The chaplain at one of the country’s biggest universities has said only a small number of students are “anti-Church” and “make a lot of noise” and that many are “not completely disconnected” from their faith.
Fr Marius O’Reilly, the chaplain at University College Cork, admitted that when he was appointed to the position three years ago he was “a bit afraid”.
But he said his experiences in the role had shown him that “there is still a great connection with the Church for many of our younger generation.”
Writing in the most recent issue of Intercom magazine, Fr O’Reilly said: “A small number of people may be anti-Church in UCC, and indeed wider society, but they can make a lot of noise. This makes us think there are more of them than there actually are. The majority in UCC and in society at large are probably either indifferent or have just fallen away, but they are not anti-Church or anti-faith.”
He said that the younger generation “largely come from non-practising homes” and that many had stopped attending Mass because their parents had stopped going.
“They live noisy and distracted lifestyles,” he wrote. “A large portion of their time is spent on social media (often a kind of fantasy world) and the internet. There is simply no time for reflection or to gaze upwards. They also come from more complex backgrounds, and almost 12% of our student population attended a counselling session in the past year.
“It is in this context that you begin to realise the importance of the chaplain’s role.”
Fr O’Reilly outlined those duties as including the organisation of activities off campus and hosting weekly social events, as well as aiding students from other parts of Ireland or overseas who are far from home.
He also mentioned the role of the chaplaincy in assisting the families of students who have died, referring to four bereavements this year.
“There is still a great connection with the Church for many of our younger generation,” he said. “Many students do come to Mass during the week.
“On days like Ash Wednesday, between 500 and 700 students come to one of our three Masses.
“Our two student choirs have also grown each semester. Whilst the bulk of students probably don’t practise their faith with any degree of regularity, they are not completely disconnected.”
Most third-level institutions have more than one chaplain in place, including UCC, which as of last year had five posts.
Last year it emerged that lay people would be entitled to apply for state-funded chaplaincy posts in third-level colleges under public sector recruitment rules, following a review by the Higher Education Authority.
That report also found that existing arrangements meant that in some cases Catholic dioceses have a right to appoint chaplains.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved