Diocesan Vocations Directors from around Ireland gathered for their annual conference in Saint Patrick’s College, Maynooth on Sunday 26 and today, Monday 27 October on the theme “I will make you fishers of men”.

The conference was opened by Bishop Donal McKeown, Bishop of Derry and Chairman of the Bishops’ Conference Council for Vocations. In his opening address Bishop McKeown said: “Vocations to the priesthood and religious life are firmly on the agenda of the Irish Catholic Church and any opportunity for a group like this to come together to discuss and to plan for vocations strategies is to be welcomed. I am heartened not only by the number of dioceses represented at this year’s conference but by the genuine enthusiasm being shown by vocations directors for their ministry and work. Gatherings like this afford us time to focus on important questions – like how we promote vocations in a missionary Church and for a missionary Church and how we share insights on what is working in local parishes and dioceses when it comes to the promotion of priesthood and religious life. I am sure that vocations directors will be further encouraged and inspired in their work as they return to their dioceses.”

Also in attendance at the conference were Bishop Kevin Doran, Bishop of Elphin, Monsignor Hugh Connolly, President of Saint Patrick’s College, Maynooth, Father Willie Purcell, National Coordinator for Diocesan Vocations, Sister Phyllis Moynihan from Vocations Ireland and members of the Bishops’ Council for Vocations.

The keynote speaker for the conference was Father Stephen Langridge a priest of the Diocese of Southwark (UK) and Chairman of the England and Wales Vocations Directors Conference. Father Langridge also runs the UK’s first dedicated residential centre for nurturing a culture of discipleship and vocations promotion. Since he began this work in 2005 the number of seminarians in Southwark diocese has more than doubled with 20 men currently accepted by the diocese as students for the priesthood.

Father Langridge spoke to the vocations directors on topics such as promoting vocations to priesthood in parishes and dioceses, the importance of a good formation programme for vocations directors as well as an induction programme for new vocations directors. There was discussion on the issues of selection and assessment of candidates for priesthood. Father Langridge said: “Vocations Directors are not paper pushers filling in and checking forms but are exercising an important ecclesial ministry and it is important that as vocations directors we recognise this”. He went on to say that the best people to promote vocations in parishes are priests themselves but that sometimes there is a lack of confidence. He said that as a Church we need to help priests to recover their confidence in themselves and in their priestly ministry.”

There was time for discussion and sharing of information and experiences in dioceses around the country. A new monthly vocations newsletter for vocations directors and for parishes was launched as part of the conference