Tag Archives: ireland

Rediscovered roots

The New Evangelization is taking root in the picturesque country setting of Donegal — a beautiful part of northwest Ireland where local traditions and Irish culture remain vibrant.

Legate Dr. Timothy O’Donnell, president of Christendom College, gathers with students of the 2015 Columcille Institute

Legate Dr. Timothy O’Donnell, president of Christendom
College, gathers with students of the 2015 Columcille Institute

With a commanding view of the Atlantic Ocean, the bay, beaches and windswept hills, a small group of American and Irish college students gather at Ards Friary for three weeks every summer to learn how Catholicism shaped the soul of Ireland — and how they have a role to play in revitalizing the Christian roots of Western Civilization.

“Ireland is a country that, if it were to rediscover its Christian roots and really become fervent, could, within two generations, really turn around and have a profound impact on Europe and the rest of the world,” said Timothy O’Donnell, president of Christendom College in Front Royal, Va.


O’Donnell, a member of Legatus’ Northern Virginia Chapter, said the St. Columcille Institute exists to form leaders for the New Evangelization. Since Christendom College instituted the program four years ago, dozens of students from Christendom and other American colleges have traveled to Ireland to study the Catholic faith with local Irish college students.

Timothy O’Donnell

Timothy O’Donnell

The students learn about the Catholic sacramental imagination, not only in the classroom but in nature. In the morning, they are attending Mass, classes and Eucharistic adoration, then later in the day they are hiking mountains, taking in scenic ocean views, visiting shrines or having a pint of Guinness in a local pub.

“They get a sense of what Catholic festivity really means, and what the true foundation of friendship is,” O’Donnell said, noting that the great Christian writers G.K. Chesterton and C.S. Lewis used to vacation in Donegal.

“There is a Catholic-Christian pedigree in this area,” O’Donnell said. “It allows the students to get back into contact with the beauty of God’s creation and form really good friendships. So you end up having conversations not only in the classroom, but over meals and when you’re going on hikes and walks together in the evening.”

The St. Columcille Institute is named after a sixth-century missionary evangelist born in County Donegal who founded a number of monasteries in Ireland and on the island of Iona, where he began a great mission to Scotland. Trained in the school of Christian asceticism and monasticism, Columcille was one of the great lights of the early Middle Ages.


The institute grew out of an idea that O’Donnell and other Christendom leaders had been mulling over for several years. In 2012, during a Eucharistic Congress in Dublin where O’Donnell was a featured speaker, many Irish attendees expressed their desire for solid doctrinal teaching and catechesis.

Discerning the movement of the Holy Spirit, O’Donnell said Christendom College decided to launch the St. Columcille Institute in 2012. The program focuses on three areas: apologetics, history and literature.

With apologetics, students learn how to present and defend the Catholic faith. A theology course examines timeless questions surrounding the problem of evil, the historicity of the gospels and the resurrection of Jesus. Students also read papal encyclicals and writings on the New Evangelization.

“The New Evangelization is really the old evangelization, but new in the sense that there are many people in countries where the Gospel has been proclaimed previously who have not been evangelized at all,” O’Donnell explained.

Students also learn the importance of using modern means of communication, such as film, television, social media and the Internet to proclaim the New Evangelization. For example, Vatican Radio’s director of English-language programming teaches workshops for the institute on the art of communication.

Eily Weichert

Eily Weichert

“The whole focus of the apologetics class is learning to defend the faith gently, but strongly, so you can connect with people,” said Eily Weichert, a Christendom alumnus who graduated this past spring. Weichert, 21, attended the St. Columcille Institute in 2015, and said she learned a lot about her Catholic faith.

“The overall message of the program was defending your faith in really subtle ways,” she explained. “It was very moving.”

In addition to apologetics, students also learn Irish history and the incredible contributions that Ireland made to the Catholic Church — particularly from the sixth to ninth centuries. As O’Donnell noted, Pope St. John Paul II taught that a country which doesn’t know its history will have no future.

“We want to give the students a sense of the history, the patrimony, the remarkable story, oftentimes untold, about the role that Ireland had in Western culture and Western civilization,” O’Donnell said.

