Novena – ‘Wonderful preaching and singing’
Very high numbers attended the Novena of Grace in honour of St Francis Xavier in St Francis Xavier’s Church, Gardiner Street, Dublin from 4 to 12 March 2023. Fr Dermot Preston SJ, former Regional Superior of the Jesuits in Guyana and former British Jesuit Provincial, was the preacher this year. Highlights included Fr Preston’s fresh perspective on the travels of St Francis and Boston College Chorale’s “heavenly” singing on 8 March. Below, read a report on the Novena by Christine Halloran, Volunteer Pastoral Assistant in Gardiner Street Parish.
Graced times in Gardiner Street Parish
This extraordinary Novena originated in Naples in 1643. A Jesuit priest, who had been cured through the intercession of St Francis Xavier, promised that those who made the nine days of prayer in preparation for the anniversary of the saint’s canonisation would receive many graces and favours. The Novena of Grace was first celebrated in Dublin in the church at Mary’s Lane (now in Halston Street Parish) in 1712. It continues to be an annual event in several churches in Dublin, including St Francis Xavier’s where it has been observed for 191 years, even in the face of Covid-19.
This year’s preacher was Fr Dermot Preston SJ, a member of the Jesuit community living in Newcastle and working as part of the Newcastle City Centre Catholic Churches Partnership. Fr Dermot’s rich and challenging homilies brought a much-needed infusion of life-giving ‘good news’ to a people and a parish weary from the effects of the global pandemic, the war in Ukraine, and the ever-increasing impacts of climate change. He wove witty personal anecdotes into the gospel stories of the day and then seamlessly and creatively threaded them into the colourful tapestry of Francis Xavier’s life. At the end of the nine days, the result was a new, fresh, and vibrant perspective on the travels and experiences of a truly holy and courageous saint.
One parishioner commented, “The homilies were very real and down to earth, and I found myself challenged. I had to ask myself if I really am living out my Christian faith in an authentic way. Am I a person of integrity who practises what I preach? What I also found encouraging was how Fr Dermot talked to us of St Francis Xavier and his great sense of joy. Joy, despite all his trials and tribulations, because he trusted in God and lived his life from that deep place of peace and joy that only a loving and committed relationship with Jesus can bring. I hope that I get to experience that joy too.”
The numbers who attended this year’s Novena were very high, with the 11am flagship Mass drawing the greatest numbers [there were three Masses per day over the nine-day period]. Tea and coffee after Mass was welcomed by the devotees as it allowed them to meet with Fr Dermot and connect with old and new friends. Novena stories about blessings and graces received over the years were shared over tea by those who have been coming to the Novena for 40, 50, in some cases, even 60 years.
Iva Beranek, the Parish Manager, commented, “It was very encouraging to see so many people come to the parish for the Novena. We got emails from a few people who couldn’t be with us in person. One lady told me about her sister in New Zealand who wanted to pray the Novena with us, even though she is no longer a churchgoer. I appreciated the connection with people who were watching online too. There was a real sense of community with everyone attending and even a greater sense of community with people who are far away. Lots of reasons for gratitude!”
The music and singing at the Novena were exceptional this year. Our cantor for the morning Masses was Cecilia Byrne, accompanied on organ by Deirdre Doyle. Here is a video of Cecilia singing the Novena Hymn to St Francis Xavier ». Wednesday evening (8 March) was a highlight, with a guest appearance by the University Chorale of Boston College who were visiting Ireland for a week and offered to sing at one of the Masses. The chorale consisted of sixty young men and women with and average age of 21, led by their conductor John Finney and accompanied by organist Joseph Ripka. Their singing was heavenly and at the end of Mass they joined the congregation in singing the traditional Novena hymn to St Francis Xavier to rapturous applause.
Parish Priest Fr Niall Leahy SJ said, “It really did my heart good to see so many people in the church again. I am also truly grateful for the hard work of our committed and selfless team of volunteers, without whom this Novena could not take place. Moreover, Dermot, whose preaching touched the hearts of so many of us, will be a daunting act to follow!”