“Awaking hearts”

Reflective Article on the NCDVD Conference, Long Island, New York

Attendees at the conference

"Father, I think that God is calling me to be a priest."

St John Vianney

What does it take for a young man to - hesitantly, quietly, nervously - speak those words? Courage, certainly. Faith, undoubtedly. In the words of Fr Jim Crisman , Vocations Director for the Archdiocese of Denver, Colorado, and Vice President of the American National Confederation of Diocesan Vocations Directors (NCDVD), it takes an "awakened heart." Awakened, in the first place, to the very idea that they are called by God at all.

I am writing in the departure lounge of JFK airport, New York, after a week at the NCDVD Congress on Long Island. The Congress involved 280 Priests from seven countries, seventeen Bishops and two Cardinals. Joining me in the UK contingent were Fr Stephen Langridge, from Southwark, Fr John Morrison, from Paisley, Scotland, and Chris Smith, Vocations Promoter for Birmingham Archdiocese. Other delegates had travelled from Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, Australia, and many parts of Canada. US delegates had travelled from Hawaii and California, Wisconsin and Washington, and all points in between.

“...the sheer scale of the Congress is immediately impressive”

9/11 Memorial

The sheer scale of the Congress is immediately impressive; even with no input at all, there would be much value in the sharing of experiences, ideas, resources and fraternity between Vocations Directors from so many different regions of the world, yet facing similar joys and challenges. There is a particular strength when such a large group gathers in prayer, a tangible sense of being brothers together; brothers in priesthood, brothers praying with and for each other and brothers praying for all those women and men who we serve and accompany on their vocational journeys. An entire hotel ballroom served as the Congress chapel, with a Holy Hour each morning, silent prayer in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament nurturing heart and soul for the day ahead. The week included two trips into New York, with a moving and memorable visit to the 9/11 Memorial and Museum.

The input at NCDVD was exceptional. Underpinning every talk, workshop and keynote speech was this deep truth of our faith: every person has a vocation. That is, every person has a definite, intimate, unique and precious invitation from God, to which we are called to respond. This is paralleled by a truth that is almost as significant - there are as many vocation promoters in a Diocese as there are Catholics; we are all called to encourage, nurture, sustain and celebrate the vocation of each of our sisters and brothers. Do we believe that? Do we live it?

For it is this combination of knowing we have a vocation, and being encouraged to name it, that begins to lead us to an "awakened heart" - a heart which is open to God's invitation to marriage, single life, religious life or priesthood, because - with joy and perhaps amazement - we know that God is calling us, personally and by name.

How, then, do we help young people to notice and believe this astonishing, profound and beautiful truth: "God is calling you by name." "Really? Me?" "Yes. Always."

Our hearts can be awakened to this in our families, in our schools, in our parishes. What more uplifting truth can we speak to even a young child than when we say to them, "God has something special and definite in mind for you." It is so affirming, and it remains affirming for the teenager who has seen his or her world torn apart by the divorce of their parents, or who suffers from low self esteem. It remains affirming too for the well adjusted, lively and popular young person who sees what a commercial and celebrity culture offers and knows that it is not enough, who yearns and searches for something deeper, even when they have no idea how to articulate it in terms of vocation or call.

“...we are working with a young, hopeful and spirited generation...”

All of this can be named as a "culture of vocation" and it was with joy that developing this culture was encouraged again and again at NCDVD. "We are working with a young, hopeful and spirited generation," said Cardinal Edwin O'Brien in a keynote speech.

As Diocesan Vocations Directors much of the input was naturally focused on our accompaniment of discerners and seminarians for the Diocesan Priesthood. Along the way we picked up many nuggets of practical wisdom, joy and hope. In a 2009 survey 92.4% of priests said they would strongly agree or agree with the statement, "overall, I am happy as a priest.”

