Archbishop Eamon Martin recalls graduation in 1986 and reflects on how Ireland has been transformed

Archbishop Eamon Martin recalled his own graduation in the 1980s when addressing graduates of Saint Patrick’s Pontifical University, Maynooth, at the weekend, noting how Ireland has been totally transformed in the years since.

In an address to graduates on Saturday he said he remembered celebrating with his family at the Kildare seminary over three decades ago.

“I have a photograph taken back in 1986 at the end of October of me and some of my family standing outside this beautiful College Chapel just after my graduation from the Pontifical University here in Maynooth.

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"Saint Joseph’s Square, in its autumn colours, looked just as beautiful as it does today and I remember that same sense of joy and achievement which you and your families are feeling today,” he said.

Archbishop Eamon Martin

The Derry cleric spoke of how the church has changed in the interim with more lay people becoming involved.

“Our graduation class was very different to today’s. It consisted largely of seminarians and religious; the majority were young men like me, in our twenties, journeying towards ordination as priests for the various dioceses in Ireland, or as missionaries heading abroad to spread the Gospel.

"Your class is mostly made up of lay people of diverse backgrounds and cultures, including adults from all over Ireland who have decided to study Theology later in life and make a personal contribution to leadership at parish and diocesan level,” he said.

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The leader of the Catholic Church in Ireland spoke of how war was still raging when he graduated and returned from Maynooth to Derry.

"Church and society have changed immensely since the mid-eighties when I studied theology here - you are graduating in a very different world, and a greatly changed Ireland.

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"There was still violence on our streets back in 1987 when I returned home to Derry from Maynooth. The Good Friday Agreement and the peace process were still more than a decade away; 106 people were killed in the Troubles that year, almost half of them civilians.

"Ten of those civilians were among the eleven people killed on this very weekend in 1987 in the Enniskillen ‘Poppy Day’ bomb.

"We thank God for the positive progress in peace since those dark days, but there still remains much more to be done to address the legacy of violence, to build reconciliation on this island, and to heal the deep wounds of generations of conflict,” remarked the Archbishop.

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The significant decline in church attendance and drop in numbers training for the priesthood were phenomena unanticipated, he said.

"Church wise, so much has changed in this last 35 years. I could never have imagined, leaving Maynooth, 35 years ago, the seismic changes that were to take place - the significant decline in regular sacramental practice; the fall-off in vocations to the priesthood and religious life; the shocking revelations of abuse in the Church.

"I sometimes wonder why it is that, when we were studying theology here in the 1980s, we didn’t anticipate what was about to happen in the Church - perhaps we should have; was it because, in our studying and reading of Theology and Philosophy, we didn’t engage enough in open discussion and dialogue, or really grapple with the big questions of the day for the Church and its mission?” he asked.