It is always hard to know where to begin one’s vocation story. My vocation to priesthood is one which is commonly called ‘a late vocation’. I was 33 when I began my formation studies in Clonliffe College on 14th September 1996.
I grew up, the oldest of seven, three brothers and four sisters on a small farm in North County Dublin.
I went to the local primary school to secondary school in Swords. All during school I knew exactly what I wanted to do with my life. I never had a moment’s doubt. I wanted to be a chef. I wanted to cook food and travel the world. I had my heart set on ‘cutting out’ of school after Inter Cert but my wise parents insisted I continued (under protest!) to Leaving Cert.
I then spent two years in Cathal Brugha Street Catering College. It was a fantastic place and I loved it. I took part in a number of competitions there, and ‘tasted’ some success, which boosted my confidence enormously!
After college I was working in another part of the country when I got a call from a friend who had started work in a very good hotel in Kerry. To cut a long story short, I too found work there a few weeks later. So began a very privileged number of years for me, working with great people, and great ingredients in a great environment! I met many people there that I still count among my best friends today.
During this time I also was able to spend a number of out-of-season winters working in the United States and eventually I went there full-time, spending two years there.
I then returned home to take up a position in a hotel which was about to open. Despite the very hard work involved, it was a fantastic experience.
I firmly believe my coming home at this time was inspired by the Lord Himself as a gift, as within a year, my mother died after a long battle with cancer. My family and I were able to be with her during that difficult time, something I will always be grateful for.
After five years working in this new hotel, I finally plucked up the courage to explore something which had entered my mind, on and off, for years. I left my job to embark on a totally new voyage of life and faith.
From our early days, my parents guided all of us in our Catholic faith. We were far from ‘holy-Joes’ might I add, but Parish was a huge feature of our school life and our home life. 10.00 am Sunday Mass was our Mass and we all went together. The ritual began on Saturday afternoon – preparing clothes and shoes. Holy days, Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, Easter Sunday, Corpus Christi, the May Altar, Christmas were all part and parcel of our family and parish life. It was all perfectly normal for us to participate. Of course there were rebellious teenage years, when we each asserted our budding independence.
I look back now and with the help of new language I can now attempt to describe some of the deep feelings which were real, but for which I couldn’t find words then. I know now, I appreciated the sense of belonging which parish offered, I remember Mass being the one place where we all came together, I remember sensing that what we did together there was deeply mysterious and very beautiful, I remember singing hymns and growing in a sense of gratitude to God for so much. I remember too the many priests who ministered in our parish, came to my school, and visited our home. We were always glad to see them.
In 1976 when I was 13 a new curate was appointed to our Parish and he stayed with us for 13 years. He would often say to me and my friends ‘which of you is going to become a priest?’ Needless to say he never got an answer; we just had too much stuff we wanted to do! But despite this, he never gave up ‘sowing the seed’ as scripture says. Every now and then, during my college and early working days he would say ‘ when are you going to talk to them in Clonliffe?’ I thought he was mad and told him so, many times.
During my college years, early working years, time in America and the years I did practice my faith (though now I would say I did so passively), during those times abroad, when I was in a multi-denominational and multi-faith environment, it was so important for me to go to Mass. Deep inside I knew that my family would be doing the very same thing back at home and I felt in touch with them all. From time to time I used to find my self gazing into the sanctuary, looking at the priest and for a moment or two asking ‘could I do that… could I stand there before people and encourage them in life and in faith in Jesus Christ?’ Before long I’d be shaking myself back to reality and off I’d go about my business. I often thought of that curate who said to us ‘did you ever think of Clonliffe’ but I always passed it off as an invitation to one of the other lads.
As time went by I began to experience what I can only describe as ‘uneasiness’ in my chosen career. I was now beginning to earn a decent salary, thought I had fallen in love, and was looking into buying my own home. But I was finding myself more and more pondering this priesthood question. Eventually I had to talk seriously to someone and who better than my curate friend who by now was a parish priest.
I’ll never forget his initial response. He threw his head back and roared with laughter. ‘ Well it’s about time’ says he. After a long chat, and after I had expressed some of my concerns about going to seminary he gave me the greatest advice ever, he said ‘always remember that you go to seminary first to see, not to be’. I found that to be most reassuring. With his help I made contact with the Diocesan Vocations Director, whom I met regularly for about a year, beginning my studies in September 1996.
If I were to write in any detail of those years we would be here until the second coming! But I can say that I can only describe those 7 years as a gift from the Church and in particular from the people, religious and priests of the Archdiocese of Dublin. I was given space to pray and reflect and given a formation in life, prayer and priesthood for which I am eternally grateful.
Those 7 years were filled with ups and downs, joys and sorrows, achievements and challenge. But most of all they were years filled with glimpses of Jesus Christ alive in His people, nurturing and sustaining us with the beauty and power of the Sacraments of the Church to be his living presence in the world.
After my ordination in June 2003 I was appointed as curate to the parish of ‘Our Lady Mother of Divine Grace’, Raheny. From day one I have been very blessed among the people here who are an inspiration in faith and love of the Lord.
Priestly ministry here is very varied. It is a large parish with 3 primary schools, a secondary school, large teams of lay ministers and many faith groups and programmes. We celebrate the Eucharist twice daily during the week and there are 5 Sunday celebrations. The Lord is truly alive among these people and they never fail to celebrate with joy and enthusiasm. In a world of vast life choices, we have together chosen to follow Christ who is the way, the truth and the life. As a priest I am truly blessed to celebrate the sacraments of the Lord’s abiding presence through which he strengthens and nourishes all his people to live always in faith, hope and love.
The ministry of priesthood is a radical choice in today’s world. Please, be under no illusion: it is not always easy, people can be very demanding at times but my experience has always been that the Lord works through the challenges and even the failures as well as through the ‘successes’. All He asks is a commitment to allow Him to work His grace through His priests.
May the Lord bless your discerning and your decision.
Fr Gerry Moore.