We were given a striking image to bring "Theology of the Body" alive. Ask yourself - and the young people you encounter - do you see your body as a Pepsi can or a chalice? (for the lawyers, other brands of calorific soft drink may be used in this image!) This is magnificently visual - what are you putting into yourself? Do you recognise yourself as a temple of the Holy Spirit? Do you respect yourself as created by God and made in his image and likeness? Body image affects so many of our young people - can we change the perspective for them by offering them a sense of reverence about who they are, at their best. To picture themselves as a chalice - with all the levels of meaning that implies - may be a truly life-transforming revelation. Do we dare to use such vocabulary with our young people? Most certainly, such an understanding will provide a context in which the "culture of vocation" will flourish, for if we notice ourselves as created and cherished by God, we will find it easier to notice that God has a calling for us, personally.

“...HALT if you are Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired...”

We were offered very practical psychological wisdom by Dr Emily Cash, from the St Luke's Institute. Talking about the "hot button" issue of Internet addiction, she suggested a simple technique: HALT. That is, don't act if you are Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired. It applies when you are in front of the computer, and it applies when you answer the presbytery door, when a parishioner wants a chat, and all things in between. Eat something, calm down, phone a friend, sleep. Then pray. Then act, if indeed action is still needed or appropriate.

HALT is wisdom that goes well beyond priesthood, while also necessary wisdom for us personally (a wonderful dimension of the Congress was concern about how we were looking after ourselves) and helpful in journeying with those discerning priesthood, and those in seminary. This kind of wisdom was evident all week, including a brilliant full day session with Fr Stephen Rossetti, author of The Joy of Priesthood.

Breakfast with Archbishop Wong

Fr Dominic with Archbishop Wong Rare is the moment when you can sit down to breakfast with a senior Archbishop from the Congregation for the Clergy in Rome. So significant is the NCDVD gathering that Archbishop Jorge Wong joined us for the entire week, and he made a point of spending time with each group. And so over coffee and pastries one morning he chatted with the four of us from the UK and encouraged us with this particular insight. Focus first on forming the young as human beings and as Christians, he told us. The academics can come later, pastoral opportunities will come later, but above all make sure they are well rounded as human beings and know what it means to joyfully encounter Jesus in their prayer as brother, friend and saviour.

This is indeed our work as Vocations Directors - to welcome joyfully the young person with an "awakened heart" (perhaps having helped in the awakening of the heart) and then to journey with them as they discern deeply who God is calling them to be. To do that, they need to know themselves, and they need to know God - as do we, for this is a lifelong journey for all of us. The Archbishop was clear about that, too, and deeply humble in his own sense of journey. I am here to propose, he said, not to impose, and he took time all week to listen, attentive to our situations, our joys and challenges.

“...the four Is of a discernment group: Inspirational, Inviting, Informative and fostering Intimacy with Jesus Christ...”

Various ideas were suggested that will help such a journey with the young - discernment groups where faith could be shared and deepened, where young people could discover what it meant to pray together, as well as work as a team and discover individual strengths. Fr Brett Brannen summarised this with “the four I’s” - such groups should be Inspirational, Inviting, Informative and foster Intimacy with Jesus Christ. Listening to how other nationalities do this was illuminating; would we Brits be trying snowboarding, bear watching, kayaking from church to church in our Diocese, or ice fishing any time soon? It seemed unlikely, though the new Bishop of Brentwood has already spoken keenly of his interest in mountaineering, so anything is possible! The point is that when we offer young people opportunities to grow as people and in faith (these dimensions are, in any case, absolutely interwoven), and when we accompany them as joyful priests, peaceful and sustained in our vocation, we awaken their hearts to their vocation. It is what Diocesan Youth Services (where they exist and are resourced, such as the wonderful Brentwood Catholic Youth Service) and Vocations Directors are doing, up and down the country, and it is where the help of every family, school and parish is needed, to give encouragement, to pray, to nurture the deep truth that every person is called by God.

Examples of promotional materials from the conference The last bit of wisdom from NCDVD is this - every US Vocations Director has an office, with staff; they have the time to be on the road in schools and parishes, they have the support to produce and distribute high quality resources. When - if ever - have you thought of this ministry as a place to direct funds, to send a cheque? To support the work in Brentwood Diocese, there is a special Vocations Promotion Fund, and if you would like to support it then please email and I will send you details. Every penny will be well used.

