Hello! My name is Michael Shortall and I am the curate in the Parish of Saggart, Rathcoole and Brittas, in West Dublin. I also lecture in Moral Theology at St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth. In one way it has been a long journey to this point but, in another way, time has passed by very quickly. There have been many turns in the road. But for now, two paths – one pastoral and one academic – are travelling together side by side.
It has been over a year since I returned home. For the previous five years, I lived in Rome, first with the Irish community and then a small German community. I studied moral theology at the Gregorian University. Moral theology is the reflection on our behaviour and ethical standards in the light of our Catholic tradition and experience. In particular, I specialised in Human Rights, in which I recently completed a Doctorate. The chance to study in a foreign country was a remarkable opportunity. It gave me a chance to experience a new culture. But because it was Rome, I was able to experience the many peoples who gather from around to world to study there.
I was asked to take that path after two years working in the parish of Parish of Our Lady of the Assumption in Ballyfermot, Dublin. It was a time of great learning of how to work comfortably with people and to be comfortable with myself. Most of all, I learnt from the people themselves.
Originally, I am from Castlecomer, Co. Kilkenny – and my family still live there. After happy years at St. Kieran’s College in Kilkenny city, I went to U.C.D. to study for an Arts Degree in Political Science and Philosophy in 1990. Politics was my main interest and I sort of fell into philosophy. It was a very enjoyable time at College – particularly the years that I lived on campus. I made great friends in those days that I am still in touch with many – although not as often as I would like.
It was after graduating that I joined seminary to become a priest. My faith journey until then was a relatively quiet one but important to me. There was no great conversion – just a sense that perhaps that this may be for me. Faith was important in our very ordinary home and some priests had left a good impression on me. At that point, I was twenty-one years old and not particularly sure if it this was the right move. But it was worth exploring and friends and family were very supportive. With college, my life had moved to Dublin. So in discerning what to do, I decided to stay here. That was 1993.
The course to priesthood involves many aspects: spiritual, personal, pastoral and academic. The academic studies focus on philosophy and theology. Because I already had a degree in philosophy, I returned to UCD to complete a Masters before studying theology at the seminary in Clonliffe College. Pastoral work included time in hospital, prison and parish. Again, I made wonderful friends.
It was also a time of discernment and spiritual and personal growth. In and through all these experiences, I came to a deeper understanding of the movement of the Holy Spirit in responding to the gentle call of God. In time, I realised that it wasn’t so much my commitment to God as how best to respond to God’s commitment to me in Christ. In that light, each choice to respond to God would lead to another, ever deepening my journey to the point where a final choice was required – a final commitment to a way of service of God and his people.
But there is no such thing as “final”. One path may be over or another no longer possible yet more paths always lie before us – God knows where the next adventure will lead.