GBI - Gathered in chapter

BRI Group photo 2014


“We hang on to our optimism”

Between September 1 and 4 the British- Irish Province met in Crewe at the Oblate Retreat Centre. On the surface, one might see the gathering as simply one of challenge, focused on diminishment. Because of illness and old age, the capitulants were only 11 in number. As Paul Murphy said in the opening round of the chapter: “We are not the bunch we used to be.”

The Province has been hard hit by deaths since the last chapter six years ago. As Fr. John Kelly, the Provincial Superior said: “We have to be realistic, we have lost some important people.” Among them were Fr. Michael Walshe, a previous provincial who died in Vietnam, Fr. Gerry Sheehy, a missionary to the Philippines and subsequently to Vietnam, and Fr. Andy Ryder, who died accidentally on a hike on the coast of Ireland. In the last year, four other members passed away. They were all remembered in various ways and at different times during the chapter. Their deaths have reduced the membership of the British-Irish Province to 18.

The chapter began with a moment of prayer and the preliminary business of the chapter: the election of a secretary, scrutineers, tellers, and a moderator. In the first full session on Tuesday morning, Fr. John Kelly presented his State of the Province message. It was a review of all the issues that the Province faces. As certain members remarked, it was a realistic report.  

P1050410He noted how in the last six years the Province had to withdraw from a number of ministries because of deaths and retirements, including Liverpool, Malpas and Northhampton, leaving the Province with only in six communities, two in each of the countries where the Congregation is present. He also added that the Province has not been blessed with any vocations during these six years. However, members from other areas of the Congregation have come to work in Scotland and England. Fr. Sunil from India has been assisting in Irvine, Scotland, and Fr. Michel and Fr. Blaise both from Cameroon will be assisting at St. John Vianney in Dublin and St. John’s in Stockport. There is a hope that with the clearer articulation of community pastoral projects, the Province will be able to attract other members to form new international communities.

One such project is the London International Community. The Province has committed itself to establishing an international community in one of the London dioceses. Contacts have been made with the Bishop of Southwock. In the near future the London project will further clarified and a call for participation will be sent to the provinces, regions and districts.

Fr. John van den Hengel of the General Administration provided the background on the theme of the next General Chapter. He focussed the province on the living of the charism of Fr. Dehon in the various communities as the major theme of the chapter. After voting for the chapter delegate of the Province, Fr. Paul Murphy, and the substitute (Fr. Stephen Motroni), and the acceptance of the financial report, the chapter completed its business and gathered to celebrate Fr. James Matthews’ 40th  anniversary of ordination.

The chapter did recognize the challenges of the province, but it was also an optimistic gathering, thankful and joyous. As a member said at the end of the chapter, “We hang on to our optimism.”  Brother Francis put it better, “Trust in God – that’s all we need to do.”