"Father, I think that God is calling me to be a Priest." Hesitant, nervous, faith-filled and courageous words. If you have read this article and feel those words resonating for you, then please get in touch with me (or your own Vocations Director, if you live outside Brentwood Diocese). Or speak to your Parish Priest, or to your school or University chaplain. Do something - for this is a precious moment. If you think a young man in your parish, your school, your family, might be called to priesthood then consider how - sensitively and gently - you could encourage him. And above all, pray that every young woman and man will find their heart awakened, their spirit stirred, that with authentic discernment, rooted in prayer and formation, they may know who God is calling them to be.

Fr Dominic
October 2014

A reflection from Fr Brian O'Shea, celebrating 40 years of priesthood

Where as Priests do we find our joy? In celebrating, in sharing with you the Word of Life and the Bread of Life, in pouring saving waters on the heads of your little ones, in conveying to you God’s own forgiveness, in witnessing to the love you share in marriage, in praying with you – at home and hospital and care home, as you prepare to meet your Lord and Saviour.

Like Jesus, we try to walk gently with you – like Jesus, we too are subject to weakness.

To us, each of you is precious, a child of God, an image of Jesus. We love especially those of you who are struggling, discouraged, or who have experienced tragedy. We try to love you as Jesus does. We fail at times, but we never stop trying – for our trust is not in ourselves, in the rag and bone shop of the human heart: our trust is in the Holy Spirit who orchestrated our Ordination.

We all make up the Body of Christ and I offer Mass for you all.

Fr Brian O'Shea
Parish Priest of Grays
Mass on the 40th Anniversary of Priesthood, 2014.

Brentwood group at the Invocation Festival, Oscott College, July 2014

Photo of our group at the 2014 Invocation Festival

Priestly Ordination of Fr Patrick Daly

Fr Patrick Daly was Ordained as the newest Priest of Brentwood Diocese at Our Lady Immaculate Church, Chelmsford, on Saturday 28th July by Bishop Thomas McMahon. Patrick was born in Chelmsford and has been a parishioner of Our Lady Immaculate throughout his life. He was Baptised, received his First Holy Communion, and received the Sacrament of Confirmation in Our Lady Immaculate Church. His uncle, the late Fr Jack Harden, was ordained in the church. Before commencing studies for the Priesthood, Patrick had completed a career with the Halifax PLC, in the role of branch manager, in a number of towns in the Diocese. He has also served the Diocese as a member of the Diocesan Pastoral Support Team between 2007 and 2010. Patrick completed his studies for the Priesthood at the Beda Pontifical College in Rome.

Patrick lies prostrate during the Litany of Saints Bishop Thomas invokes the Holy Spirit

Afterwards, Fr Patrick said, “It was a beautiful Ordination Mass and a joyful day. I felt an intense feeling of happiness and fulfilment that the Lord had brought me to this day. I was completely overcome by the good will and support of everyone present at my Ordination. I was consciously aware of the support and prayers of those unable to be at the Mass. I am very grateful for all the help and support given so generously to me in recent days.”

Bishop Thomas and newly Ordained Fr Patrick Daly Fr Patrick with his mother

During the Ordination Diocesan seminarians Gary Dench, Eamonn Hyde and Rick Fernandes all assisted with the serving. The Diocesan Vocations Director, Fr Dominic Howarth presented Fr Patrick to the Bishop during the ceremony, and later assisted at the time of his investiture with a new stole and chasuble. He said, “It is a joyful day when a new Priest is Ordained, and I very much hope that the inspiring and powerful prayers, magnificent music, and evident grace of today’s ceremony inspire others who are considering Diocesan Priesthood. As Catholics, we are all called to regularly reflect on the question, ‘who is God calling me to be?’ and responding to this is a very significant moment in life. For Patrick, this came after a lengthy career in banking; for others it may come in Sixth Form, University, or soon after starting work. I warmly encourage anyone who is considering a vocation to Priesthood or the Religious Life to contact me on 01268 281732 or via the contacts page – this website is full of excellent information, reflections and links. I wish Fr Patrick every blessing: each day of Priesthood is different, and there are many joys and many challenges, but I have no doubt that he will find it a fulfilling and wonderful vocation. And” – he added with a smile – “surely so much more interesting than being a bank manager!”

