It was the week when evidence of the Catholic Church’s waning visibility and influence became impossible to ignore.
The fact that a new priest has been ordained in the Diocese of Cork and Ross was in itself noteworthy – Ronan Sheehan of Newcestown, 27, is the only priest to be ordained this year in the diocese, which is expected to lose to at least eight priests in active ministry during the same period.
However, the drop in ordinations has been a recurring news item for some time; other developments in the country were arguably more striking.
Take the news that after almost eight centuries, the Dominican Order will leave Waterford. They arrived in the southeast in 1226 and have maintained a presence there until now, but rising age among the monks and dwindling vocations prevent them from maintaining their ministry in the city.
In the same week we learned that the Franciscan Order was to leave Clonmel, having been in the city of Tipperary for 750 years. As with the Dominicans, an “aging and downsizing” was the reason given for the decision.
The withdrawal and consolidation of these orders – and this solitary ordination in Cork – would have been unthinkable even a few decades ago, but they illustrate another of the main lessons of history. How some changes happen gradually, then suddenly.
The impact of such long associations coming to an end is nearly impossible to quantify properly. The time frame makes it very difficult to grasp just how far the roots of the Franciscans and Dominicans go to Clonmel and Waterford, respectively. What other institutions can learn from a history that dates back to the 13th century, and what will really be lost when those doors close for the last time?