Read in full the homily by Bishop Nulty at the ordination of Fr Sean Hyland in Portarlington on Sunday 13th July 2014
It is among the people of God, that Seán and all priests will minister; it is among the people of God that a vocation is nourished and encouraged, and it is among the people of God that our faith is celebrated and lived” – Bishop Nulty
It is with a great sense of joy we gather this Sunday afternoon to celebrate the Ordination of Seán Hyland to the priesthood for service here in the Diocese of Kildare & Leighlin. The parish of Portarlington/Emo rejoices to see one of their own ordained to the priesthood in St. Michael’s Church this day. The Diocese of Kildare & Leighlin rejoices to see a new priest ordained for service in our diocesan family. Seán’s family and friends, particularly his brother P.J., sisters Kay & May, P.J.’s wife Joyce and Sean’s nephews and nieces, rejoice this day on the very powerful and moving vocation journey that their Seán has chosen to follow, evoking much of the prophet Jeremiah’s call in our first reading. Of course there are also three special people rejoicing in eternity this day, Sean’s late and much-loved wife Liz and their two little children Seana and Kieran. I welcome Liz’s younger sister Margaret who like all his family has been a special part of Seán’s journey to this day.
Today I want to record the immense gratitude the Diocese of Kildare & Leighin owes to the Pontifical Beda College in Rome where Seán’s formation was indeed discerned and directed, and where the programme of formation of last year’s diocesan ordinand, Father Terence McGovern, also took place. I welcome Seán’s classmates and college friends who join us this day, as I welcome Father John Breen, the vice-rector representing the Beda staff who do such wonderful work offering a specialised formation programme for late vocations.
Seán’s vocation story is unique to him, as indeed are all our vocation journeys. It’s enlightening and inspiring for us and hopefully not overly intrusive to recount that story once again. Sean’s background is in manufacturing management for the computer industry; he was married in 1972, widowed in December 2008, having in the much earlier years of their marriage buried their two children. It is all but impossible to put into words that Cross that Seán and Liz were called then to shoulder. Seán’s experience of family life has the potential to be an enormous help to many people that Seán may encounter in his priesthood, bringing them hope, comfort & consolation. Seán began his journey towards the priesthood in September 2010. He is a powerful example of the Lord’s call coming and expressing itself in a most persistent fashion. It was a radical choice for Séan, who coming out of a life of professional retirement, might have continued the leisurely pursuit of following a white ball around a golf course, but he chose to respond as best he can to the challenge posed in Luke’s gospel: “the harvest is rich, but the labourer’s are few”. And aren’t we all glad he has responded so generously to that challenge!
In recent years there has been a notable increase in the average age when a seminarian might commence seminary formation. A study in 2013 curiously named ‘The Lure of the Seminary’ commissioned by the Council for Research and Development at Maynooth explored the typical seminary routes seminarians took before entering seminary. A similar study back in 1980, the year before I entered the seminary myself, discovered that 59% of the first year seminarians were then between 17-19 years of age. Today we have a different picture, 71% of the same first year pool are over the age of 25. The Irish Church owes an enormous debt to the great number of mature men who today enter seminary. The Diocese of Kildare & Leighlin welcomes with open arms Seán Hyland this day. We are delighted that Seán joins our ranks and we encourage the many more Seáns who find themselves in similar situations out there to reflect on the priesthood and its call. The renewal of the Irish Church will be strengthened by the determination of mature men, bolstered and supported by a loving family alongside great colleagues and friends.
Some might understandably wonder or ask ‘what have mature men to offer the Church?’ Shouldn’t our focus be on a younger intake catchment? St. Peter confesses to being an elder man himself in our second reading, while Jeremiah appears to have youth on his side! Of the recent successors of St. Peter – Pope Francis, Pope Emeritus Benedict and St. Pope John XXIII – two were aged 76 and one 77 when they were elected to the papacy and all three have made a wonderful impact on our church. When it comes to entering the seminary ‘it’s not about the age’. It is about the approach to formation. It is about the openness to reflection, prayer and study. It is about a willingness of parents, family, peers and friends to support the one entering the seminary. It is about the faith.
Luke’s gospel sets out the challenge directly and unequivocally this Sunday afternoon. This challenge is offered not only to the mature man but also to the young. Today, as I did on Vocations Sunday last April, I reiterate that invitation to young people to consider exploring a vocation to the priesthood or the religious life. I believe that there are potential vocations in all our parishes and not just here in Portarlington – in the football clubs we play in, in the groups we hang around with, in our leaving cert classes, on our colleges courses and of course in all our families.
Returning to Seán’s story, a determining moment was the day he spoke to his Parish Priest, Fr. Tom Dooley. Seminarians from the already cited research spoke very strongly of the importance of the encouragement coming from a priest, particularly at the initial meeting. Today that initial conversation that initial meeting reaps the reward of its harvest. Our prayer is not only for Seán and his family this day, but for all priests, religious and the people of God here in Kildare & Leighlin Diocese who continue the work of the first seventy-two sent out by the Lord. It is among the people of God, that Seán and all priests will minister; it is among the people of God that a vocation is nourished and encouraged, and it is among the people of God that our faith is celebrated and lived. We focus our prayers now on Seán as I question him on his intention to undertake the priestly office.
Biography of Father Seán Hyland
Seán Hyland was born in 1947 into a traditional Catholic family. He met Liz in 1968, and they were married in 1972. They had a beautiful daughter Seana who died in 1975 when she was two. One year later they had a son Kieran who died in 1977 aged one. Seán attributes much of his ability to cope with such loss to his wife Liz who through unconditional love and example helped him through many years of pain, darkness, questioning and anger.
Seán worked in manufacturing management in the computer industry until his retirement in 2006. He enjoyed a very peaceful first year of retirement – playing golf and travelling. In April 2008 Liz was diagnosed with cancer and she died in December 2008. Through Liz’s example and support over the years, Seán’s faith had developed and deepened and he received the strength to support Liz in the way she deserved through this time. Seán received amazing consolations in faith after Liz’s death, one part being a very deep internalisation of how safe and well Liz, their children, parents and brothers and sisters are for all eternity, united in the presence of Jesus. This gave Seán a deep sense of peace which continues to this day. This in a very practical sense caused Seán’s prayer to be “Jesus my life is yours, let me know what you want me to do”.
In April 2009, Seán read a newspaper article profiling vocations at Maynooth seminary including some mature students. He made contact with a first year student who was 62 years of age, with a family background similar to his own. Seán approached his parish priest Father Thomas Dooley in July 2009 and started the process of discerning a vocation to the priesthood. He was then introduced to Father Ruairi O’ Domhnaill Vocations Committee Chairman for Kildare & Leighlin. Father Ruairi guided Seán through the vetting process, eventually meeting Bishop James Moriarty, Bishop Emeritus of the Diocese of Kildare and Leighlin. Seán commenced his formation for the priesthood at the Beda College in Rome in late September 2010.