The Pope's Young People for Peter

Eamonn Hyde and Aisling Gallagher recently travelled to World Youth Day in Rio with CAFOD. Eamonn is a Diocesan Seminarian who also travelled to Peru with Cafod, and Aisling is part of our Vocations Discernment Group. They were invited to speak about their experience on BBC Essex.

Broadcast on BBC Essex Sunday Breakfast with Peter Holmes, Sunday 11th August.

Rev Patrick Daly Ordained Deacon in Rome — Priestly Ordination in 2014.

On Friday 14th June Rev Patrick Daly, from Our Lady Immaculate Parish, Chelmsford, was Ordained Deacon at St Paul outside the Walls, Rome. Patrick was ordained as one of twelve, including students from Malta, Ireland and Australia, as well as several Dioceses from England and Wales.

Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor, Emeritus Archbishop of Westminster, Presided at the Ordinations, and preached about the need for the Deacons to be men of acceptance, forgiveness, and love, modelled on the service and example of Jesus Christ. The setting for the Ordinations was magnificent; St Paul outside the Walls is one of Rome’s major Basilicas, with relics of St Paul in the high altar, and a magnificent mosaic in the apse, depicting Christ with the Apostles and Evangelists.

Photo 1 from Rev Patrick Daly's Ordination Photo 2 from Rev Patrick Daly's Ordination

Patrick’s mother, brothers and sisters were all in Rome for the Ordination, and they were all delighted for Patrick. There is already a strong family connection to the clergy of the Diocese – Patrick’s uncle was Fr Jack Harden, RIP, a Priest of Brentwood Diocese for many years. Patrick chaired the Deanery Pastoral Council in Chelmsford, and was an active member of the Knights of St Columba, before beginning seminary formation at the Pontifical Beda College in Rome in 2010. He was manager of several branches of the Halifax building society in Essex and East London before feeling called to priesthood; in recognition of his life experience Patrick is on a four year seminary formation programme, and will therefore hopefully be Ordained a Priest for Brentwood Diocese at Our Lady Immaculate in June 2014. Speaking to the Vocations Director, Fr Dominic Howarth, after the Mass in Rome, Patrick said “I was very moved by today’s ceremony, and I am very thankful for the tremendous support of my family, and parishioners in OLI, Leigh and Grays [where Patrick has spent time on summer placements]. It is this support which has brought me to today, and I look forward very much to being back in the Diocese.” This summer Rev Patrick will be on placement with Fr Martin O’Connor at St Bede’s, Chadwell Heath.


1. Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor, Rev Patrick Daly, Fr Kevin Hale (Leigh on Sea), Gary Dench (Diocesan Seminarian), Br Stephen (Norbertine, OLI Chelmsford), Fr Ivor Morris (Blessed Sacrament Chelmsford), Fr Dominic Howarth (Vocations Director)

2. Rev Patrick Daly with his mother and family, plus Fr Dominic Howarth, Fr Kevin Hale, Fr Ivor Morris and Gary Dench.

“Habemus Papam!” — “We have a Pope!”

Pope Francis
There were moving, dramatic and joyful scenes at St Peter’s on Wednesday 13th March when the new Pope was announced. In taking the name Francis he signifies that he will model himself on the humility and simplicity of St Francis of Assisi, and his first action was to ask the people of Rome and the world to pray for him. He said, “Let us begin a journey together, a journey of fraternity, love and trust.” Pope Francis is the first ever Pope from Latin America, highlighting that we are part of a worldwide Church. Let us pray for him.

The Gift of a Shepherd – Prayer on the Election of a Pope

Let us pray for Francis, our Pope.

May the Lord protect him
and grant him length of days. Amen.

May the Lord be his shield
and deliver him from all harm. Amen.

May the Lord give him happiness and peace
all the days of his life. Amen.

Read more about Pope Francis, and read all his homilies and speeches, at vatican.va and zenit.org.

Special Mass for Vocations celebrated at Most Holy Trinity Church, Basildon

Group photo

Seminarians and those enquiring about vocation to Priesthood and the Religious Life joined with Priests of the Diocese on the Feast of St Thomas of Canterbury (December 29th) to celebrate a special Mass for Vocations at Most Holy Trinity Church, Basildon, along with around seventy parishioners.

