BY JOHN DEASY
IRELAND, as a relatively small country, has over the years a good record for its generosity to charities both at home and overseas.
In the early decades of the 1900s many home-based charities were established and often supported by the more affluent members of society. One such charity, known today as St Joseph’s Young Priests Society, had its origins after a Catholic family, the Taaffes, from Smarmore Castle, Co Louth, helped educate a student priest in his studies.
Olivia Taaffe travelled extensively in Europe and, on one journey, while staying at Maronville in France, she came across a publication ‘La Gerbe’ (The Sheaf). It showed how a group of people helped prepare young men to be seminarians and finance their education.
Back in Ireland Olivia lost her only son at a young age. Her husband, John, also predeceased her and, devoting her time to the church, in 1895 she founded the Irish version of ‘The Sheaf.’
At that time, she knew a young man that had been an altar boy in Dun Laoghaire, from a poor family and he wished to become a priest. With Olivia’s help and that of readers of ‘The Sheaf,’ enough was contributed to send the first of many students to study at Mungret, Co Limerick. After two years, a further 10 students had been enrolled and helped prepare them for work on overseas missions.
A First Constitution in 1916 saw the Irish bishops approve a formal Constitution for the Society and Pope Benedict XV sent his Apostolic Blessing. A second revised Constitution was approved in October 1947 with chaplains appointed to branches and Board of Priests to help select students.
In accordance with the thinking of the Second Vatican Council, the 1947 Constitution was replaced by a new one, approved and adopted in 1973. One of the proposals was the setting up of Diocesan Committees to administer the affairs of each Society.
The St Joseph’s Young Priests Society had been in existence in Skibbereen for a brief number of years in the 1960s and, in 1974, Michael Waugh and the late Barney O’Connor, along with Mary McCarthy decided to relaunch the Society.
In the intervening years, Mary McCarthy served as president, secretary and treasurer. The mid 1990s were golden years. Michael Waugh, as president, oversaw IR£4,000 being contributed annually to head office.
After 2000, there was a decrease in contributions with the mainstay being the annual church gate collections. The Skibbereen branch members had to cease voluntary work at the end of February 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, but in last few years still contributed €900 in 2018, €1,100 in 2019 and €3,650 in 2020 to Dublin head office.
On a recent occasion, a contributor told how, in conversation with a priest from a large parish, he had ‘found the going tough at the moment.’ So it’s still important to help seminarians on their journey to ordination.
• John Deasy is president of the Skibbereen branch of the St Joseph’s Young Priests Society