Brendan McPartlin is a member of the Jesuit community in Churchill Park, Portadown, in Northern Ireland. Pat Coyle of Irish Jesuit Communications visited him there recently. She spoke with him about the Jesuit ministry in the Portadown-Craigavon area since it began in the early ’80s with the late Paddy Doyle SJ, former Irish Jesuit Provincial. In those day the Jesuits came to Churchill Park on the Garvaghy Road to simply be a presence to the beleaguered people who lived there who suffered from poverty and sectarian violence. The area made world headlines when the Orange Order demanded the right to march through this nationalist area. In this interview, Brendan explains how nowadays the situation for the people is much improved. The area itself is in much better shape. The Orangemen still demand the right to march down the Garvaghy Road but are not allowed to, though they still march to the start of the road every week before being turned back, says Brendan. The violence has stopped, but the Jesuits are involved in reconciliation and building the peace, work that must go on, according to Brendan. He discusses the cross-community work they are involved in, including his hosting of a theological study group in the house in Churchill Park which is attended mostly by members of the protestant community. One of the big changes in the locality over the last 10 years has been the arrival of migrants from Africa, Eastern Europe, and Asia. The Portadown-Craigavon area has the largest density of migrants in Northern Ireland. According to Brendan, they are hard-working people who have helped improve the local economy, often doing jobs that others are reluctant to take on. The Jesuits have set up the Migrant Support Service in Portadown to assist the migrant community. Portadown’s Drumcree Community Trust is chaired by Michael Bingham SJ, and it has employed two part-time, bi-lingual support workers to work with the children of immigrant families in the area. The two, one Polish and the other Portuguese, are assisting primary school children with their homework and with integration into the Community Centre activities. Brendan works with lay people in the centre providing advice and support in a variety of ways as he explains in this interview. Listen to the interview
A new analytics survey of the Jesuit online prayer website Sacred Space has revealed the website to be in excellent shape, as it marks its 20th birthday. The research was undertaken by digital marketing expert John McDermot, Director of Systemivity (a digital marketing and development company). It showed that 700 people are praying every hour on Sacred Space. That translates into an average of 16,000 per day from around the world, and this online community of prayer has reached over 20,000 daily on occasions. “This means that Sacred Space is one of the top most-visited prayer websites in the world,” according to John, who built Sacred Space’s first content management system back in 2006. “These are staggering figures,” he adds. The survey also reveals that Sacred Space comes number one in the world in Google search, for the term ‘daily prayer website’.  It is in the top ten in most Google searches for online prayer, often hitting number one on many searches. Feedback Fiona Owens, Office Manager with Sacred Space, says the regular feedback from people praying all over the world on the site, is most encouraging. “I’m very touched by the hunger in people for meaning and support in their life and in their prayer.” She cites some examples: ‘Finding Sacred Space by accident has been a blessing during my darkest moments when I thought I could not go on.’ And, ‘It has been the only thread that has guided me back to a place of faith and direction’ Also, ‘The gospel inspirations provide insight to allow for inner searching’. Fiona also receives many requests from different Christian denominations for permission to use the website material as part of their faith formation projects in parishes and schools. “We had a request recently from a school in Australia. They told us they use Sacred Space daily for morning prayer with their students.” Online retreat In the season of Advent and Lent, Sacred Space offers an online retreat for their prayer community. They do this in collaboration with the British Province who run the podcast prayer service ‘Pray As You Go’. “This is a really important collaboration that’s been going on for a number of years now,” according to Pat Coyle, Director of Sacred Space. “Each season we take turns in sourcing a new writer for the retreat. The same material is then used on both sites, so those praying the retreat can do so by reading or listening or both.” Again, the feedback on these retreats is always uplifting, according to Pat. Irish Province Sacred Space has returned to the Irish Province after a three-year collaboration with Loyola Press in Chicago. Messenger Publications in Ireland have completely taken over the publication of the Sacred Space Prayer Book. According to Donal Neary SJ and Cecilia West of Messenger Publications, it is one of their best-selling books. Some of the weekly content featured on Sacred Space is taken from books on Ignatian spirituality published by Messenger Publications. “As we reach the 20th birthday of Sacred Space, founded by Alan McGuckian SJ with Peter Scally SJ back in 1999, it’s great to find out that it is still a thriving prayer website, and that the Spirit is alive and active, nourishing thousands of people around the world every day,” says Fiona.
