Hi! My name is Tony Egan, and I am the Prior of the Augustinian community at John’s Lane Church, Thomas Street, in the heart of “Dublin’s Fair City.” I am thirty two years ordained a priest this year. Thirteen of those years I spent ministering in two large city parishes in Nigeria – Benin and Lagos. Prior to my departure for Nigeria, I ministered for two/three years in the parish of Our Lady of Good Counsel in Ballyboden. That means that I have spent seventeen years living and ministering in non-parish churches.
For me, the major difference between the parish church ministry and the non-parochial church ministry is to be found in the name that is commonly given to the latter, and that is a ‘devotional’ church.
Traditionally, our non-parish Augustinian churches have been synonymous with religious/pious devotions. Most, if not all of these devotions are Augustinian in origin and nature. The most popular of these devotions is that in honour of our Blessed Lady under the title Our Mother of Good Counsel. Another popular devotion is in honour of the 15th Century Italian Augustinian nun, St. Rita of Cascia, Patroness of Impossible Cases. There is also the lovely devotion in memory of our beloved dead to St. Nicholas of Tolentine, the 14th Century Italian Augustinian who is Patron of the Souls in Purgatory. Naturally enough, St. Nicholas comes in to his own during the month of November, when people remember in particular their beloved dead.
I can personally testify to the fact that all of these devotions are very popular with our church going people here in John’s Lane. Indeed, so popular are these devotions in our Augustinian churches, world wide, that solemn novenas (9 days) and triduum (3 days) of special prayers and masses in preparation for the actual feast day itself are held on an annual basis. This is not surprising, I guess, when you realize that everyone stands in need of “good counsel/advice” from time to time. That most people, at sometime in their lives, feel that a particular situation or circumstance is hopeless or impossible to overcome without the help of a “power greater than ourselves”. And of course we all want to be remembered, especially when we have left this life, hopefully for a much better one. These devotions, then, fit the bill, so to say.
I want to add here, that there are other Augustinian devotions which are also celebrated in our churches, world wide, but suffice it to say that these are the ones that are most celebrated in Ireland.
Another ‘devotion’ which is traditionally and commonly associated with Augustinian non-parochial churches is confessions. Now while there is no denying the fact that this particular ‘devotion’ is not as popular as it once was – indeed, many would say that it is almost non-existent in many parishes, there is still a need for the celebration of the sacrament of penance/reconciliation.
During this holy season of Lent, many people will endeavour to receive the sacrament of reconciliation. However, due to the shortage of priests that currently exists in many parishes, sadly, they may not be able to celebrate this sacrament in their own parish. Therefore, many will avail of the opportunity to celebrate this sacrament in a non-parochial/Religious run church. Our Augustinian church in Limerick, for example, has a great reputation for celebrating the sacrament of confession on a daily basis, a reputation going back many years.
As I write this little piece, I am conscious of the fact that our Augustinian churches that are also parochial churches, for example, in Ballyboden, Galway, Meath Street and Rivermount (Finglass), also celebrate these devotions I have referred to above. Nevertheless, it is our non-parish Augustinian churches that are the ones celebrating and promoting these Augustinian devotions on a regular basis.
As one who has ministered/served in a parish and non-parish setting, I can vouch for the fact that each has its own dynamic and uniqueness. However, there are many areas of overlapping and commonality, because in the end all ministry is at the service of the Kingdom of God, cultivating and promoting its core and essential values of justice, peace and love. This then – either in a parish or non parish church – is our task or project, our goal and our raison d’être.
Fr. Tony Egan, O.S.A.
(With thanks to Fr. Peter Haughey, O.S.A.)