Brothers and Sisters gather for Formation Retreat

photo sscc novices

Ultan Naughton attended the annual gathering of brothers and sisters in initial formation held at the Father Damien House of Spirituality in
Jerez de la Frontera February 24-26. All the brothers and sisters in formation from the Iberian Peninsula participated. The theme of the gathering was “The experience of God.” There was time for reflection, recreation, prayer, witness and especially for sharing our lives, vocations and our personal experience of God. The night of Saturday to Sunday we had adoration, each one taking a turn,
an experience greatly appreciated by all, reported Ultan. Everyone was very thankful for the creative work of the organizers and especially the involvement of all the participants, which helped to create a real sense of SS.CC. brother/sisterhood.

Congregation Reflects on its Charism


At the end of the Assembly last year, leaders of the three branches of the Congregation met to explore the charism in light of a rapidly changing Church within Ireland and England. This, perhaps, was the first time that brothers, sisters and lay associates together contemplated the charism and explored together where it might lead... a significant shift from focusing on ministry and community from within the respective groups.

What is this charism? For our founders and for the SSCC it is a particular insight, intuition, experience of God that shapes and forms how we are with each other (community) and how we reach out to others (mission). This insight leads us to an awareness of God who overlooks, who pardons, who understands, who is with us in our weakness. In these uncertain and stressful times in the world and in the church people are looking for reassurance, guidance, support and compassion. We have something to offer. What might be the ways that brothers, sisters and laity can take this conviction forward and be the Good News that we are called to transmit to church and world?

The SSCC brothers, sisters and lay associates were asked to reflect on this over the weeks ahead and look at possible practical ways to bring this forward.

News from Lay Associates

heartsIn the Summer, the Parish Pastoral Group of
St Augustine’s Church in Daventry decided to
organise a “home grown‟ Mission and much
work has gone on within the various groups
to bring this to fruition. The various “themes‟
for the four evenings were Discipleship, Community,
Prayer and Youth followed on the
Saturday by Mass with anointing of the sick.
The local SSCC group in Daventry took on
the theme of Discipleship and all members
of the group contributed in one way or another
in putting together a presentation
around scripture, music, prayers and guided
reflections attempting to offer our definition of
discipleship and question how it affects our
life as a follower of Christ. A prayer card for
the Mission was created by the group and a
bookmark highlighting Discipleship and suggested
text also created.
Pat and Sybil Herlihy (Daventry) inspired by
Teresa Forry’s (Acton) trip to India, expressed
a wish to help support a particular
SSCC mission project in Bhubaneswar,
Orissa, Eastern India. This project is known
as the Damien Social Development Institute
(DSDI) and is dedicated to providing vital services
to the poor and abandoned in India,
and in particular to those suffering from Hansen’s
Disease (leprosy) and those living with
AIDS/HIV. Inspired by the example of Father
Damien of Molokai and believing that human
life is a gift from God, DSDI seeks to promote
the values of commitment, compassion and
service to those entrusted to their care.
Daventry’s support of DSDI is through simple
fundraising: tea/coffee mornings; book-sales,
sales and donations.

The Irish  LayAssociates (18) continue to remember
us all in their daily prayer and weekly adoration.
Formation of new members is ongoing
with inputs from various SSCC sisters and
brothers. Ann Padden of the Sruleen group
has just taken her first three year commitment.
An annual Mass for the sick followed
by tea and coffee was hosted and celebrated
in the Sruleen parish. Five of the Irish members
joined the Lay Associates in England for
a weekend retreat in Buckden Towers, led by
Fr Michael Ruddy, It was a grace-filled
time. Fr Michael will also lead the Lay Associates
in Ireland in a half day of reflection for
Advent. The group in Ireland decided to
dedicate 2011 to supporting Inhaminga and
to that end money was collected money during
the year.

Nearly 1000 Young People on Retreat in just two months

ari 2011 teamAdventure Retreats Ireland, the youth retreat initiative of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts in Cootehill has reported that a total of 948 young people have been on retreat with the project since it opened its doors in late September 2011 for year two of its operation. Project director, Shane Halpin said, "This represents a four fold increase on the same time last year as to date we have had 17 retreats in just two months." The team which is made up of five young adults is delighted with the response. Team leader Gareth McNulty, now in his second year with ARI said,"The response has been very positive and we are busy almost every week with either an insitu school retreat in the locality or adventure retreat. We are looking forward to even more opportunities in the new year."

The project is still offering local Monaghan schools free transport to and from the centre as part of its efforts to increase awareness of this exciting youth initiative.

