New Times Require New Institutions – Archbishop Diarmuid Martin Homily at the final Mass in the Mater Dei Institute Chapel

24 Aug 2016

Homily notes of  Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin, Archbishop of Dublin
Mater Dei Institute Chapel

“In the second half of the nineteenth century the geography of this part of Dublin was changing and was being marked by a growing and extensive presence of Catholic Institutions. It was a clear sign of courage and purpose by the Catholic community of the time, especially by Cardinal Cullen and later by his successor Cardinal McCabe, the then Archbishops of Dublin.

Newman’s Catholic University was to be constructed on Saint Alphonsus Road where the current Redemptoristine Convent now stands.  All Hallows College, a remarkable and unique institution, was being built to provide for the training of priests who would go and spread the Gospel and in many ways establish and consolidate local churches right across the English-speaking world.   Saint Patrick’s Training College in Drumcondra was established which would provide generations of teachers who would be the backbone of that Irish primary educational system from which so many have benefitted for well over a century.  The Seminary at Clonliffe was opened in 1860 and through its links with the Royal University College in Dublin aimed to provide a high level of intellectual formation for the future priests of Dublin.

It was a moment of courageously and purposefully addressing the new challenges of the Catholic Church in Dublin as it emerged into full citizenship in post-Emancipation Ireland.

Most of these institutions are slowly vanishing from or are being transformed within the current geographical and cultural landscape of this part of Dublin.  This evening we celebrate the contribution of a more recent but no less significant institution: The Mater Dei College of Education.  We have much to celebrate as we reflect on this post-Vatican II institution.  We celebrate; we have to say however in the context of the closure of the Institute.   Less than a month ago I celebrated a similar Mass for the closure of All Hallows College.  Shortly Saint Patrick’s College in Drumcondra will become fully incorporated into Dublin City University.  There are those who say that all this is the end of an era and a sign of a less optimistic, enthusiastic and forward-looking presence of the Church in Irish society.

Is it the end of an era?  My answer is yes, but not in the sense of a definitive end to the presence of Christian faith as a constitutive part of Irish society.  It is the recognition of an already changing and changed era in Irish culture and of the wisdom of taking note of that change.  Recognising change does not mean that we take refuge and become entrenched in the past, but that we enter into a new era with a different, renewed and purpose-filled commitment.

The institutions of one hundred and fifty years ago have to be replaced and renewed to be effective and incisive in the world of the 21st Century.  The change that has been and continues to take place in Irish religious culture is radical and the response to radical change cannot be one of just tweaking.  The institutions of 150 years ago were perhaps the appropriate ones for that time, though not necessarily in an absolute sense.  The controversies between Cardinal Cullen and Newman about the Catholic University showed differences in the understanding of the place of the Church in society even in the eighteenth century.

Cullen had personally witnessed the detriment wreaked by an anti-religious and hostile enlightenment political culture in parts of mainland Europe and he became defensive and protective in his approach.  Newman was more open to a form of Catholic education which could engage with and intellectually confront the enlightenment. Indeed even earlier the then Archbishop of Dublin, Daniel Murray, stood alone among Irish Bishops in his openness to the National School System and the Kings Colleges, which the other bishops saw simply as “Godless Colleges”.

There are those who think that today we are selling our family silver to a new godlessness in Irish society.  I for one am much less pessimistic, but hopefully not less realistic.  We need new institutions to address a new era.  In the past the Church invested in the rock-hard bricks and mortar of unchanging institutions to provide a firm basis for education in the faith.  Today in a society where institutions are built with “soft walls” rather than impenetrable bricks and mortar, we need to look to something more flexible, perhaps more like the virtual structures within which our young people grow and develop and challenge and perhaps also fail.  We need to foster the intellectual engagement which was the project of Newman, rather than the more protective and dogmatic approach of the then Irish church establishment.

What is happening?  Mater Dei and Saint Patrick’s College will soon cease to exist in their current form, but the fact that the names of both institutions will remain in a different context is a sign that continuity can co-exist with a changing role of the church in an evolving society.  The New Faculty of Education in DCU will be a revolutionary institute which I believe will contribute to a qualitative change in educational theory and research in Ireland.