Closely related to the patrimonial lesson is literature. Students read several short stories and other writings by notable Irish and European authors that raise fundamental questions about the meaning of life, death, marriage, family and what it means to be a good man or good woman.


James Sheehan, a member of Legatus’ Dublin Chapter, presents a leadership talk at the St. Columcille Institute. He tells students the importance of their taking on leadership roles in society.

James Sheehan

James Sheehan

“It’s a dynamic program for young people,” Sheehan said. “Those students I spoke with seemed to be entirely enjoying the experience.”

Weichert said she not only learned a great deal in the classroom, but also from taking nature hikes with her peers and instructors — and while sitting in pubs and conversing with local residents.

“It was gorgeous scenery and the people were very genuine and interested in hearing about you,” she said. “It was a life-changing event for me in many ways.”

Of course, Catholic spiritual formation is woven through the three weeks that the students stay at Ards Friary, which is owned by Franciscan Capuchins and includes more than 200 acres of scenic waterfront countryside.

The program offers morning Eucharistic adoration, followed by breakfast, then classes, daily Mass and a common meal. Some of the local Irish college students who attend the program are not familiar with devotions like Eucharistic adoration, but they quickly learn.

“Everything is done to communicate that the faith should be like the air we breathe,” O’Donnell explained. “It’s not just something we do on Sunday. So you get into the rhythm of regular prayer, and it just flows out of the beauty of God’s creation.”

Christendom may expand the St. Columcille Institute to two summer sessions if interest and demand continue to increase, though he said the program as currently organized is working well.

Said O’Donnell, “We’ll just see where the Holy Spirit wants us to go.”

BRIAN FRAGA is a Legatus magazine staff writer.

Learn more: Christendom.edu/academics/st-columcille-institute/

Ireland: Catholicism under siege

Scandal and secular influence have eroded the Emerald Isle’s Catholic culture

On paper, Ireland is still a staunchly Catholic nation.


More than 20,000 people gather on Jan. 19, 2013, for a “Unite For Life” vigil in Merrion Square, near government buildings in Dublin (John McElroy photo)

The Irish constitution begins like a prayer,  containing the phrase, “In the name of the Most Holy Trinity, from Whom is all authority.”

The preamble also refers to the Irish nation’s “obligations to our Divine Lord, Jesus Christ, Who sustained our fathers through centuries of trial.”

But in reality, the forces of secularization have eroded the Emerald Isle’s Catholic culture. Less than 20% of adult Catholics attend weekly Mass. The numbers of declared atheists and Irish citizens not identifying with any religious group are exploding.

Intense backlash

In May, Irish citizens voted overwhelmingly to amend their nation’s constitution to allow same-sex “marriage,” making Ireland the first country in the world to adopt that change through a popular vote.

A similar campaign is now underway to repeal a pro-life amendment in the constitution — and recent polling indicates that a large majority of Irish citizens are in favor of “significantly widening” access to abortion in Ireland. A nascent effort is also underway to legalize euthanasia.

“The people who run the country — the politicians, senior civil servants, many of those in academia and law — have almost a uniform view that the Catholic Church in Ireland has had undue influence that needs to be repudiated,” said David Quinn, director of the Iona Institute, a Dublin-based advocacy organization that promotes the value of marriage and religion in society.


David Quinn

Quinn, a member Legatus’ Dublin Chapter, also explained that the Catholic Church in Ireland has been weakened through a horrific clergy sex abuse scandal and the experience that several generations had of the Church as a heavy-handed, totalitarian institution in the decades after Irish independence.

“There was a backlash against the Church,” Quinn said. “The backlash came, and it has been extremely intense.”

Against that backdrop of increased hostility, Amnesty International recently produced a video entitled “Chains” advocating the repeal of the Eighth Amendment, passed in 1983 to safeguard an unborn child’s right to life.

Irish actor Liam Neeson narrates the short video, which Amnesty International launched in Belfast on Oct. 19. The video begins in black and white and shows the faint outline of a church as Neeson says that Ireland is haunted by “a cruel ghost of the last century” that “blindly brings suffering, even death, to the women whose lives it touches.”

ireland-1The 90-second video goes on to identity the ghost as one of “paper and ink,” referring to the amendment. The camera pans over the ruins of a church and graveyard with haunting music as Neeson says that Ireland “doesn’t have to be chained to its past.”

