By Siobhán Cronin
ST Joseph’s Young Priest’s Society is having a flag day in Skibbereen, in a bid to raise funds to help educate young men to become priests.
The organisation was started by Galway-born Olivia Blake in the 1800s.
Skibbereen branch president John Deasy explained Olivia’s idea: ‘Her mother died shortly after her birth in 1832, resulting in her grandmother and aunts raising her and, when they moved to Dublin when she was a child, she was brought up in a strong religious environment and received a private education mainly from French governesses,’ he said.
In 1867 she married John Taaffe and during their marriage, they travelled throughout Europe. While there she encountered something that was greatly influential with her.
John pointed out how a priest in France had founded a movement for friends of St Joseph and he had a few boys from poor families in his parish helping him with the liturgies. Benefactors who would later finance the boys’ higher education for the priesthood, and this gave Olivia an idea.
‘After the death of her husband and son, she found great consolation in devoting herself to St Joseph,’ he said. ‘Her first appeal, in 1895, was for assistance for a young altar boy in Dun Laoghaire.
‘He had all the dispositions and the wish to be a priest but his parents were not in a position to pay for his education.’
Olivia’s appeal for funds was successful and the young man was able to go to Mungret College in Limerick.
As a result, Olivia began looking for funds to help many more men on their journey to priesthood. St Joseph’s Young Priest’s society had begun.
Olivia died in Dublin in 1918 and now, over 100 years later, the efforts of her society are continuing her work with the generous help of many people.
‘Here, in Skibbereen, the Society was relaunched in 1974. Michael Waugh, and the late Barney O’Connor and Mary McCarthy gave 100% commitment,’ said John. ‘They also had a great community spirit in the town. The steadfast work of Mary McCarthy as an officer, but mostly as secretary for the last 45 years, has ensured the success of the society in Skibbereen.’
Jerry McCarthy was president of the Skibbereen branch for the past six years and during those years he was responsible for putting the centre on an even keel, said John. ‘Jerry made sure there was a vibrant and hard-working commitment at the end of his term in office last June.’
John took over the role for Jerry and is now spearheading a publicity and funding campaign for the Society, at a time when the number of men joining the priesthood is at an all-time low.
‘At our next meeting we decided that, as we were living in changing times, we would try and promote our society in a new way. The rules of our founder would never be broken. The only change would be in a promotional basis,’ John told The Southern Star.
‘The first move was to have our annual mass for past and present members of the Society held in the Cathedral Skibbereen in September. We also had a coffee morning to raise funds. Last November we delivered an information package to the parishioners in the town and collected replies a week or so later, with very favourable results.’
A flag day will take place in a number of high-profile locations around Skibbereen’s town centre on Friday July 19th, to support the work of the Society.