Fr. Shane Sullivan felt God calling him to help revitalize the Irish Church.
For many years the Catholic Church in Ireland has been struggling to recruit young men to become priests. Currently there are only about 40 seminarians studying for the priesthood in all of Ireland.
This, coupled with a sexual abuse crisis that has done great harm to the Irish Church, has proved to make spreading the Gospel a difficult task in a nation that is increasingly becoming more secular.
Yet, in the midst of all these struggles, there is hope.
Fr. Shane Sullivan, a native of Minnesota, began studying for the priesthood for the Diocese of Duluth, but then felt God calling him to Ireland, the land of his ancestors. He was ordained in 2012 and is currently a priest of the Archdiocese of Tuam. Recently Fr. Sullivan spoke with Aleteia about this unique vocation and his experiences as a missionary priest in Ireland.
Why did you feel drawn to Ireland, serving as a priest there instead of your home diocese?
Fr. Shane Sullivan: Initially I came across a few newspaper articles detailing the extent of the sex-abuse crisis in Ireland and the vocations crisis. This was in 2008 or 2009. Reading those it seemed that the young Catholic renewal which had been years in the making in the U.S. had yet to take root in Ireland. I wanted to serve and help others to rediscover the beauty of the Catholic Faith.
What has your experience been in Ireland?
My experience in Ireland has been largely positive. It is mission territory, no doubt about that. But if you are clear in your mind about that then the opposition and indifference you experience are anticipated. And God gives great consolations to those who dedicate themselves to His mission, particularly watching people transform by the operation of God’s grace.
In light of the upcoming World Meeting of Families that will be celebrated in Dublin, what is family life like in Ireland?
There is a lot that is beautiful in family life in Ireland. There is still a tight-knit quality to Irish families. Young adults would come home regularly, even weekly, from university. There is a tender affection for children in Irish families and for members of the family and community with special needs. [Yet, many challenges remain with those] who voted overwhelmingly to legalize abortion just a few months ago.
What hope do you see for the future of Ireland, the “land of saints and scholars”?
We are being stripped of a lot right now. We’re losing many of our institutions, many people and all of the public esteem enjoyed in previous eras. To be a committed Catholic in Ireland now requires a serious intentionality and strength of character. These seem set only to become more necessary in the future. Therefore, if we humble ourselves, rededicate ourselves to the Faith taught by Christ and the His Church and rely on His grace we could very well be poised to enter into a new golden era of Catholicism in Ireland. The faithful would be like lights shining in the darkness and a potent leaven in the country. However, if we don’t respond generously to the Lord’s invitation in this new season we will become a domesticated and impotent community providing a sprinkling of religion for a culture that is far from God and in need of conversion, hurting and in need of healing, lost and in need of direction.