Celebrants (pictured) included Fr Matthew Bemand-Qureshi and Fr Nick de Keyser, the two most recently ordained Priests in the Diocese. Fr Paul Keane preached, taking the life of St Thomas of Canterbury as his central theme, and highlighting faith, prayer and love as the essential qualities of Diocesan Priesthood.

Fr Dominic Howarth, Vocations Director, is Parish Priest in Basildon, and there is a thriving Vocations Discernment group meeting every six to eight weeks in Brentwood. For more details, contact Fr Dominic on 01268 281732. There are currently six seminarians in formation for the Priesthood for Brentwood Diocese, and three applicants for seminary for September 2013.

Fr Dominic speaks on Sky News

Fr Dominic recently appeared on Sky News to talk about the recent increase in vocations. Watch what he had to say »

Two new Deacons for Brentwood Diocese

Rev Matthew Bemand and Rev Nick de Keyser were Ordained Deacons by Archbishop Peter Smith, Archbishop of Southwark, at St Johns Seminary, Wonersh, on Saturday 30th June. They are both former Anglican clergy, and are pictured with their wives and families. They will be Ordained Priests on October 6th at Brentwood Cathedral; Nick will then serve in Springfield, Matthew in Wanstead.

Also pictured are David Pearce and Eammon Hyde, Brentwood seminarians at Wonersh, and Fr Dominic Howarth (Vocations Director), Fr Paul Keane, Fr John McGrath and Fr David Prior, who all came to support Matthew and Nick on this wonderful and important day. The other photographs show moments from the Ordination Ceremony; Nick and Matthew were Ordained with three other Deacons, for Southwark and Plymouth Dioceses.

Photo 1 from Rev Matthew Bemand and Rev Nick de Keyser's Ordination Photo 2 from Rev Matthew Bemand and Rev Nick de Keyser's Ordination

Photo 3 from Rev Matthew Bemand and Rev Nick de Keyser's Ordination Photo 4 from Rev Matthew Bemand and Rev Nick de Keyser's Ordination

Photo 5 from Rev Matthew Bemand and Rev Nick de Keyser's Ordination

Fr Dominic speaks on Sky News

Fr Dominic recently appeared on Sky News to talk about the recent increase in vocations. Watch what he had to say »

Dates for your diary

  • 23rd September 2012: Profession of Vows for the Community of Our Lady of Walsingham, Sr Teresa, 11.30am, Brentwood Cathedral
  • 6th October 2012: Priestly Ordination, Brentwood Cathedral - Matthew Bemand and Nick de Keyser

Brentwood Vocations Discernment Group

For some time now there has been a discernment group for those considering Priesthood. Fr Dominic is now working together with Sr Anne Spilberg, OSU, an Ursuline Sister with many years’ experience of guiding vocations, and the group is now being further developed. From June the group will be open to men and women aged 17 – 30 who are considering the Priesthood and Religious Life. Whether you are just at the beginnings of discernment or whether you have been discerning for some time, this group should be a wonderful place to help the discernment journey, and everyone is warmly welcome. Being part of the group does not mean any commitment to definitely being a Priest, Religious Sister or Brother: it is for discernment, and people can come and go at any time.

Each time we meet the evening will include a simple meal together, input from someone sharing their vocational journey, a chance for questions, and a time of quiet prayer in front of the Blessed Sacrament. Usually we will gather at about 7.15, eat at about 7.30 and finish at about 9.15. Over the years of the Priesthood discernment group these meetings have been a great opportunity to share thoughts and ideas in a relaxed setting: if you are considering a vocation to Priesthood or Religious Life it can be a great strength to simply be with others who are on the same journey and we look forward to welcoming you.

The evenings will take place in Brentwood, approximately every 4 – 6 weeks, beginning on 8th June 2012.

For catering, it helps to know who is coming (!) – please email [email protected] to let him know you are attending; he will then confirm exact venue details and timings with you, as these may vary from month to month.

