The history of the Passionists in the British Isles starts in 1841, when Blessed Dominic Barberi arrived in England. But St Joseph’s Province, as we have known it, emerged a little later in 1927, when Ireland and Scotland separated to form their own St Patrick’s Province.
For St Joseph’s—as for St Patrick’s—the next fifty years were a time of great missionary endeavour. Then, in the 1960s, Vatican II’s challenge of renewal called forth many fresh, creative developments in Passionist life-style and ministry.
What becomes clear now, though, is the depth of the change that was overtaking religious life. The scale of decline in vocations showed a need for a radical re-think of the structures of our Passionist institutional presence.
The late John Kearns sensed this; at the General Chapter of 2018, told me St Joseph’s was unlikely to be able to continue for long on its own and a discussion with St Patrick’s would be helpful. The following year, we committed to embark on a process of discernment of a new structure of cooperation and solidarity, and were joined by the Holy Hope province of the Netherlands. Discussion continued through 2020, although hampered by the Covid lockdown. Things were brought to a head by John’s sad death in March 2021.
It was a heavy blow to morale, for all of us but especially St Joseph’s, and sharpened the sense of the province’s limited capacity for self-governance. The Chapter in July decided against electing a provincial and council, but to seek integration with St Patrick’s province as the most realistic way to continue its life and mission. St Patrick’s Chapter the following week agreed, unanimously and gladly.
So we arrived to the General Synod in September 2022. On the agenda was a proposal to approve the ‘suppression’—a horrible word—of St Joseph’s Province, thus opening the way for its integration within St Patrick’s.
Questions were raised. Were other possibilities explored? Could the whole Congregation have helped with the challenges? What are the prospects for St Joseph’s houses continuing in existence? Is there a ‘strategy’ here, or just an ‘ad-hoc project’? In the end, the proposal found favour, with all votes in favour and just one abstention.
While it’s always sad ending a historic entity, and one with such a glorious history as St Joseph’s, I was left with the conviction that we were dismantling a structure, a province, but certainly not closing down the Passionist life and mission of St Joseph’s Province. The hope now must be to become one renewed as well as integrated Province of Ireland and Britian as we move forward to the future God creates. We’re haunted still, and given hope, by the ‘memory of the crucified’.
Passionist priests take vows of poverty, chastity, obedience, and to keep alive the memory of the passion. Four Passionists explain what the vows mean to them today.
Nov 11 2022
What does it mean to imagine our way outside of our 'own little world', as Pope Francis put it?
Nov 11 2022
The Learning Refuge continues to expand at pace, taking on new initiatives and responsibilities in a bid to deal with the scale of need.
Nov 10 2022