Father Neal Carlin, the spiritual director of the Columba Community of Prayer and Reconciliation, recently celebrated 50 years of ordination to the priesthood.
Family and friends from all over Ireland and Scotland travelled to be with him on the momentous occasion.
Born on 1st May 1940, Fr Neal was educated at St Eunan’s College, Letterkenny before entering St Peter’s Seminary in Wexford where he was ordained to the priesthood on 31st
May 1964 for the Diocese of Motherwell in Scotland. He worked in Scotland for eleven years before returning to his native Ireland.
At the Inishowen priest’s Jubilee Mass, his former classmate and long-time friend Fr Michael Sweeney gave the homily and reflected on the ministry of priesthood saying: “It was out of love that God sent Christ to be the priest and the priesthood of Christ is founded on the cornerstone of love.”
He continued: “It was through love that Christ became the offerer, the sacrifice and the gift.
“The priesthood that we are celebrating today, that Fr Neal has shared in, is a priesthood that is exercised in Christ and built on a foundation and a cornerstone of love that has led to service.”
This ministry of service has manifested itself in many ways in Fr Neal’s priestly life. He founded the Columba Community of Prayer and Reconciliation in 1981 and this lay community worked with victims of the conflict in the north of Ireland offering counselling, support, mediation and prayer. The Community opened a house of prayer called Columba House in the heart of Derry City to facilitate this work as well as St Anthony’s Retreat Centre in Burnfoot.
Bishop Seamus Hegarty of the Derry Diocese designated the Community as a Private Association of the Faithful in 1995.
The Columba Community found their outreach expanding to addicts suffering from drug and alcohol related issues which stemmed from the Troubles and in 2001 they opened White
Oaks Rehabilitation Centre in the Donegal/Derry border to treat and help such people. In 2006, the Island of Saints And Scholars (IOSAS) Centre and Celtic Prayer Garden opened as a retreat centre and a place of serenity and peace and as a way to honour the men and women of Ireland’s ‘Golden Age’ of 5th - 12th centuries.
To date, the community employs over 30 people across these centres and Fr Neal is still actively involved in each of them at various levels.
Fr Sweeney quoted Pope Francis’ thoughts on the Basic Christian Communities and said
that small Christian communities like the Columba Community are needed ever more so
in Ireland so it can enjoy a ‘Golden Age’ again.
He concluded by paying tribute to Fr Neal: “Today we unite ourselves with Fr Neal and give thanks for what he has achieved for God, in Christ, and in the Church for the last fifty years; the priesthood that was born, lived out with great love and understanding and is still energized by love.”