Quinn said the video encapsulates the prevailing view that many influential people in Ireland have of the Church.

“It really captures, to a T, the liberal, secular view of the way we were — and that everything associated with the Catholic Church must go,” Quinn said. “We were living in a truly dark period.”

Propaganda campaigns


Niamh Uí Bhriain

Niamh Uí Bhriain, an Irish pro-life activist and founder of the Dublin-based Life Institute, described the “Chains” video as anti-Catholic propaganda that makes “farcical, untrue” claims that people’s lives are in danger because of the Eighth Amendment.

“It wasn’t about protecting women or repealing something they believe is an unjust law,” Bhriain said. “The whole thing smacked of intolerance, anti-Catholic sentiment, and a disregard to protect unborn babies.”

Bhriain said Ireland has become a “focal point” for the international abortion lobby, with organizations like Amnesty International spending millions of dollars in ads to sway public opinion in favor of liberalizing the country’s abortion laws. Despite the public relations campaign, Bhriain said Ireland’s pro-life culture is still intact and she believes there is not much public support for abortion on demand.

“The polls show only 28 to 35% of Irish people actually want to see abortion legalized as a matter of choice,” she said. “There is still a gap between public sentiment and the public messaging for abortion, despite all the media work and the slick campaigns.”

The strategy of those trying to repeal the Eighth Amendment, Quinn said, is to focus on extreme “hard cases,” such as rape, incest or a mother who receives a poor prenatal diagnosis that her baby will die soon after birth. Irish law currently allows for abortions only when the mother’s life is at risk.

Quinn said polling shows there is public support in Ireland for allowing abortions in certain situations, but that most voters do not support permitting abortion in all circumstances.

“If we can persuade the public that repealing the Eighth Amendment will in short order lead to what amounts to abortion on demand, that gives us our best hope,” Quinn said.

Several Irish Catholic bishops issued pastoral letters and spoke out against the same-sex “marriage” referendum, but for the most part the nation’s Catholic priests and leaders in recent years have been hesitant to speak out from the pulpit.

A major reason for the silence is because the Church in Ireland is still recovering from sex abuse scandals. A 2009 government report found that Irish clergy had sexually and physically abused thousands of children and teenagers in previous decades.

“The scandals were revolting beyond belief, and they understandably caused public distrust,” Quinn explained. “There was already this trend in terms of secularization, but the scandals obviously offered tremendous fuel to the fire.”

Turning the corner

Carmelite nuns cast their ballots in Ireland’s marriage referendum at a polling station in Malahide, County Dublin, on May 22 (Peter Morrison/Associated Press)

Carmelite nuns cast their ballots in Ireland’s marriage referendum at a polling station in Malahide, County Dublin, on May 22 (Peter Morrison/Associated Press)

Quinn said the Church in Ireland today “finally has a handle” on the problem and has instituted policies to prevent abuse. He is also hopeful that a new generation of Irish bishops will be able to devote more time to evangelization.

“Ireland has gone from a country where people picked up their Catholic faith almost by osmosis,” Quinn said. “The culture did the work of evangelization. Now, it’s quite the opposite.”

Father Shenan James Boquet, president of Human Life International, said the Church in Ireland is at a crossroads.

Fr. Shenan James Boquet

Fr. Shenan James Boquet

“It has been wounded, but it is not beaten. Its people and culture have a rich Catholic soul, which is still beating,” said Fr. Boquet, who traveled to Ireland in September for a 10-day tour with other HLI officials to encourage and strengthen the faithful — and to expose the false and illusory language used by secularizing forces.

During the “Be Not Afraid, Catholic Ireland” tour, Fr. Boquet said he encountered many faithful Catholics, pro-life and family leaders, and groups who are using their apostolates to promote the Catholic faith and to witness to the beauty of the Church’s teachings on life and family.

“There is great hope and strength there,” Fr. Boquet said. “We must never forget that the beautiful faith and grace strengthened in them through the inspiration of St. Patrick didn’t go away. That beautiful seed is still there.”

