‘It’s great to be back’ – Novena of Grace
Seven Jesuits preached at the Novena of Grace throughout Dublin in honour of Saint Francis Xavier from 4 to 12 March 2022. It was the first time the Novena took place in person since before the Covid-19 pandemic. The Jesuits shared their joy in connecting with people again and in helping to lift their spirits as they recover from challenging times. The final day coincided with the 400th anniversary of the canonisation of Francis Xavier, Ignatius Loyola, Teresa of Avila, Philip Neri and Isidore the Farmer.
Charlie Davy SJ, who preached at the 11am and 1pm Masses in Gardiner Street Parish, refers to those who attended:
“The first few days a huge number of people said, ‘It’s great to be back’ when they left the Church as we stood outside. So that was lovely to hear. I enjoyed chatting with people – to sometimes chat over a cup of tea, to sometimes chat at the back of the Church.
“I enjoyed listening – people asking for prayers, people with burdens, they themselves sick or someone belonging to them sick. There were a few confessions, some important confessions – significant and wonderful, healing moments.”
“A lot of the people have been coming since they were children, a lot of the older people anyway. Their faithfulness was very moving. It brings back memories of them being with their parents or mother or someone belonging to them.”
Fr Davy appreciated the visit of school groups to the Novena including about 15 students from Gonzaga College SJ who were accompanied by Patrick Corkery SJ.
He also appreciated the big team effort at Gardiner Street including Fr Richard O’Dwyer SJ, Fr Niall Leahy SJ, ministers of the Eucharist, readers, singer, organist, sacristans and two Jesuit novices. As well as a sense of community with the other Jesuits who preached throughout Dublin.
Regarding preparing for and celebrating the Novena Masses, Fr Davy says:
“For me, I took the readings of every day. I let that determine things for me a lot. It was an occasion for me in the two weeks beforehand to prepare nine homilies. And to include something from the life of Francis and then sometimes from my own life story.”
He was delighted with the turn-out at both the 11am and 1pm Masses:
“The 11 o’clock Mass was the best attended, and the church was pretty full. But on the last day the church was absolutely packed. That’s the first time that happened in Gardiner Street in a few years.”
Donal Neary SJ, who first gave the Novena in Gardiner Street in 1980, was glad to be back in person again. He noted that advertising the Novena on the Irish Jesuit website and social media channels helped to attract a larger audience.
Referring to his experience of preaching at the evening Masses, he says:
“There were good crowds at both Masses this year especially at the 7pm session, and the 5.30pm Mass was suitable for those coming from work.
“The church was well decorated and looked lovely, which I think deepened the Novena experience. The help from the many volunteers also made a big difference.
“My focus for the Novena was to link the life of Francis with the modern Church and the challenges facing humanity today. For my homilies, I drew on themes from the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises along with quotes from Pope Francis.”
Four Jesuits who preached at other parishes throughout Dublin reflect on their Novena experiences.
Dermot Mansfield SJ says:
“I give the Novena of Grace each year in St Gabriel’s, Dollymount. This year, I stressed present-day Christians in Old Goa, and in south India. Wonderful people. And then, above all, the contemporary Christians in Nagasaki, heirs to St Francis Xavier’s evangelisation in Japan.
“I always stress their 230 years as ‘Hidden Christians’, when they were without a priest, but passed on the faith, and were discovered on 17th March 1865. Then the Atom Bomb’s (9 August 1945) ground zero was their community in the Urakami valley (where they had been for more than 400 years).
“And I always talk of the special person at that time: Tagashi Nagai, whose cause for sainthood is going forward. After the bomb, all he found of his beloved wife Midori (who had brought him to faith) when he went back to their obliterated home after the explosion, was her atomised rosary beads.”
Willie Reynolds SJ says:
“This was my second time giving the Novena in Donnycarney and to my surprise, people still attend the Novena in big numbers, despite Covid. It was a joy to bring something special and spiritually uplifting to the people of the Donnycarney Parish.”
Peter McVerry SJ preached at the Novena in Donnycarney from 7 to 9 March 2022.
Kevin O’Rourke SJ says:
“I have given the Novena of Grace about 20 times over the years, sometimes in two parishes at a time, one in the morning and one in the evening. In my various travels I have been to Xavier, Sancian and Goa, and can share something of that.
“This year is the first time that Sutton had a Novena. It was well attended, and after Mass quite a number of people availed of the Sacrament of Reconciliation each day.
“The PP, Fr Cyril Mangan, was PP in Blanchardstown when I gave it there two years ago, hence the invitation. He is already planning for 2023.”
Finally, Mike Drennan SJ says:
“I preached at the opening night in St Brendan’s, Coolock. The topic they gave me was the Future of the Church. Making links with Saint Francis Xavier, I took the call to conversion meeting the fidelity of God.
“That was central to the life of Saint Francis as it is for the Church, which is called to listen, to be inclusive as a community of Christ’s disciples now.”