It is with deep gratitude to God that I find myself Chaplain of Castleknock College again over the past year. I can say in all honesty that the calibre of the Castleknock Student is of the highest I have ever encountered in my life’s work. As a College under the charism of St. Vincent de Paul – we strive hard to develop and deepen in our young men a broad understanding of what it means to belong to the “Vincentian Family”. Any member of the Vincentian Family strives (as is expressed in our mission statement) to grow in wholeness, holiness, honesty, truth and respect.
What a pleasure each new day brings as I stand in the main entrance hall and greet the students as they arrive to college. It is always a moment of pleasure, banter, fun, but also a time when a student may seek a word of advice, clarification or look for an appointment to discuss any particular concern or difficulty. In times past it has always been normal to greet students as they arrive in college, now this encounter has more meaning as inevitably the student will say and how are you as they wait for a reply. The atmosphere is relaxed and friendly students going to their classrooms without any fuss.
The College year begins with the opening of the New Year mass normally held in the grounds. This is always a special moment when we focus our minds on the Heart of being human and humane to each other. As a Castleknock and a Christian Family we belong to each other. Students, Teachers, Staff and Parents. We also welcome young men of other faith’s with respect for religion, faith and culture.
The tone is set.
The Vincentian Charism in Education expresses itself in the value and worth of each member ofthe family. At all times we show not simply a respect for the other but like in any family a certain reverence to each other. The free opportunity to grow up to be young men academically, socially and spiritually sound and without hinderance. At the heart and Core of being Vincentian we are always drawn to speak and act for Social Justice, a strong rejection of discriminartion of any kind and a deep love for the poor or those who suffer as Christ taught us. The St. Vincent de Paul Society in the College which has always been strong sees especially our fourth year students daily going to St. Peter’s Vincentian club in Phibsborough to help feed an average of eighty older people and also to visit our asylum Centre. More going to St. Vincents Centre on the Navan road to play football with young men with special needs, others to St. Josephs Centre in Clonsilla to visit the special and wonderful women who live there. And finally others to Cherry Orchard.
Young people love any challenge and perhaps one ofthe biggest challenges is presented to those who after interview are chosen to go on our Vincentian Lay Mission (VLM) to Ethiopia each summer. We have established a strong link with our Vincentian brothers and sisters in a place called Ambo about one and a half hours drive from Adis ababa. In one large compound there are three distinct missions. A development programme for people who suffer from leprosy, a further development programme for those who are hard of hearing or deaf And finally a school which looks after the educational needs of children many who are orphaned. Both our students and teachers spend much of their time teaching English. The school is primitive, no paper, biro’s, blackboards. It is possible to have up to one hundred and twenty students in only one class. The children like any others have a beautiful and simple nature about them. They are eager to learn. The poverty is well noticed. Home for most people is a one roomed house where the whole family live. Electricity happens sometimes for maybe two hours in the evening! It is not predictable. Clean water is always a problem. The average wage daily for a labourer is about one euro. One euro feeds a family of five daily. Ten euro treats the disease of leprosy for a week. The yearly budget for the hard of hearing or deaf project for this year was seven thousand euro. It is wonderful to think that our students paid in whole for this programme over the past year. We also contributed a little to other projects. Castleknock comes to Ambo and in a much more refreshing way Ambo comes to Castleknock. All of this happens with thanks to the result of so many young men in the college fundraising in the most inventive ways throughout the year.
A simple but lovely story was told in Ambo of a number of our students finding a banged up bucket decided to put holes in the bottom to make a shower for themselves. The following day a poor man was looking for his bucket. It was the only means he had to collect water, to sow seeds in his small plot of land and then to carry his few crops to the market. There was great excitement when he was presented with a new bucket. A moment of reflection and of great learning for us.
Last year a group of four teachers and eleven students represented the college. This coming June a similar group will travel to Ethiopia. I can only think how proud St. Vincent de Paul would be of our students and college.
This last year brought its troubles and its blessings. One of the greatest moments of suffering was to discover that one of our third year students, Dylan, was diagnosed with an inoperable tumour in his liver. He was rushed to St. Georges Hospital in London by the Air Core to undergo treatment. Dylan needed a new liver. Week followed week and then months with no sign of success. Dylan became seriously ill and soon it would be too late. In Castleknock, all efforts were made to keep contact with Dylan and his Mum Trish. Geraldine from the staff did wonderful work keeping the boys in touch with Dylan. An evening of light and prayer was organised in the College Chapel for 8pm on Thursday 22nd of October. We anticipated a crowd of about two hundred at most. Five hundred people turned up to pray that evening. Similar evenings followed. Great Blessings came, in the secret of the night Dylan received a new liver. Later, I received the following text from his mum “Believe me it’s a miracle. So many things had to fall into place. He is doing so well beating the odds even now. I prayed so hard on Tuesday to Mary as one mother to another and it happened Next 24 HRS rough but WE WILL get there. Thank you so much xx Trish “. Great Graces were poured on us and we believe that it was our miracle. Dylan came to visit the college on his return home. He walked from the front gate to the reception hall students forming a guard of honour the whole way. It was appropriate that the first thing we did was to pray giving due thanks to God.
Lying at the very centre and core of the building which is Castleknock is the college Chapel. Many receive graces here as we celebrate the liturgical seasons of advent, Christmas, Lent, Holy week and Easter along with the Vincentian Feasts of St. Vincent de Paul and the Miraculous Medal. Ifthe college chapel is at the crossroads of the college it is intended to be a place of quiet where we can search out our soul’s desires and receive graces necessary for our daily work.
Important to us are such gatherings as the family masses. They give us the opportunity to express our common faith in God and a time to place Jesus at the head of our table. As I have said the Spiritual Development of each student is no optional extra, it reflects who we are and what we want to be. Invariably, the first place past men want to visit when they come back to Castleknock is the Chapel. On Good Friday each year the Community host what has become known as the “Past Men’s Retreat” About seventy past men join us as a Vincentian Community on retreat for the day.
The College Chapel hosts other important moments during the year -The Commissioning of fifth and sixth year students as Ministers of the Euchariast, The commissioning of Ministers of the Word and very important commissioning and sending forth our young men and staff with the VLM to Ethiopia.
At the beginning ofthe year we came together as a Vincentian Community to pray for Fr. Desmond. Mc Morrow, CM who died at the age of ninety one. At his funeral mass in the college chapel, the students did us proud as well as traditionally carrying his coffin, along with staff: guided by a guard of honour, to his final resting place beside the castle on the hill.
We are greatful to Fr Asfaw from Ethiopia who worked in the chaplaincy for six months of the year and now to Fr. Cornelius (Papa C) from Nigeria who is well known to our students. They have introduced us to the International Family of St. Vincent de Paul.
The Vincentian Community is represented living in the college by, Fr. Peter Slevin CM, President and Superior, Fr. Stanislaus Brindly CM, Fr. Michael Mc Cullough CM, Fr. Cornelius CM and myself.