I moved to Rome last September after my first profession in Killarney, Co. Kerry. I live in St. Isidore’s College, Rome, where I am a first-year Franciscan philosophy student in the Angelicum University. I was born in Ennis, Co. Clare, and was schooled in Ennis National School and St Flannan’s College. On leaving secondary school I did a BA in History and Theology at Maynooth University with the intension of becoming a secondary school teacher in history. But I enjoyed theology, and with the help of family, a scholarship, and tutoring I continued studies to complete a master’s in theology at St. Patrick’s College Maynooth.
Friends occasionally used to joke, on nights out, knowing what I was studying: ‘Ian did you ever think about becoming a priest when you were younger,’ to which I would laugh and say: ‘no.’ As a person who’s faith was important this was a definite ‘no.’ I respected those who were priests and religious, but I never felt drawn towards such a life growing up. As a child I was an altar server and later a mass reader in our local family church which was Franciscan. I saw these actives as helping where I could in the local faith community. Sometimes, growing up, I found mass a chore and when I was doing something, it made the mass less boring for me, there was something to prepare or remember.
As a master’s student, for the first time, I considered the possibility of religious life. The first time I became aware of this feeling was on a study trip to Salamanca, Spain. While I was there a group of us were invited on a tour of the Dominican Convent of San Esteban by two Dominican friars. I remember thinking while on the tour and seeing the inside of the convent and the life, it would be nice to try out this way of life. Of course, everything seemed great walking around a May sunlit medieval cloister in Spain.
I came back to Ireland; the thought of religious life grew into a greater feeling and attraction. I was not sure what to do because I was in a happy and stable relationship at the time, and I did not want to end it. This desire (a nuisance I thought then) to try out religious life was getting in the way. I spoke to various religious and I concluded that I was deluded. There seemed to be no passion, no fire, in me for religious life; it all seemed like words, endless talk, and navel-gazing. Nothing was convincing or stirring me like in Spain until a religious said to me did I have any phrase or saying that struck me from my time studying theology, to which I said: “yes, from Bonaventure: God in Christ stoops down to us in order to raise us up.” It was when the religious responded: ‘ah a Franciscan,’ that I realised I misjudged St. Bonaventure’s background. I had not spoken to a Franciscan about religious life before this point. The Franciscans did not cross my mind because I never felt inclined towards becoming a Franciscan friar while growing up and going to a Franciscan church in my native Ennis.
Eventually I got up the confidence to approach the Franciscans, a second look at them so to speak. After a time of encountering friars again from way back, and new ones, I decided it was worth a try. I did not expect much, if anything, to come of this new endeavour. I thought, if this is all my own doing then I will end up taking a U-turn after a couple of months. I thought I did not have the courage or patience to live this way of life. Many of those closest to me were taken by surprise when I told them about my decision to join the Franciscans. There was many a long difficult conversation where those who mattered most in my life did not understand then what I was doing. I had to go ahead, and at least give it a good try, whatever happened. In all of this, the most difficult part was the people who were the rocks in my life who neither gave criticism or encouragement, but just stayed silent. A silence that I thought then was indifference, but I am now grateful for their silence because it allowed me to be more patient with God and myself. I can say all that I have experienced during my time as a Franciscan friar has been worth it. At times, like in all worthwhile relations in life, there was a digging in of heels, a resistance, and then a greater digging deeper, which offers new horizons that I never asked for or thought. So far, in all that I have been given on the journey, I give thanks to God because I asked for none of it at the start. I just followed a flickering possibility that began in Spain which has led to greater fulfilment along the way. All I ask is for God’s continued guidance on this path.