Spirituality conferring a first for Ireland

November 8, 2017 in Featured News, News, Newsletter

Twenty students graduated with an MA in Applied Spirituality from Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT) on Wednesday 1 November. This was the first time in Ireland that an Institute of Technology graduated students of an MA in Applied Spirituality. The programme is hosted and supported by SpIRE, the Spirituality Institute of Research and Education, in Milltown Park, Ranelagh, Dublin.

Dr Michael O’Sullivan SJ has been the Director of this MA since 2005, first at Milltown Institute, NUI, then at All Hallows/DCU, and presently at WIT with the hosting and support of SpIRE in Dublin. He wrote the approved programme with Bernadette Flanagan for DCU, and a revised version for WIT in collaboration with Dr Richard Hayes, then head of the School of Humanities.

Xuefei Jin, was a graduate whom Michael knew throughout her four years in All Hallows/DCU. She thanked the SpIRE team for their support, and Michael for his commitment down the years and said her graduation on the feast of All Saints was, “a really blessed day.”

Other graduates were equally affirming of the support they received and the MA course itself. They said the academic input was  solid as well as enlightening. “It was challenging but I found the balance of academic and experiential learning uplifting, especially the support of tutors, spiritual advisors and classmates,” said Kevin.  And other students also commented on this aspect of the course which calls for personal reflection on lived experience as well as academic study. As one student, Deirdre put it, “This MA has given me a wonderful opportunity for growth and awareness, an opening to explore the meaning of my relational worlds and those around me, family, friends, community. It has expanded my thinking, opening up my listening, widening my view to be more inclusive of all that there may be, with compassion”.

The MA class consisted of 18 lay-people, 1 diocesan priest, 1 religious order priest (MSC), and 1 sister (FMM). 20 of the 21 graduated on 1 November. One student had to defer her dissertation module and will graduate next year.

For one of the students, Michael Punch, the graduation was particularly important. Michael had been in a coma, suffering brain trauma after being knocked off his bike in Dublin. He had a promising academic career in UCD at the time, but after the accident it was feared he might not even walk again, let alone lecture. But with great patience and courage, and the support of family and friends, he worked his way back to health. Michael spoke warmly about his graduation day in WIT. “It was simple and appropriately celebratory, honouring what people have done. In that sense it was better than TCD (where I received two degrees, one of which was handed to me by Mary Robinson, then the Chancellor of the university!). During the ceremony, I was able to look up at the fifth station of the cross, Simon helps carry the cross. It prompted me to think, pray really, how important the help of countless people on the course (and in wider life) has been in getting me to this point. To be graduating like that was particularly wonderful, when you consider that a few years back the medics were recommending nursing homes, thinking that I’d never be fit enough for independent living. And here I am!”

Other students including Marie summed up the day as “graced… and a real privilege to meet up with peers and staff again. We certainly shared a very special journey. Here’s to the next leg of it wherever that may lead!”

Michael O’Sullivan was particularly impressed by the achievement of this years’ graduates. “The results for this MA class in Applied Spirituality were of a very high standard.,” he says, adding, “Two of our graduates, Gabrielle Jin and Margie Kennedy, both graduated with first class honours in their BA at All Hallows/DCU. Gabrielle graduated in ‘Theology and Psychology’, and Margie in Theology and Philosophy. Gabrielle did CPE training after her BA in All Hallows as she waited in hope for the MA to come to fruition elsewhere given the news at the time about the impending closure of All Hallows.”

Members of the Chinese community in Ireland have featured prominently in the spirituality studies in Milltown Institute (NUI), All Hallows/DCU and with SpIRE and WIT, according to Michael. “Gabrielle Jin is now doing the Anamcharadas spiritual direction training programme with Myles O’Reilly SJ and his team, and she is also in ministry with the Chinese community here in Dublin. The chaplain to the Chinese community is Fr Anthony Hou, who did the MA in Christian Spirituality at Milltown Institute. He succeeded Fr Anthony Xiao who also did the MA at Milltown Institute, and lived at John Austin House, a former Jesuit community, and later at Milltown Park. Anthony Xiao’s brother, Joseph, is a Jesuit who also did the MA at Milltown Institute. They were all students of mine. The Xiao brothers are now ministering in China.”

Along with Michael O’Sullivan, SpIRE is run by Prof Bernadette Flanagan, and Sr Anne Marie Dixon, who are also on the leadership team of the Waterford Institute of Technology MA. This November in Boston, Bernadette Flanagan will become the first Irish person ever to be elected President of the global professional society for the study of Christian Spirituality as a transformative academic discipline.

Michael says he will continue to work “on the frontiers of change contributing to the further development of spirituality as an applied academic discipline”. He and Bernadette, along with colleagues in SpIRE, and colleagues at Waterford Institute of Technology, are organising the first international conference in this country on ‘Pilgrimage and the Evolution of Spiritual Tourism’ to take place in WIT in March 2018. Information about the conference, the Call for Papers, and to register and pre-pay is available on the SpIRE website .