Welcome to the Irish Augustinians
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One of my earliest memories is of my two brothers and myself ‘saying mass’ when we were younger in the upstairs of my father’s pub. In fact, thinking back, many of my memories revolve around such things as attending Mass, going to altar-boy practice or participating in the local novena. If this makes me sound devoutly religious, I am anything but. However, the point is that I had a normal Irish childhood, and many reading this will have similar memories.
Obviously, at such an early age, I had little intention of entering Religious life. But this changed when I entered Secondary School, and a returning missionary showed us a presentation on leprosy in Ethiopia. This deeply touched me, and I remember fundraising for the Brother, and my Religion teacher saying that she would be proud if I became a Priest/brother. Perhaps she saw something I didn’t? At that time, I remember thinking the life of a religious was very daring and exciting. As one was helping the poorest in our world and society. I still think this is part of my vocational calling today!
However, it wasn’t until I was about 16 that I seriously considered the idea of Priesthood. I remember sending off a letter requesting information around that time to my diocesan vocations director. Whether or not it was received, I don’t know, but the fact that I never heard anything back made me think that I wasn’t good enough to be considered. The thought then evaporated from my head for some time.
And so life continued, and I did all the things that a young man does. I had girlfriends, I went out socialising with friends and played a huge variety of sports. With hurling being my first love in sport! I had various jobs while I attended university, and I finally qualified as a secondary school teacher. Eventually, working my way to be a Deputy Headteacher. I loved teaching, and those years were undoubtedly the most enjoyable of my life. I still miss the interaction with the pupils to this very day, and I do hope that I might one day work in one of our Augustinian schools here in Ireland.
During my long school holidays, I volunteered with the Missionaries of Charity in India, Ethiopia, Romania, London and Albania. It was those experiences that were hugely influential in my vocation to Augustinian religious life. As a volunteer, I was encouraged to participate in the life of the Sisters. And I must say I thoroughly enjoyed their rhythm of life. In fact, this way of life is very similar to our own Augustinian life. Both lives having an emphasis on prayer, ministry, silence and contemplation. Maybe that’s why as Augustinians, we are sometimes referred to as Active Contemplatives?
Even though I had a successful teaching career and all the outward signs of fulfilment, I was always seeking something more profound, and I found this when I prayed and spent time in silence with God.
And this led me to the Augustinians. You see, the essential Augustinian charism of coming together as a community, “one in mind and heart”, is very appealing to me and something I feel that I contribute positively towards. I desire to serve God in many forms, from serving His poor in whatever way poverty manifests itself – physical, spiritual, material, financial etc., celebrating the sacraments, studying or just merely being present in community with my brother friars. I believe I am making a difference, however small that may be.
Contrary to what many people think, living as an Augustinian does not mean sacrificing everything I know or believe in. In fact, I experience a great sense of freedom living the life I know God wants me to live. And I know our Order actively tries to make sure that each Friar is living their true vocational calling. I can honestly say that I feel entirely at home in our Augustinian communities. So I simply can’t imagine not being an Augustinian now.
There is so much more to say, but I hope at least this gives you some idea as to my Augustinian journey. If you are interested in finding out more, I am more than happy to hear from you, so please do get in touch through our Vocation Director, Fr Colm O’Mahony, OSA (details on main vocation page)
Good luck in your discernment, and if you are open, God will grace you with all the answers you require.
Stephen Shields, OSA