Adapting to day-to-day life without a full-time Catholic priest has become a reality in recent years for most of Ireland’s island communities.
But two remote outposts have been singled out for special praise for using practical measures to breathe new life into their priest-less churches, including training resourceful locals to fulfill traditional priestly duties such as leading funeral ceremonies.
Father Patrick Burke, curate in Westport, Co. Mayo, is also the pastoral coordinator in Clare Island and Inishturk island, which both lie off the west Mayo coast.
With not enough visiting priests available to travel to the islands every weekend to celebrate Mass, both communities’ pastoral councils have more or less taken over the running of their churches and traditional priestly duties. And Burke said the success of the “lay-led ministry” could pave the way for other churches around the country to follow, particularly those in remote, rural communities suffering directly from the ever-increasing shortage of priests.In a report entitled Island Ministry published on the Association of Catholic Priests’ website, Burke said, “Given that these islands have not had a full-time priest for the past 16 years, the people are used to ‘owning’ their church and organizing the day-to-day running of their parish.
“Clare Island has Mass two out of every three weekends, while Inishturk has Mass once every three weeks. On the weekends where there is no Mass, the islanders lead a Liturgy of the Word with Holy Communion.”
Burke said practical steps have also been taken to make sure some of the island’s inhabitants are equipped to run part of the funeral ceremony in the event where a visiting priest isn’t able to be there in person.
“Some islanders are trained for the evening part of a funeral if the priest can’t travel until the morning of the funeral Mass,” he explained.
He added, “The pastoral councils on both islands are vital to the life of the parish. They meet regularly. I’m only present occasionally. Their wisdom is of vital help to me.”