Belfast spirituality centre opened
Irish Jesuit Provincial, Fr Leonard Moloney SJ, launched and blessed the Belfast Jesuit Centre for Spirituality » on Saturday 22 October 2022. The day-long event was attended by a large audience including Bishop Noel Traynor, Jesuits, colleagues, friends and local people. Dr Austen Ivereigh, author of two biographies on Pope Francis, was the keynote speaker and he launched a book on Ignatian spirituality.
The new centre is actually the old school building next door to St Patrick’s Church in Donegall St. It was formerly home to the Diocesan Resource Centre and Education Secretariat. Local historian Jimmy McDermott spoke to those who had gathered for the launch in the morning about the rich history of the area and the development of Belfast as a city. He then took them on a tour of St Patrick’s Church and highlighted, in particular, the famous triptych there by Sir John Lavery who was once the most famous portrait artist in the world and later an official Great War artist in 1914.
Returning home to North Belfast, Lavery painted the ‘Madonna of the Lakes’ triptych and gifted it in 1918 to the church in which he was baptised- St Patrick’s.
After lunch in the centre for almost 100 people, Director of the centre Gerry Clarke SJ welcomed all those gathered from around the province and invited Irish Jesuit Provincial Leonard Moloney SJ to mark the occasion.
In his opening words, the Provincial noted that the centre had been in gestation for quite some time. Jesuits had been living and working in 28 Brookvale Ave for 30 years and as the years passed the need and desire for a spirituality centre grew. He paid particular tribute to Bishop Noel Treanor of Down and Conor for his input into the centre’s development.
He noted also the work and sustained reflection of the Jesuits in Belfast who contributed to the culmination of this day including Terry Howard SJ, who played a key role in setting up the centre and Tom Layden SJ, Brendan McManus SJ and Piaras Jackson SJ, the three current team members.
Fr Moloney noted that St Patrick’s Parish is a living, breathing community in Belfast’s City Centre not far from Ulster University Belfast Campus with its significant cohort of staff and students. The church serves a large local resident community, a thriving population of workers in Belfast’s cultural and social heartland – the Cathedral Quarter. So the centre he says, in its history and location, lends itself well to the vision held for it into the future as a place of service to the faithful in Belfast, open to and welcoming younger people in the city.
The Jesuit centre, he said, would be ecumenical in its outreach and synodal in its way of proceeding. The Jesuits working there would be seeking volunteers who would collaborate with them in discerning and realising the unfolding mission of the centre.
It would be a hub of activities such as spiritual companionship, workshops, courses in Ignatian spirituality, faith formation, and creative pathways to encountering God at work in the hearts and minds of those attending and at work in the wider socio-cultural surroundings.
Pat Coyle, Director of Irish Jesuit Communications, then introduced the keynote speaker at the launch event, British journalist and author Dr Austen Ivereigh. Dr Ivereigh, she said, was one of the few journalists who knew Pope Francis really well, having authored two biographies of the pontiff, The Great Reformer; Francis and the Making of a Radical Reformer: and Wounded Shepherd; Pope Francis and His Struggle to Convert the Catholic Church. He had co-written with the Pope his book, Let Us Dream: The Path to a Better Future. And his doctoral thesis was on the church in Argentina – the Pope’s native home.
She also noted his commitment to the synodal process within the Catholic church saying that Dr Ivereigh was a member of the national synthesis team for the synod of England and Wales, and is on the continental synthesis team in Rome, where he also advises the synod secretariat on communications.
He writes regularly concerning papal matters for Commonweal, America magazine and the National Catholic Reporter about Pope Francis, and for The Tablet in the UK, where he has a column about applying Laudato Sí to his work on his small farm.
The title of his address in Belfast was “A New Imagination of the Possible: Pope Francis and the Gift of ‘Overflow’. A dialogue with Dr Austen Ivereigh, papal biographer and collaborator”.
After his talk those gathered engaged in a buzz session, followed by a lively Q&A session. A break for tea and coffee was followed by the launch of Brendan McManus SJ and Jim Deed’s book by Austen Ivereigh. In Discover God Daily: Seven Life-Changing Moments from the Journey of St Ignatius, they spoke of how they explored seven stages in the life of Ignatius, through reflections, personal stories, scripture and imagined conversations with God.
The day concluded with Mass in St Patrick’s Church, followed by tea and coffee in the centre.
The Irish News covered the opening and Gerry Clarke SJ spoke to them about the programmes and events already planned including sessions on preparing for Advent, creative writing and processing trauma. “There will be weekly worship with music, a four-week course for priests, deacons and parish leaders on ‘Scripture at the heart of the parish,” said Gerry adding that the centre’s book club is now focussing on Pope Francis’s reform of the Church, using reflection as a well to help people ‘channel their inner fire’.