Congratulations to Fr Daniel Kelly, Ordained Priest 17th September 2011

"The 17th September 2011 was the greatest day of my life. I said to people on that day, 'I have only ever had one dream in life and today it has come true.' Nearly 500 people came to witness my Ordination to the Priesthood in a church that could only hold 300, therefore we had to use the Baptist church across the road to set up a video link for those who couldn't get into the Catholic church. I am incredibly grateful to those who came and those who worked so hard to make the day such a success.

The last few months have also been wonderful. I haven't stopped smiling since. I have never been so busy or tired in my entire life but I have never been so happy either. I am now Assistant Priest at St Mary, Mother of God, Hornchurch. It is a fantastic parish with the most beautiful people I could possibly ever want to meet. I am thoroughly enjoying priesthood and couldn't recommend it more highly."

—Fr Daniel Kelly

Photo 1 from Fr Dan's Ordination Photo 2 from Fr Dan's Ordination

Photo 3 from Fr Dan's Ordination

Royal English College, Valladolid (April 2011)

Fr Dominic recently visited Eamonn and Gary in Valladolid as they near the end of their pre-seminary year. Here are some photos of the college...

Photo 1 from Valladolid Photo 2 from Valladolid

Photo 3 from Valladolid Photo 4 from Valladolid

Photo 5 from Valladolid Photo 6 from Valladolid

Photo 7 from Valladolid Photo 8 from Valladolid Photo 9 from Valladolid

Photo 10 from Valladolid Photo 11 from Valladolid Photo 12 from Valladolid

Bishop Kieran Conry ordains Daniel Kelly as a Deacon (18 December 2010)

Daniel with other Brentwood seminarians and Priests at Wonersh after the Ordination Left: Daniel with other Brentwood seminarians and Priests at Wonersh after the Ordination.
Below: Other photos from the day.

Photo 2 from Daniel Kelly's Ordination Photo 3 from Daniel Kelly's Ordination

Photo 4 from Daniel Kelly's Ordination Photo 5 from Daniel Kelly's Ordination

Photo 6 from Daniel Kelly's Ordination

Martyrs' Day Celebrations

Gary and Eamonn celebrate Martyrs' Day at the English College, Valladolid Gary and Eamonn celebrate Martyrs' Day at the English College, Valladolid.

Pope Benedict XVI with all the seminarians of England and Wales, Oscott College, September 19th 2010

Pope Benedict XVI with all the seminarians of England and Wales, Oscott College, September 19th 2010

© Mazur/www.thepapalvisit.org.uk

“Only Jesus knows what 'definite service' he has in mind for you. Be open to his voice resounding in the depths of your heart: even now his heart is speaking to your heart. Christ has need of families to remind the world of the dignity of human love and the beauty of family life. He needs men and women who devote their lives to the noble task of education, tending the young and forming them in the ways of the Gospel. He needs those who will consecrate their lives to the pursuit of perfect charity, following him in chastity, poverty and obedience, and serving him in the least of our brothers and sisters. He needs the powerful love of contemplative religious, who sustain the Church's witness and activity through their constant prayer. And he needs priests, good and holy priests, men who are willing to lay down their lives for their sheep. Ask our Lord what he has in mind for you! Ask him for the generosity to say "yes!" Do not be afraid to give yourself totally to Jesus. He will give you the grace you need to fulfil your vocation.”

Pope Benedict XVI
Visit to Britain, September 19th, 2010

New seminarians meet Bishop Thomas

New seminarians meet Bishop Thomas Bishop Thomas meets with the seven men now in formation for Priesthood in the Brentwood Diocese, September 10th, 2010. Anyone interested in considering Priesthood with Brentwood Diocese is invited to contact Fr Dominic at any time.

Those discerning the Priesthood join other clergy for refreshments after the Chrism Mass

Prospective students for the Priesthood join other clergy in post-Chrism Mass refreshmetns After the Chrism Mass, those discerning Priesthood enjoy the reception for Clergy, together with Bishop Thomas, Mgr John Armitage (former Vocations Director) and Fr Dominic Howarth (former Vocations Promoter).

