232 lay people are conferred with academic awards in Theology, Philosophy and Education

12 Nov 2018

On Saturday, 10 November, 232 lay women and men were conferred with academic awards in Theology, Philosophy and Education.  Archbishop Eamon Martin granted the awards.  During the ceremony Archbishop Martin paid tribute to the late Emma Mhic Mháthúna, who was a former student of the Bachelor of Arts and Theology at the Pontifical University.  Over 800 lay students are registered at the Pontifical University, including the first recipients from Ulster of the Cardinal O’Fiaich scholarships. Please see the full text of Archbishop Eamon Martin’s address below:

Friends, in 1916, a young Cork priest called Fr Edward Galvin visited Armagh and won the support of my predecessor Cardinal Logue for an Irish Missionary Society for China. When Fr John Blowick, the professor of Moral Theology here at Maynooth stepped forward to volunteer for the mission, it encouraged many others to follow suit and, one hundred years ago this year, the “Maynooth Mission to China” was founded to be known as the Missionary Society of St Columban. 

Fr Galvin admitted that perhaps the whole idea was “a bit of a mad thing to do”, but still, the first missionaries set out in 1920, inspired by the thought of “a million souls in China to be won for Christ”. God’s grace blessed their efforts – the Columbans continued to proclaim the Gospel in China until they were expelled in the early 1950s. By then, the Columban Sisters had been founded, and new mission fields were open in the Philippines, Korea, Burma and Japan. Eventually Columban missionaries- priests, religious and lay women and men – would proceed to Latin America, Australia, Fiji, Pakistan and Taiwan, Brazil, Jamaica and Belize and Myanmar.

“Go out to the whole world”, Jesus said – “proclaim the Good News to all the nations”. Sometimes we tend to think that this commission was only for “special people”; for the chosen few. But Pope Francis, on the other hand keeps reminding us that every baptised person is a missionary. “Every Christian is a missionary to the extent that he or she has encountered the love of God in Christ Jesus: we no longer say that we are “disciples” and “missionaries”, but rather that we are always “missionary disciples (EG120).

My dear graduates of 2018, allow me to challenge you to be missionary disciples. Your fellow students in 1918 stepped up to be part of the Maynooth Mission to China and their courage and enthusiasm for spreading the joy of the Gospel was infectious! There is no reason why you, the graduates of 2018 cannot form the core of a Maynooth Mission to Europe, to Asia, Africa, Australia and the Americas. Better still, the Maynooth Mission to Ireland, for isn’t it true that now, our own dear country is once more mission territory?

Earlier this year Pope Francis issued his Apostolic Constitution Veritatis Gaudium on ecclesiastical universities and faculties. In the foreword, he reflects on these troubled times, marked as they are by anthropological and environmental crisis. How much the world needs: Veritatis Gaudium – the Joy of Truth. And the joy of truth, he adds, is not some abstract idea, but is Jesus Himself. The human heart is indeed restless until it encounters and dwells within God’s Light, and shares that Light with all people (see VG1). That is why the Church, he says must always be a missionary Church that ‘goes forth’.  

My dear graduates, I imagine that part of what inspired you to study philosophy or theology was a desire to search for meaning, for understanding, for answers to some of the great questions of life. Now that you have accomplished so much, do not hold it to yourself. Be missionary disciples! Share with others what you have learned; continue to explore your questions in dialogue with others, and be open to facing the many new challenges that continue to bombard us from every angle. 

When Pope St John Paul II came to Limerick almost forty years ago, he borrowed a theme from Lumen Gentium to remind us that: ‘The great forces which shape the world – politics, the mass media, science, technology, culture, education, industry and work – are precisely the areas where lay people are especially competent to exercise their mission.  If these forces are guided by people who are true disciples of Christ, and who are, at the same time, fully competent in the relevant secular knowledge and skill, then indeed will the world be transformed from within by Christ’s redeeming power’(Limerick 1 October 1979).

Never underestimate your ability to give witness. I think today of Emma Mhic Mhathuna, a woman of deep faith who was proud to study in the Bachelor of Arts and theology programme here in 2014-15. Like many of you here today, Emma balanced the challenging demands of raising her family with her academic programme, but, sadly, as we know, for personal reasons she reluctantly had to withdraw from her studies. But Emma’s courageous and powerful testimony about her terminal cancer during the recent CervicalCheck controversy made such a deep impression right across the country; I am pleased to hear, from the President, of the College’s intention to have an award dedicated to Emma to  assist mature students who wish to return to education – ar dheis De go Raibh a anam.

In congratulating you on your achievements, I encourage you not to see today as the end of your theological journey, but as an overture to your participation in the mission of the Church as lay women and men, as clergy or in the consecrated life.  

Celebrate and give thanks for your achievement – for the gifts you have nourished in library, lecture hall and study. Accept our congratulations, for we know that none of this could have happened without your dedication, commitment and determination. Well done.

Be mindful today of the many people who have helped you along the way – your lecturers and tutors, supervisors, mentors and sponsors, not just those who directly assisted your learning process, but also the friends, family members and other loved ones who encouraged you to achieve your full potential.  May I acknowledge in a special way the contribution of our new Academic and Pastoral Support Coordinator, Dr Aoife McGrath.

President Fr Mullaney, Members of Staff, guests, including Dr. Aidan Mulkeen, Vice-President Registrar of Maynooth University and especially this year’s 232 graduates, I  consider it a huge honour to be Chancellor of this Pontifical University. With around eight hundred lay people, religious and seminarians studying theology at undergraduate and postgraduate level alongside those taking part time diploma programmes, we remain committed to our ‘desire to flourish’ as a centre  of excellence for theological studies in Ireland and as a major driver for the renewal of faith in this country.  I am also pleased that, in line with Veritatis Gaudium, St Patrick’s College continues to cooperate and network across the world with young churches and universities – I congratulate everyone who was involved with Maynooth’s  hosting of the international conference on models of priestly formation last November, the international symposium on the family in June and the International Federation of Catholic Universities during the summer. 
These achievements, and those we recognise and celebrate today, are a tangible expression that this College remains, for Ireland and the world, a vibrant centre of life, learning and missionary discipleship.

No one ever said that being a disciple of Jesus was easy! Many of the Columban missionaries who left Ireland found themselves suffering alongside the people they came to serve, from the ravages of conflict and climate, from hunger and disease, from persecution and imprisonment; some even gave their lives for the faith. Over the past century twenty four Columban missionaries laid down their lives for Christ. May the Lord reward them. 

In his final homily at the Phoenix Park in August, Pope Francis referred to St Columbanus, the patron saint of the Columbans who brought the light of the Gospel to the lands of Europe in an age of darkness and cultural dissolution … “It was their daily witness of fidelity to Christ and to each other that won hearts yearning for a word of grace and helped give birth to the culture of Europe …. Of course, there will always be people who resist the Good News, who “murmur” at its “hard words”. Yet like Saint Columbanus and his companions, who faced icy waters and stormy seas to follow Jesus, may we never be swayed or discouraged by the icy stare of indifference or the stormy winds of hostility”.

Be strong then, dear graduates. Be Maynooth missionaries for these challenging times!  Well done to all of you: graduates, family members, friends and academic staff.  Thank God for giving such success to the work of our hands!  

Guim rath Dé ar bhuir saotháir amach anseo. Comhghairdeas libh go leir.