BRIAN FRAGA is a Legatus magazine staff writer.

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The Irish fight for life

Michael Sullivan writes that Irish politicians will soon unveil abortion legislation . . .

Michael C.X. Sullivan

Michael C.X. Sullivan

Ireland is key to the global pro-life movement for one reason: The Emerald Isle is a model nation for women’s health, and abortion is banned in all circumstances.

In 2007, the U.N. reported Ireland as the world’s safest place for a woman to have a baby; the maternal mortality is the world’s lowest In the U.K. and U.S., where abortion is legal, maternal mortality is two times higher and 3.5 times higher, respectively, than in Ireland. The nation’s ethos has made it a model for the world in terms of maternal health. This threatens the abortion industry.

The international abortion lobby depends on the big lie that abortion is a women’s health issue and that abortion bans lead to women dying from “illegal, unsafe, backstreet abortions.” As a result, Ireland is at the top of the international abortion lobby’s hit list because model nations’ policies are studied and often adopted by other countries. Ireland shows the world that the best abortion policy for women is no abortion at all.

George Soros and Chuck Feeney, a wealthy Irish-American entrepreneur, have given millions to the Irish abortion lobby. They have influenced the media and elite opinion with the lie that Irish women are dying from the country’s “backward” ban on abortion.

Last November, The Irish Times reported on the death of Dr. Savita Halappanavar and her 17-week-old unborn baby. They died due to E. coli-related blood poisoning, yet her death was exploited by the claim that it was due to her being “denied a termination” of pregnancy in “Catholic” Ireland. Three days before the story broke, abortion activists began preparing a public relations strategy and then pushed the story global. Headlines blasted around the world condemning Ireland for its religious culture and its “medieval ban on abortion” that “murders” women, sparking protest vigils to change Ireland’s laws.

Two weeks after the damage, the reporter who broke the story, Kitty Holland, admitted that the details of the story were “muddled” and that she was “not satisfied” that Savita or her husband ever requested a termination. Holland happens to be the daughter of two prominent abortion advocates.

The stage is now set. Later this year, Irish politicians will unveil legislation permitting abortion in cases where the mother is allegedly suicidal. This is the culmination of the abortion lobby’s decades-long legal strategy. This exception will supposedly limit “social abortions” taken for personal reasons unrelated to a medical condition.

Of course the reality is that a mental health exception is simply a political ploy to place apparent restrictions on abortion where none will exist in practice. It’s a deceptive strategy for achieving legalized abortion on demand. The proposed Irish legislation parallels the scheme used in California in 1967 to open the floodgates there before Roe v. Wade.

The California Therapeutic Abortion Act of 1967 permitted abortions in cases of mental illness when three physicians agreed that the exception applied. In one year, 61,572 babies were aborted in California and 98.2% of them were under the mental health exception. The California Supreme Court noted, “Serious doubt must exist that such a considerable number of pregnant women could have been [involuntarily] committed to a mental institution [the medical standard to permit an abortion].”

This is why the elites are pushing this deceptive strategy, despite the fact that abortion is never a treatment for suicidality — and the evidence indicates that abortion actually contributes to elevated suicide ideation. Over the last 30 years, only 79 mothers died in Ireland, and only two were suicides of women with a long history of mental health issues unrelated to pregnancy. Using the California strategy, abortion on demand will be a practical reality in Ireland.

Throughout history the Irish have risen up and overcome. But this fight is different. Pro-life forces are outfunded, and the opposition has the media and the elite in their pocket. The Church and pro-life advocates have the truth and the majority of the Irish people with them. However, they need to reach the people directly through ads (billboard, bus, train), social media, and direct mail campaigns to communicate the facts ignored by the biased news media. This is obviously an expensive undertaking and Ireland can’t do it alone — especially since their financial crisis. They need our help.

We Americans know the high cost of losing this battle, and Life House Ireland is in the thick of it. Its special report — The Crisis in Ireland — was prepared especially for Legates who traveled to Ireland on pilgrimage last fall. You can get your free report at IrishFightforLife.org. Join us in the fight for life!

MICHAEL C.X. SULLIVAN is a Chicago-based attorney. He is special counsel to Life House Ireland and the Thomas More Society. He is also an allied attorney to the Alliance Defending Freedom.