Vatican News

Vatican City, Jan 23, 2010 / 10:24 am (CNA).- In his message for the 44th World Day for Social Communications, Pope Benedict calls for priests to "make astute use" of available technology in becoming a presence as community leaders on the web. However, he urges them to remain "less notable for their media savvy than for their priestly heart."

The 2010 World Day for Social Communications will take place on May 16 under the theme "The Priest and Pastoral Ministry in a Digital World: New Media at the Service of the Word." The Holy Father’s message was released today.

The aim of this year's message is to draw attention to the possibilities for priestly ministry offered within the "important and sensitive pastoral area of digital communications."

For every priest, states the Holy Father in the message, fulfilling the fundamental priority of building up God's communion "necessarily involves using new communications technologies."

"Priests stand at the threshold of a new era: as new technologies create deeper forms of relationship across greater distances, they are called to respond pastorally by putting the media ever more effectively at the service of the Word."

Pope Benedict emphasizes that "broad new vistas for dialogue, evangelization and catechesis" can be opened up in cyberspace with the presence of priests, living out their traditional role as community leaders in the world of digital communication.

With proper formation on how to use these technologies appropriately and competently, "shaped by sound theological insights and reflecting a strong priestly spirituality grounded in constant dialogue with the Lord" priests have the opportunity to "introduce people to the life of the Church and help our contemporaries to discover the face of Christ."

"Yet," cautions the Holy Father, "priests present in the world of digital communications should be less notable for their media savvy than for their priestly heart, their closeness to Christ."

With their wisdom and preparation, he continues, priests' presence online "will not only enliven their pastoral outreach, but also will give a 'soul' to the fabric of communications that makes up the 'Web’."

"A pastoral presence in the world of digital communications, precisely because it brings us into contact with the followers of other religions, non-believers and people of every culture, requires sensitivity to those who do not believe, the disheartened and those who have a deep, unarticulated desire for enduring truth and the absolute."

The Pope reiterates the essential quality of the priest's spiritual life and solid grounding in faith to his ministry through new technologies at the end of the message, saying that he "must always bear in mind that the ultimate fruitfulness of their ministry comes from Christ himself, encountered and listened to in prayer; proclaimed in preaching and lived witness; and known, loved and celebrated in the sacraments, especially the Holy Eucharist and Reconciliation."

The message ends with a renewed invitation to the clergy, "to make astute use of the unique possibilities offered by modern communications. May the Lord make all of you enthusiastic heralds of the Gospel in the new "agorà" (gathering place) which the current media are opening up."

Ordination of a new Deacon for Brentwood Diocese

Neil Brett was Ordained Deacon at the Venerable English College, Rome, on Friday 18th December. He has almost completed his seminary formation there, and looks forward to being Ordained a Priest for the Diocese of Brentwood in Summer 2010.

Before training for Priesthood Neil was a teacher, including some years at St Thomas More School, Westcliff. More details of Neil’s Ordination will be posted here shortly.

Photo from Neil Brett's ordination Priests of Brentwood Diocese with the newly Ordained Deacon Neil Brett:
Fr James Mackay, Fr Andrew Headon (Vice Rector, English College), Deacon Neil, Fr Kevin Hale, Fr Mark Swires, Fr Mark Reilly

Photo from Neil Brett's ordination Deacon Neil with the Bishop of Leeds, Arthur Roche, who ordained him, and the Rector of the English College, Mgr Nicholas Hudson

Canning Town celebrates ordination of James Mackay

In the 150th anniversary year of the founding of the parish of St Margaret's, Canning Town, a proud congregation saw Bishop Thomas ordain James Mackay in August 2009.

When James Mackay was ordained by Bishop Thomas on 18 July in St Margaret’s Convent Chapel in Canning Town, it was the culmination of a journey which began when he was eight years old. He recalls: “We became Catholics then and when I first went to the chapel I wanted to become a server. Then I found myself drawn to what the priest was doing; I decided that I wanted to become a priest.”

Throughout his school life, first at St Helen’s Primary and then at St Bonaventure’s in Forest Gate, that conviction remained. “When I was 17, I went to parish priest (and diocesan director of vocations) Fr John Armitage to talk it through.” Five years later, after he finished at university, James went to the Venerable English College and Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome to study for the priesthood. “There hasn’t been a moment when I didn’t sense the call to be ordained,” he says.