Image: ARI 2012 team - Mickenzie, Gareth, Becca, Allison and Todd at Damien Centre, Tanagh, Cootehill

New Approach to Faith Development
adventure brochure cover 2012
If one was to ask the average teenager in Ireland whether they felt the Catholic faith (notice I avoided the use of Church!) was answering their needs, whether it bore any relevance to their lives, 9 times out of 10 one would be greeted with a resounding ‘no’!  This should be no surprise, as, apart from an aging priesthood and Mass-going community, most of the limited resources for youth activities within Irish dioceses are now being channelled into safeguarding administration.  Dioceses and parishes appear simply not to have the resources, financial and human, to cater adequately for young people.  Many people, clerical and lay, indeed are frightened to engage at all with this age group. As a result there is a growing vacuum occurring within this younger population.
So where does that leave us as educators, as parents, as concerned individuals interested in the moral and Christian development of our sons and daughters?  Many of our teenagers are attending ‘Catholic’ schools never having experienced or being given the opportunity to experience God as a personal relationship. With the best will in the world the Sunday Mass, important as it most certainly is, does not often engage young people. Its formulaic approach rattled off four times in a row on a Sunday morning does not often encourage prayerful interaction with the Word and the Eucharist. Its language is challenging and remote and its presentation is often dry and boring. Don’t get me wrong, there are notable exceptions where priests, laity and young people work together to develop a Sunday Eucharist which inspires, which is genuinely joyful and which resonates in the lives of young people. But by and large young people are slipping through the net either because of neglect or because we are failing to connect to where they are at in life.
The Congregation of the Sacred Hearts (, in Tanagh near Cootehill in Co Cavan set out September twelve months ago with a project to counter the negative response to religious faith and spirituality among school-going youth.  The concept was simple; put together a fun, active, co-educational programme which provides a vehicle for faith development.  Called Adventure Retreats Ireland, this programme is based firmly on the primary message from Vatican II, that ‘ministry’ is the responsibly of all the baptised.  The concept of peer to peer ministry, where people of similar age groups share their relationship with Jesus and the Holy Spirit can be life changing for young people. The project in Cootehill gives the opportunity for young people to do what they like doing, enjoy team work, benefit from achieving personal and group goals and at the same time are given the space to discover that they are more than just physical and psychological beings but have a spiritual dimension often untapped. 
The idea of combining faith development with fun outdoor adventure is not new and is common for American Catholics, for example, to undertake summer camps where faith and adventure combine. What is new though, is the emphasis that this project places on the empowerment of the young lay person.  Perhaps for the first time in the history of the State, the young Irish Catholic now has an opportunity to answer God’s call as a ‘layperson’- with recognition of their particular vocation.  Traditionally, with their parent’s generation, ‘Church’ was seen as the Institution. If the priest didn’t turn up on a Sunday God didn’t either! On retreat, young people are being given the opportunity to witness to each other, to see faith as enjoyable and fun while seeing the challenge of being and bringing Christ to each other in their own lives.
This emphasis on empowerment, I believe, is key to the future of the Catholic faith in Ireland.  Young people have to be helped to form a personal relationship with God so no matter what challenges or failures take place within the Institution, their personal relationship remains bedrock for their lives.  The idea of ownership, although embryonic in a day retreat, is attempting to plant the seed for future growth and spiritual development. Through empowerment they can be encouraged to take up the mantle for future parish work, for the education of their own children or, should they be called, for religious life. 
A total of 1282 youth passed through the programme in just 9 months with many teachers and chaplains reporting tangible and beneficial outcomes in light of the experience. All loved the concept and both students and teachers indicated a desire to repeat the experience in later months.
An experimental foray into the area of Confirmation preparation also proved to be very popular with many sixth class teachers recounting the strikingly beneficial effect that their retreat had on the group.  
A major issue during the year was the time restraint on a single day retreat with those groups
opting for an overnight experience benefiting from greater opportunity to experience and discover a little of their hidden depths. It was also regrettable the lack of resources that schools have for retreat work, many considering the cost of  €22 for a full day to be prohibitive, even though it includes all the outdoor adventure and the residential upkeep of a retreat team of five young adults.
The centre is open again in September for year two of operation. The Congregation of the Sacred Hearts are indebted to its young retreat team and the support of the schools and parish groups many of whom travelled from as far away as Galway, Kildare and Dublin to attend the retreats with their students. We look forward to hosting more of you over the coming months.
Article appeared in August 4 edtion Irish Catholic
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