooth and was amazed to receive a positive response. They advised that recruitment was still the remit of individual dioceses, and I was advised to contact a few. I sent out seven emails and was rejected without discussion by three dioceses. As expected, I never heard back from the other four.

 

Gordon:  When did you serve at Open Episcopal Church in Ireland and what is one of your favorite memories when you were there?

 

Reverend Seamus: I first became aware of the Open Episcopal Church in 2020 through Social Media posts by a young Spanish priest who is living in England, Padre Mario Santos, (soon to become Bishop of England and Spain in the Apostolic Catholic Church).

 

I had never heard of the Old Catholic tradition before. It is made up of small individual churches throughout the world, and can trace its history and Apostolic Succession back through the diocese of Utrecht, and St Wilibrord, who originated in the Celtic monastery at Lindisfarne, which had, in turn, been founded by the brethren of St Colmcille, a native of  Co.Donegal!

 

After a quick online interview with the Archbishop, I proceeded through the application process, resulting in my being accepted for ordination in Spring 2021. However, due to Covid, this was not possible immediately, and I was finally ordained on 12th September, 2021, the fourth anniversary of Kevin’s passing.


Each of the small churches of the Old Catholic tradition belong to the western catholic church, sharing the same sacramental life as Rome, and our priesthood is valid in the eyes of the Vatican. However we separated from Rome since the 1850s, mainly due to the doctrine of papal infallibility.


We adhere to the doctrines of the Early Church Councils, appreciating the wisdom and guidance of the Early Teachers, and offer Seven Sacraments to all.  Accepting that women can also experience the “call”, Holy Orders is open to ALL. We believe that Homosexuality is not unnatural and therefore not a sin. We invite the LGBTQIA+ Community to partake of all the Sacraments of the Church, including same-sex marriage. We believe in the sanctity of Marriage; however, the Mercy of God is unconditional, and therefore those who have been divorced and/or remarried are welcome to the Sacraments of the Church and it is our belief that Family Planning is a private matter between husband and wife.

 

Since my youthful days of working for peace and reconciliation in Belfast, it was always my dream to found an interdenominational religious-type community, and as The Community of Anthony has continued to evolve, it became clear that it should not be affiliated to any single denomination or church group.

 

I have attracted applications from priests and seminarians around the world to join me here at Solas Antoin, but raising the necessary finances to build a community house and retreat centre, on top of the cost of visas and travel for the prospective members has proved quite difficult. I trust in God, that all things will happen at the right time.

 

Gordon:  Are there challenges being gay and being a priest?

 

Reverend Seamus: Personally, it is actually quite liberating to be a homosexual priest, in the knowledge that God loves me for who I am and is actually not particularly interested in whom I have loved (Only Men Are!).

 

I used to respond to those “Christians” who have forgotten that Jesus actually preached a gospel of Love, and prefer to regurgitate the same old half dozen scripture passages, which are either poorly translated or taken completely out of context. I have to admit that it is easier just to block them as soon as their hate mail arrives.

 

My inboxes on the numerous Social Media accounts, all too often contain stories from mostly young LGBTQIA+ people from every continent, who are every day experiencing fear, anxiety and even death threats.

 

Some have fled their own countries to the once-believed safety of UN Refugee Camps, like Kakuma in Kenya, where they are habitually starved, beaten, abused and occasionally some are killed by other refugees.

 

Having grown up in homophobic Belfast, and experienced a lack of understanding from my parents, who were blindly following the moral teachings of their church, I can sympathise with each of them, but am unable to offer anything more than my prayers, or appeals to my government.

 

Gordon:  Who is your favourite saint and why is that saint your favourite?

 

Reverend Seamus: Kevin and I always had great love for Bernadette of Lourdes. We both worked at the Shrine years before we met in college, and were delighted to join our diocesan pilgrimage there, as we walked around France in the oppressive temperatures of the heatwave of 1988.

 

Bernadette showed such great resolve and remained undaunted by threats and ridicule from civil and religious authorities. Her faith in The Lady remained with her, even as she prayed to her as she breathed her last. When I worked there as a  20 year old seminarian, I used to love to go to The Grotto late at night, when most people had gone to bed, and pray on the spot where Bernadette knelt during the apparitions.

 

Years later, during a trip to Taize in France, we were delighted to pray in the chapel at the Mother House of her order of nuns at Nevers, were here incorrupt body is on display under the altar, in a glass case. Sainte Bernadette Priez Pour Moi

 

Gordon:  As a priest at St Anthony of Egypt Parish, please tell us something about your parish.

 

Reverend Seamus: The Parish of St. Anthony of Egypt is very unusual, as the majority of our parishioners join us online weekly for Prayer Around the Light every Wednesday evening, and Breaking the Bread on Sundays, with special Services at Christmas, Holy Week and Easter.

 

The Parish is an extension of The Community of Anthony, and it is hoped that as the community comes together, we can set up outreach centres initially in this area of North West Ireland, but eventually throughout the country and perhaps even abroad, where Sacraments can be offered in person.

 

People can contact me to arrange Sacrament of Reconciliation online. I am also available to be booked for Marriages and Baptisms throughout the country

 

Details about the community, our Parish, or how to make a donation to help achieve the dream, and our email address can be found on our website www.solasantoin.com

 

Gordon:  Thank you for a great and incisive interview.

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