Celebrations at Gardiner Street Church

July 11, 2024 in Featured News, News

Two celebration masses will be held in Gardiner Street Church on Wednesday 31 July. The first Mass will take place at 11am to mark the feast of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of Jesuits. The second Mass will take place at 7pm on the same day to celebrate the past fifty years as a Parish. Archbishop Farrell will preside and preach. The evening Mass at 7pm will be followed by refreshments and finger food in the Pope Francis corridor. Please RSVP to [email protected] or call 01 8363411 if you plan to attend.

Gardiner Street Church became a parish church fifty years ago and will become part of the neighbouring Pro-Cathedral Parish from 1 August 2024. It will then cease to be a parish church and revert to being a public church attached to the Jesuit religious community and run by the Jesuits. The article below published by Iva Beranek, Parish Manager at Gardiner Street Church, takes a detailed look over the history of the Church since the first stone was laid in 1829. Read the full article below:

Looking Back in Thanksgiving to Look Forward in Hope

Recently I discovered that on 2nd July 1829, the “first stone of St. Francis Xavier’s Church was laid by Fr. Aylmer”, who was then the superior of the Jesuit community based in Hardwicke Street. In other words, this week was the 195th anniversary marking the very beginning of this church. I hope I’m not the only one that finds this quite fascinating! Fr. Des Collins SJ, from the church magazine published in 1982, tells us that “three years later the building, though still incomplete (!), was ready to use”.

In 1974 the Church of St. Francis Xavier became a parish church. Fr. Des continues, “This appeared to demand a radical change in outlook and emphasis. Hitherto the church was what has been called a ‘service church’, catering for passers-by and anyone in the city who was attracted by its services and personnel”. He describes the beginning of a chapter that is now coming to an end. When Gardiner street became a parish church, “the Jesuits in Gardiner Street assumed, primarily, responsibility for the spiritual needs of those who dwelt in the surrounding area”. However, Fr. Des Collins makes an insightful remark by saying that “the pre-parish apostolate, albeit with the old forms of organisation, accomplished a surprising amount of the present-day aims of our church. One difference, of course, was that its influence was not limited to parish boundaries”. Interestingly, this wider reach continued throughout the 50 years of the parish life, as well. The wider impact of St. Francis Xavier’s Church seems to be a characteristic of this church itself, whether it is a parish church, or not.

As we are nearing the date when Gardiner Street Church will join the Pro-Cathedral parish, we created a memory board with old photos from the church, and some personal memories that we shared with permission. We invite you to come and have a look at it at the back of the church! You will see photos of the garden, as it looked before, the Pope Francis corridor – then simply the Corridor, photos of the Ignatian chapel, a photo of the first parish priest Fr. Philip Harnett SJ. and more.

Memories are part of our identity, and so when we revisit old memories associated with the church, we tap into the identity of our church as well as its importance in the lives of people who were touched by God’s presence among the walls of St. Francis Xavier’s Church.

A few weeks ago I was putting photos on the memory board, and a man came into the corridor as if looking for something. I thought he may have wanted confession because it was at a time when confessions were taking place. But that was not why he was there. He said he was an altar boy here in the 1950s and he wanted to come to see how the church had changed. “It’s not much changed”, he said. Interesting remark with all the changes going on! I guess not everything is visible. A few days later, another man approached me when I was at the back of the church. He asked, “Is there another chapel here?” Soon I realised he was referring to the Ignatian chapel – he got married there in December 1974, just a few short months after Gardiner Street became a parish. His wife was no longer alive, but I could see that the place where they got married was still very special to him. I showed him the chapel. He stayed there prayerfully for a few minutes and then went to have a look at the memory board and to book a Mass for his late wife.

We heard from the sister of Fr. Paul Cullen SJ, who was a curate here from 1985 to 1991 and then a parish priest from 1991 to his death in 1997. She wrote to us from Melbourne, Australia, and sent us a little note about him. A contemporary of his wrote, “There were great depths of kindness, sympathy, generosity, and love in him”. Some of you might remember him!

Another person told us, When I was 18 I got a job in Dublin. I had to get a bus to the city, but I spent my lunch hour racing to Gardener Street Church for Mass. Now I’m almost 70 and I still love to get daily Mass in my forever home”.

The stories that parishioners shared with us, stories associated with Gardiner Street Church that we all have and cherish, are living stories. Whether they are held in your heart or shared publicly, they hold a value that is timeless. We are the body of Christ, members of the Church, we are the living stones that carry the memories of what God has been doing, and the impact His action and presence had on our lives.

As we have been going through a transition from the parish toward a public church, I started to wonder, “What are you doing, Jesus?” Our Young Adults recently had the first ever All Things New retreat, held in Gonzaga College, which was a great success. I love the title of the retreat, and they seemed to have all enjoyed it immensely. What Jesus is doing I do not yet know, but it certainly is something new!

Looking back, our tendency might be to think of various people who weave the memories of Gardiner Street Church as solely responsible for the good that God has been doing in our midst. They ARE important, and we are grateful for every member of staff, every parish priest, and volunteer for being a ‘living stone’ in the story of Gardiner Street. And yet, this next story tells us that God is at work, even in the moments of quiet, in between all the events and Masses that happen here.

“When I was 15 years old, in the middle of a horrendous situation which had gone on from my childhood, and just after yet another bad experience that left me feeling completely broken as a person, I found myself outside the door of Gardiner St. Church. I had been out of touch with my faith since I was a child but I went in, knelt down, and prayed. I prayed to God to please, please make things better, and make this situation end. As I prayed I felt something, that can only be described as a deep spiritual connection. And for the first time, I felt as if I was not alone with the burden I was carrying. I felt things would get better. And they gradually did. Nothing was ever that bad again. I have gone back to that same spot so many times in my life and I always, always feel that strong presence, and connection with God who on that day really was the help of the helpless. I will forever be grateful to the special place that welcomed me on that wintery evening.”

As we mark the golden anniversary – 50 years of Gardiner Street Parish – and as we end this ‘golden chapter’ in the story of our Church, let us give thanks that God is in our midst and active. Blessed John Sullivan SJ, whose body is in our Church, used to say, “God always leaves the door unlatched”. In my office, I have a printout that says, “This is where saints are made”. Saints are not made out of easy circumstances, but by responding with grace to the challenges of their time. And yes, they are formed by a deeply profound action of God. We have a great example of that in Blessed John. But if we look around, we might see more examples. I would even dare to say if you look into the mirror perhaps you recognise there too this call by God. “What are you doing, Jesus?”

Let us ponder on this together. No matter the answer, we can be sure it is good, holy, and new. At the end of the day, His action is what truly matters.

Iva Beranak,

July 2024.