Congratulations to Irish Legates

John Hunt congratulates Legatus’ Dublin Chapter on their Oct. 11 chartering . . .

John J. Hunt

In the 11th chapter of Luke, Jesus said to his disciples, “Suppose one of you has a friend who goes out at midnight and says, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, for a friend of mine has arrived at my house from a journey, and I have nothing to offer him.’

“He said to his friend in reply from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked and my children and I are already in bed. I cannot get up to give you anything.’ I tell you, if he does not get up to give him the loaves because of their friendship, he will get up to give him whatever he needs because of his persistence.”

This was the Gospel reading on Oct. 11, the day that marked the beginning of the Year of Faith and the 50th anniversary of Second Vatican Council’s opening. But Oct. 11 was also a momentous day in Legatus’ 25-year history. After many years of apostolic cultivation — and surviving Ireland’s economic reversals of recent years — Legatus’ Dublin Chapter was chartered.

In addition to bringing Legatus and its mission to Europe, Dublin became the first chartered chapter beyond the shores of North America. The chapter’s chaplain Fr. Michael Mullan and Archbishop Charles Brown, apostolic nuncio to Ireland, celebrated the Mass and officiated the induction of the 20 founding CEO members and spouses with words that echoed the persistence inherent in Luke’s gospel.

Legatus pilgrims from the U.S. also shared the joy of the occasion. They came to the Emerald Isle to follow in the footsteps of St. Patrick and Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman — and to visit the sacred places of our Catholic faith.

It wasn’t lost on the members of this new Legatus chapter and their American guests that this great country — the land of Legatus chairman and founder Tom Monaghan’s heritage — is experiencing the same cultural challenges that we face in the U.S. Sadly, in a bold front page headline, The Irish Times announced on chartering day the imminent opening of the first-ever abortion clinic in Northern Ireland.

The Irish culture is under attack, the U.S. culture is under attack, and we members of Legatus — together with the rest of the Church militant — are the army in this battle for souls. May we be unified in faith and persistent in prayer and action.

John Hunt is Legatus’ executive director. He and his wife Kathie are charter members of Legatus’ Chicago Chapter. Watch for a full report on the Dublin Chapter’s chartering in the next issue of Legatus magazine.

Congress to promote communion

Legates from Ireland and abroad will participate in the June 10-17 IEC in Dublin . . .

The last International Eucharistic Congress held in Ireland was in 1932, shortly after the founding of the Irish Free State. Massively attended and with an air of patriotic zeal and religious fervor, the Congress also marked the 1,500th anniversary of St. Patrick’s arrival in Ireland.


Mass is held on Dublin’s O’Connell Bridge during the Eucharistic Congress in June 1932

Eighty years later, the International Eucharistic Congress (IEC) is once again convening in Dublin — from June 10-17 — but under subdued circumstances. The people’s faith — already weakened by secularism, poor catechesis in the wake of the Second Vatican Council, and a belated reaction to over-clericalism — has been further damaged by priestly sex-abuse scandals. As Pope Benedict XVI noted in his March 2010 letter to Ireland’s Catholics, those scandals “have obscured the light of the Gospels to a degree that not even centuries of persecution succeeded in doing.”

Archbishop Piero Marini, president of the Pontifical Committee for International Eucharistic Congresses, said this IEC will have two positive aspects: “The lack of triumphalism” and “the focus on the Second Vatican Council’s teaching that communion is the center of the Eucharist.”

The theme of the 2012 Congress, which is expected to bring together more than 80,000 Catholics from around the world, is: “The Eucharist: Communion with Christ and with One Another.” Members of Legatus’ Dublin Chapter will be joined by their brethren from abroad and, as June draws near, excitement is building.

John Reid

“The Congress will be a great opportunity for the Church in Ireland,” said John Reid, president of Legatus’ Dublin Chapter. “At the end of the day, the Blessed Sacrament is the source and summit of our faith, what being Catholic is all about. And though the momentum and excitement in anticipation of the Congress have increased, we have to be careful about comparisons with the last Eucharistic Congress here in 1932. Times are completely different.

“The media may draw unfair comparisons, citing the astronomical number of people attending in 1932: over a million people in the streets of Dublin kneeling for benediction. We don’t anticipate that this year. We are focusing more on renewal in the Church, a sense of community, and a sense of the Church not merely as an institution, but as a family.”

While the faith in Ireland today does not enjoy the popular triumphalism of yore, Reid noted that the situation in his country is similar to that of Western Europe in general: a smaller percentage of the population professing the faith, but the faithful who do so being “much more fervent, orthodox and determined.”

As a cause for hope, Reid cited the plethora of little Catholic groups around the country promoting the faith from the ground up — from family rosary circles and youth groups to movements like Opus Dei and the Legion of Mary. Orders such as the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre, to which Reid, his wife Maureen, and other Irish Legates belong, are another sign of the Church’s improving health.

Abundant grace

Dublin’s chapter coordinator Marion Mulhall, whose main vocation is CEO of the pro-priest apostolate Worldpriest.com, expressed similarly sober enthusiasm.

“I think the green shoots are already appearing all over Ireland and will come into greater blossom with the Eucharistic Congress,” she said, noting “an awful lot of prayer groups” in Ireland, many of them focused on Divine Mercy.

And though things are tough for the faithful in Ireland, Mulhall, who will address the IEC, is hopeful about the Church in Ireland.

Marion Mulhall

“I honestly and truly believe that the faith is in the hearts of the Irish people, despite many good people being deeply hurt in different ways,” said Mulhall, a lay Carmelite. “Though the Church has gone through turmoil, the Irish people believe that the Church and her sacraments are an integral part of how we are prepared for eternal bliss. No matter what people might say, the faith hasn’t left the Irish people.”

If past performance can predict future results, Ireland can look forward to receiving graces from hosting the Congress. The last one was held in Quebec City in 2008, underwritten in part by Legatus. According to Sr. Doris Lamontagne, spokesperson for the Quebec archdiocese, the “enthusiasm for the faith stemming from the 2008 Congress remains very strong. Something changed after the Congress, something hard to put a finger on or to measure: a new spirit of confidence among priests and laity, including several young men whose experience at the Congress inspired them to enter the seminary.”

Sister Lamontagne, the national delegate for French-speaking Canadians to the upcoming Congress, is in charge of preparing the Quebec archdiocese’s delegation. “In 2004, only 200 French-Canadians attended the Congress held in Guadalajara, Mexico. This year, over 800 people have already signed up to travel to Ireland. I think hosting the Congress ourselves has a great deal to do with this upswing in numbers.”

Timothy O’Donnell, president of Christendom College and a member of Legatus’ Northern Virginia Chapter, said he is honored to have been invited to give two presentations at the IEC.

“I enjoyed reading G.K. Chesterton’s Christendom in Dublin about his experience at the World Eucharistic Congress in 1932 and how strongly Ireland manifested her Catholic identity,” he said. “Now that identity is under attack and the faith has been shaken. If we can get people focused back on Christ’s presence in the Eucharist and that we receive it through a priest, I hope that will go a long way to revitalizing and strengthening what had been a deeply Catholic culture.”

O’Donnell, who teaches a course at Christendom’s study abroad program in Ireland, has “a deep love for Irish history and culture” — a love similar to that of the Holy Father.

“Back in 2000, the Pope wrote that beautiful letter to the people of Ireland, emphasizing the need for them to get back to their roots — especially to their understanding that the Church is not just an institution, but the mystical Body of Christ. They need to understand what made Ireland great in order to go forward well, and I can’t think of a better way to do so than through this Congress.”

O’Donnell hopes the Holy Father will be able to attend the Congress. “The Church in Ireland would be energized all the more after taking it on the chin for so long,” he said. His hope is shared by Irish Catholics. “We’d be absolutely thrilled if he came, if only for a day,” said John Reid. “Some of our members have offered to pay the cost of him coming over.”

Whether or not the Holy Father attends, Reid wants all Legates attending the IEC to let the Dublin Chapter know so that they can convene a special Legatus event. Please email Marion Mulhall at marion@worldpriest.com

Matthew A. Rarey is Legatus magazine’s editorial assistant.