His ordination took place in the convent chapel he attended as an altar server, where he was confirmed, and from which his brother, Billy, who died in 2005, was buried. The building had fallen out of use and had been closed three years ago. It had no electricity and no sound system. Thanks to the work of Fr John Armitage, Anchor House and members of the Canning Town parish, though, it was resurrected for the ordination. “It was transformed, decked with flowers and was just perfect,” says Fr James.

Fellow students from the English College attended the ordination Mass. Nine members of the cantor group - the Schola - led by Michael Patey, sang, while Phillip Pennington-Harris, a newly ordained deacon, played the keyboard. Friends Aimée Pickering, Emily Rouiz and Edward Henley (another seminarian) undertook the readings and the psalm, while the Gospel was proclaimed by Mark Reilly, who is due to be ordained in September. “The Mass intention was for my brother Billy,” says Fr James. “His birthday was the 18th July.”

The ordination was an overwhelming experience for him. “The chapel, which seats about 450, was packed but I knew everyone. It was very emotional – I was moved to tears as I was being vested. I had been pointing towards this from the age of eight – it was the culmination and fulfilment of the project God has for me.”

A reception followed the Mass at St Helen’s Primary, courtesy of headteacher Gael Hicks. St Bonaventure’s was also involved in the day, printing the ordination booklet and providing ushers.

Fr James now has another year to complete in Rome, where he is studying Canon Law. After that, he will return to the diocese to take up his priestly duties.

Bishop ordains Fr Mark Reilly

The ordination of Fr Mark Reilly took place in Brentwood Cathedral in October 2009.

The month of September saw the ordination of another diocesan priest. On the Feast of the Most Holy Name of Mary, Mark Reilly was ordained by Bishop Thomas at the Cathedral Church of St Mary & St Helen, Brentwood. His fellow seminarian, James Mackay, was ordained in July in Canning Town.

Mark, who is 39, was born in Hornchurch and grew up in Upminster, attending Campion School. At the age of 16 he and his family moved to Brentwood where he joined the Cathedral parish and was confirmed in the same year. After a degree in Classics at Cambridge, he went on to work in oil and gas insurance in the City for about seven years. During that time he did volunteer work with charities like HCPT, CAFOD and ATD Fourth World and latterly travelled to Slovakia to work with a catholic community called The Institute of Christ the High Priest which looks after the homeless and disabled.

On being accepted by Bishop Thomas to train for the priesthood, Mark was sent to the Venerable English College in Rome. During the years of training that followed, he went on summer placements at various parishes, including Hornchurch, Billericay, Loughton and Leigh on Sea. He was ordained a deacon in Rome on 13 July last year with another Brentwood candidate, James Mackay, in the Church of Our Lady of the Snows, Palazzola by Bishop Michael Campbell, Co-adjutor Bishop of Lancaster.

A year later, after further study, deacon Mark became a priest in a packed Brentwood Cathedral. Family, friends and many clergy attended the happy occasion. Andrew Wright, the Master of Music at the Cathedral, Stephen King, the Cathedral Organist, the Cathedral Choir, and the Campion School Chamber Choir provided the music.

Fr Mark expressed his gratitude to all those who had made his ordination possible. He added: “It has been a great privilege for me to be ordained at the Cathedral not only because it is the mother Church of the diocese but also because I was confirmed here 23 years ago and it was my family’s parish for some 20 years.” He concluded: “Finally and most importantly I would like to thank God for this wonderful gift of a vocation to the priesthood and I pray that I may always be a faithful instrument of His love and mercy.”

Fr Mark preached his first Mass in Leigh-on-Sea on 13 September 2009. Afterwards many people asked for his blessing. Father Mark feels very fortunate to have been ordained in this, the Year for Priests, and is awestruck when he considers the gift that has been bestowed on him. "I know that, with this gift of the Priesthood, there comes great responsibility, so I ask for the prayers of the good people of Brentwood Diocese that I may be a faithful minister of God’s love and mercy."

Fr Mark has returned to Rome for further study.