The DCU Faculty will include Institutes of Catholic and Church of Ireland education.  For the first time candidates who aspire to teach in the various traditions of denominational education will be trained together and alongside those who aspire to a more secular vision.  This is a vision close to the current realities.  This new vision will foster not division but a recognition of difference and a fostering of the ability to live with difference in a pluralistic, multi-faith and also more secular Irish society.  The believer and the non-believer have equal citizenship in a pluralist society.

On its part, Mater Dei was not just an institution for teacher training.  Its work reached out into the Catholic faith community through training within parish communities and in the preparation of chaplains and pastoral workers and permanent deacons, and initially even in the formation of young religious.    This is a work which must continue even if within in a new framework.

I have established within the Archdiocese of Dublin a new Diocesan position of Coordinator of Catechetical Formation, which will be led by Donal Harrington a distinguished and competent graduate and former teacher in Mater Dei.   The aim of the office will be to help train and coordinate the challenging task of the catechesis especially of young people and young adults. Parish-based catechesis will be an important parallel contribution to the work of Catholic schools.  It will help to ensure life-long formation of Catholics, both in support for their own faith and in renewing confidence in the qualitative contribution which Irish citizens of faith can bring to the formation of an Irish society of which all can be proud.

We need to provide a new and vigorous formation of lay Catholics within the Irish Church, one which witnesses to the bonds between faith and life in a pluralist culture.  This should not be simply a cerebral intellectual exercise, no matter how important intellectual formation must be.  We need to look at understanding what faith means in today’s society; what prayer means in a society which finds itself uncertain in understanding the transcendent, and which results in that sensitivity and caring outreach to the old and new peripheries of society which Pope Francis calls for.

In this context I have already announced the establishment precisely in Newman’s University Church in Saint Stephen’s Green a new Centre for Faith and Dialogue in society led by Notre Dame University which will open in September.

Similarly I have set out my thoughts on possible new forms of the preparation of future priests, not just in terms of a different human, spiritual and pastoral preparation, but in finding future priests, with a mature faith, who have the ability to be present as leaders of faith communities in a changing society. Vocations to the priesthood will spring-up from within mature lay faith communities.  The training of future priests belongs closer to the faith communities which they will serve and which will continue to nourish them along their path.

We are at the end of an era but also at the beginning of a new era.  There is nothing about that situation which shroud alarm us.  That is the history of the presence of faith in Jesus Christ right across human history.  The message of Jesus Christ is always a message of newness. A strong faith is not a faith rooted in unreal human certainty but in the constant search for an unsettling certainty which is not ours, but which comes from the invitation of Jesus.  There is a beautiful phrase in the Gospel of the Mass of today’s feast of Saint Bartholomew where Phillip tells Nathaniel that he has found Jesus.  Nathaniel is somewhat scandalised when he is told that this Jesus is from Nazareth and asks:  “can anything good come form that place?”  Philip’s response is a simple one “Come and see”.  That is what faith education is about:  an openness to come and see, to seek, to learn.  Pope Benedict has said that “the task of Christians today is to witness to God in a world which finds it hard to find him”.

Faith education in Ireland has to move forward from a “just listen to me” dogmatic catechesis into one within which we are invited by Jesus “to come and see” within the realities of our time.   Ireland also needs to overcome the intolerance of religion which can be found at times in an intransigent secularism which still feels that nothing can come from faith in that Jesus who “was born in that place”, a place which they consider alien.

We live in an era of change.  It is no time for believers to sit and bemoan or to be side-lined into the irrelevant.  Believers must regain confidence and courage to face new things in new ways.  It is time for tolerance and respect for diversities.  It is time for a Church to be present in society in such a way as to help people find that God revealed in Jesus Christ, not as an imposition but as an invitation to fullness of life.

We thank God for the work over these years of the Mater Dei Institute and we pray that Mary, Mother of Church, will watch over the transition that is taking place and go out of her way to be with us, just as we heard in our Gospel reading, she journeyed to be with her cousin Elizabeth in her expectation.”


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