Dubbed the Slam Dunk Monks for their work in the slums of New York, the friars opened their chapel on the sprawling Moyross estate on Saturday.
Brother Shawn O’Connor is one of five members of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal. The 45-year-old taught disturbed children in New York before joining the order, which was formed in New York in 1987 with eight friars.
There are 105 friars in the Catholic order.
“Out ambition is to be faithful to the Gospel and a witness to Christ, and try and get people to realise there is a God,” Brother Shawn said.
He said he and the four other friars had no specific ideas yet for Moyross.
“We will have to tailor what we do to meet the needs of the community. This may involve a youth programme, but we do not wish to duplicate programmes that are already here,” said Brother Shawn.
“The problem of people leaving the estate has snowballed. By coming in to live among the community we are showing support and developing a sense of hope for the people who live here and want to remain here in Moyross. That can help bring back the neighbourhood’s sense of stability.”
In their long grey robes, the monks have aroused much curiosity — particularly among young people.
One 15-year-old said: “I think it’s real cool. They are fine guys and very straightforward. And they are living with us in Delmege. I had a great chat with one of them about New York.”
While the order mainly works in New York, it has also sent missions to poverty-stricken parts of the east end of London and to Honduras.
The friars are well aware of the level of violence in Moyross. Said Brother Shawn: “Most of the people are very good but they are caught in a very difficult situation.”
Bishop of Limerick Dr Donal Murray who invited the order to Limerick, celebrated a Mass of welcome at Corpus Christi Church in Moyross on Saturday. Hundreds of local people attended.
Dr Murray said: “A lot of people here in Moyross may be in danger of feeling that nobody really cares about them, but, thanks be to God, things are now changing and the people here know there are people like the monks who care about them.”