New Jesuit novices in an old novitiate

Novices at Emo Court
Novices with Fr Kevin O'Rourke SJ (L) at Emo Court

The novitiate in Birmingham serves the Jesuit Provinces of Ireland, Britain and the Low Countries, and each year the novices and novice master undertake a tour of one of the three Provinces. This year, Ireland was the destination and the intended focus of the trip by the eight novices led by Novice Master Fr Simon Bishop SJ, was to attend the National Ploughing Championships at Screggan in county Offaly. 

First year Irish novice Desmond Gibney takes up the story: “It took some explaining to make sure that all eight novices (drawn from Britain, Italy, and Sri Lanka as well as Ireland) understood the significance of this event, one of the largest outdoor annual events in Europe, but simply called “the Ploughing” by everyone in Ireland! Part of our task at the Ploughing was to pray with those asking for help through the intercession of Blessed John Sullivan SJ, and that seemed like it would be an easy task for me, as I have previously written about my family's devotion to the crucifix of Blessed John Sullivan."

Fr Kevin O’Rourke SJ, assistant novice master in Birmingham, leads the Jesuit presence at the Ploughing and was looking forward to having the novices helping and learning from the experience. However, it was not to be, as Desmond explained, “Unfortunately, Storm Ali put paid to our plans to attend the Ploughing on Wednesday, but we did get to see Mary Berry of ‘Great British Bake-Off’ fame! We rounded off our day in county Offaly with a visit to the former Jesuit novitiate at Emo Court, where the guided tour enabled us to count our blessings for our regime in the Birmingham novitiate, compared to that faced by novices in Emo for forty years in the middle of the twentieth century!”

Desmond described how the rest of the Irish itinerary for the novices went according to plan. 

“Our busy schedule included visits to the Jesuit communities in Belfast and Portadown; an opportunity to talk about our vocations and decision making to fifth year students in Belvedere College, facilitated by religion teachers Padraig Swan and Eoghan Keogh; and a visit to the Franciscan Sisters of the Renewal at their convent in Drogheda. There were a number of special moments during the five days, including three different tours of Belfast guided by members of the Jesuit community there, as well as an explanation of the background to the iconic photograph of an open-air concelebrated Mass for Garvaghy Road residents in July 1997.  But for me, the highlight of our tour of the Irish Province was the Sunday evening Gospel Mass in St Francis Xavier church on Gardiner Street in Dublin. The Gardiner Street Gospel Mass is now in its nineteenth year, and is a contemporary but reverent celebration of the Sunday liturgy. After reading the Gospel (Mark 8: 27-35), where Jesus asks His disciples “Who do you say I am?”, and St Peter replies “You are the Christ”,  the celebrant Fr Jake Martin SJ observed that while St Peter certainly had a ‘way with words’, his actions sometimes let him down! That provided an opportunity for Fr Jake to invite the congregation firstly to reflect and then write down on pieces of paper provided, who Jesus is for them personally. I found it to be a very moving experience when most people present came up in ones and twos to place their pieces of paper in a basket at the front altar, and later in the Mass when a selection of these anonymised reflections were read out by one of the lay members of the Gospel Mass liturgy team."

Photo taken on 19th September at Emo Court, county Offaly. From left: Fr Kevin O’Rourke SJ and Jesuit novices Paul Prior, Paolo Beltrame, John Bosco Noronha, Thiranjala Weerasinghe, Ian Jackson, Desmond Gibney, Dunstan Rodrigues and Matthew Tumulty.