Brendan McManus SJ and Jim Deeds, with the help of Presbyterian Minister Reverend Steve Stockman, launched their book Deeper into the mess: Praying through tough times in Belfast’s Fitzroy Presbyterian Church on 19 May 2019. The event, which featured faith sharing and live music, attracted a packed audience consisting of people across all denominations and none. The follow up to their best-selling first book, Finding God in the Mess: Meditations for Mindful Living, this collaboration was based on a Facebook survey of what people reported were the ‘messes’ in their lives. Accordingly the book offers practical meditations for dealing with depression, anger, suicide, breakdown etc., as well as celebrating hope and optimism. Loosely based around the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius Loyola, each chapter has a quote from the saint and an imaginary ‘conversation with God’ which voices doubts and fears as a two way conversation. Fitzroy Presbyterian Church was the ideal venue for a book based in Belfast that sought to reach people of all denominations united in their human solidarity and desire to find God. Hosted by Rev Steve Stockman, the evening comprised live interviews with Brendan and Jim about their faith journeys, friendship and writing method. This was interspersed with music from Jim and Brendan aided by the Christian singer Beki Hemmingway. Midway through was a dramatised ‘conversation with God’ from the book (played by Sharon Arnold from Fitzroy) and a meditation called ‘All will be well’ from the book read by Caren Collins of Living Church. Finally, Donal Neary SJ, editor of Messenger Publications (the book’s publisher) spoke a few words of encouragement. The hospitality was provided by the Fitzroy team and over 120 people attended. While there was a casual tone to the evening, there was no mistaking the Christian commitment to prayer, faith and helping those in need. One attendee remarked that everyone there was having a good time, praying, singing and chatting together and that no one knew or cared what tradition (if any) people came from. Caring about each other and especially those in trouble was enough. What was very evident was that the book was the result of Brendan and Jim’s close friendship, shared faith and complimentary style of writing and working together – they also offer a retreat/workshop around Ireland.
Piaras Jackson SJ, director of Manresa Jesuit Centre of Spirituality in Dublin, speaks to Pat Coyle of Irish Jesuit Communications about World Labyrinth Day on the linked podcast. He describes the centre’s own labyrinth next to the coastline, among mature trees and in grassland that becomes a meadow in the summer. He also gives a brief history of labyrinths and points to their deeper spiritual meaning in the Christian tradition. Referring to the one-way in and out system of labyrinths, he says: “You’re not so much attending to finding your way as you’re on a deeper level looking and seeing in what way does this compare to my life’s path… so it’s something that is offered as a spiritual tool”. “In Christian understanding,” he says, “they’ve been used pretty much from the early centuries as a way of becoming interior, becoming a little more reflective…” Piaras points out that labyrinths carved in stone are very ancient in Ireland, for example, the one found on the high cross in the Rock of Cashel which dates from the 11th century. An ancient labyrinth design can also be seen in the Glendalough Visitors Centre. He compares the use of labyrinths to the stations of the cross: “The labyrinth similarly was an opportunity for people to go on a long pilgrimage in a small space, so you could take a meditative walk without having to go a great distance”. Moreover, he makes the connection with carvings at Newgrange and to the classic labyrinth that goes back to the legend of Crete. Manresa’s labyrinth, cut into the grass, is an eleven-circuit pattern popularised by Chartres Cathedral in France. The event on Saturday from 10am to 5pm will be marked by a day offering information, reflection and guided labyrinth-walking as well as opportunity for space and reflection. The Manresa website » contains more information on the event, along with a link to the spirituality centre’s labyrinth and a ‘labyrinth locator’ world-wide. Listen to the podcast for the full story.
Brendan McManus SJ and Eddie Cosgrove SJ are offering a Camino with a difference this summer. Over the August bank holiday weekend, 2-5 August 2019, they will lead a pilgrimage for men aged 18-35 along part of the Irish Camino route. They can take a maximum of 20 pilgrims, and the cost is €100 for waged and €75 for students or unwaged. If you are interested in taking part in this Irish Camino Challenge you can contact Eddie or Brendan. Contact by mobile: 089 989 1181. Or by email: For this inaugural trek, participants will walk the Tochar Phadraig pilgrim path from Ballintubber Abbey to Croagh Patrick in County Mayo. Brendan and Eddie hope to complete the other four ‘Irish Camino’ routes over a number of years, collecting a stamp on the pilgrim passport each time (see »).
‘The hero’ was the title of a workshop led recently by education consultant David Tuohy SJ for chaplains and people who work with youth in Jesuit schools. David proposed ‘the heroic journey’ as a model of personal development, one that could provide both young people and their mentors with a positive and clear narrative. The workshop was part of a conference, held in Manresa, Spain, addressing the issue of how to speak about Jesus in a world of increasingly diverse visions. The attendants came from all around Europe. David’s theme was born out of his fascination with the constant presence in the history of education of the hero figure, offered to students for emulation. Even in Ancient Greece, the stories of the heroes were taught so as to inspire students to exert themselves for the good of the city state. And the same idea held later for the Roman empire, for Christianity, and for Renaissance humanism. In David’s view, this way of framing personal development in young people remains valuable. It can inspire them to think in terms of using their creativity so as to make a greater contribution to their world. The process of the heroic journey would inculcate attitudes and values in the young people which would give focus and purpose to their years of education. Listen above to David explaining the purpose of his workshop to Pat Coyle of Irish Jesuit Communications.