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Reflecting on 150 years of St Eugene's Cathedral - What is relevant in today’s church

Jane Feeney: a sense of homecoming

St Eugene's parishioner Jane Feeney, wasn't raised in this parish of St Eugen's Cathedral but senses the real presence of Jesus every time she enters this expansive sacred space.

Originally from England, Jane moved to a flat just behind the Cathedral 11 years ago. Confirmed here by Fr Paul Farren, she is a committed member of St Eugene's parish. Jane revealed the healing power of faith in her life.

"I lost my mum 16 months ago and I found it very difficult to come to terms with. But I turned to the Lord, and He has helped me so much. I love Him, I really do. I get up at 5 every morning to offer thanks to the Lord for the new day.

"I watched the 8 am Mass online from the Cathedral every morning during Covid. But it was wonderful to be able to return to St Eugene's and especially to be able to receive the Eucharist again. "It felt like coming home.

"Adoration time is special time to me. I love being in the real presence of the Lord. Morning, noon and night, I offer adoration. It has brought me into a deeper connection with Jesus. Wherever Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament is available, I go there, often here in the Cathedral, sometimes St Joseph's in Galliagh, sometimes as far as Buncrana. I've prayed to the Lord about big decisions in my life recently and I really feel he is guiding me to follow Him." 

St Eugene's Cathedral parishioner, Jane Feeney

Fr Neil McGoldrick: a fulfilling ministry serving St Eugene's for more than a decade

Originally from Buncrana, Fr Neil McGoldrick was ordained in 1971. He taught maths and science in Carndonagh College for two years, before being transferred to Carndonagh Community School.

Fr McGoldrick arrived in St Eugene's Cathedral in 1983, becoming Administrator in 1984 and serving there until 1997.

Due in part to the Troubles and prevailing socio-economic challenges, these were turbulent times in the city, but Fr McGoldrick remembers his years in the Cathedral as "very fulfilling".

"I really enjoyed my time in St Eugene's. They were very different times, in many ways to today. There was a lot of pain, a lot of suffering in the community. That's not to say there isn't now, but it was different. The parishoners faced difficulties bravely, with great courage. And that was connected, I felt, to their faith. They maintained a sense of positivity,made the most of things. I think it's important to remember that every age, from the time this Cathedral was founded, throws up different challenges. But there is always hope.

"When the Troubles finally ended, there was a palpable sense of joy. It was wonderful. I think people felt liberated. I look back on the time I spent here in St Eugene's, as very fulfilling."

Fr McGoldrick served in Fahan for a further 22 years after leaving St Eugene's. Now retired, he continues to offer Mass in the parishes of Desertegney and Dunree.

Stick around anywhere for 150 years, and there's not much you haven't seen. Hunger, deprivation, partition, conflict, financial crisis, pandemic, St Eugene's has known all of these. But it has remained an enduring presence, and a source of hope and guidance - according to members of the 50 parish congregations that make up the Derry Diocese and the priests who've served here. 

Fr Neil McGoldrick

John Diver: developing options for greater lay participation

Greater lay participation will help ensure the survival of the faith, especially - but by no means only - in rural communities where having a parish priest in permanent residence cannot be guaranteed into the future, John Diver, of the Pastoral Training Programme in Clonmany suggests.

Involved in a formal process of training for the last 18 months, Mr Diver and other members of the parish pastoral group, are confident that increased lay involvement will ultimately strengthen the church.

He is helping deliver the progamme under the guidance of the current Parish Priest, Derryman, Fr Brian Brady and the Bishop's Office.

Facing up to the challenges presented by dwindling vocations to the priesthood and exploring ways to share the faith and continue to offer prayerful communal worship, is essential, he says.

"There is a recognition of where the church is going, and it is evident that the church is in a process of change. Pope Francis has put an emphasis on synodality – we had to change. The church will be less centred on old structures. It takes a bit of getting used to. But the future lies we think, in lay people taking the church to themselves to ensure it survives.

"Through the Programme of Pastoral Training, we are developing options for greater lay participation."

The crisis in vocations has forced congregations to revaluate what matters, he suggests.

"There is a concern in our parish for instance, that come August we might not have a priest in residence. We are looking to the Cathedral and to the bishop and priests for guidance. There will be change but we are confident that the church will survive." 

John Diver and members of the parish of Clonmany, parish leadership team

Niamh McLaughlin: all you have ears to hear

Listening, especially to the voices of young people, is a key ministry in the church today, according to Niamh McLaughlin, Youth Co-ordinator of the Derry Diocese.

In her experience, young people are articulating a "compassion agenda", that seems rooted in youth culture. Contrary to popular opinion, she isn't convinced that youth don't want to be actively involved in the church.

"Young people here in this city and across the diocese, are searching for meaning in the world as it is today and for a sense of belonging. They want to be involved in faith, that's certainly what I'm hearing. They often feel they are expected to show up, but they aren't being actively reached out to.

"In my experience young people know when others come to them with an agenda. They aren't interested in 'tick box' exercises, a token youth presence.

"We don't have an agenda – the agenda is their's to decide. We don't judge, we don't, for example, ask if you go to Mass. We simply want to be open to what young people are thinking, feeling and saying. Some of them feel they are blamed or at least labelled – in the sense that, people often say 'sure young people don't want to be involved in the church'. I'm not sure about that at all.

"We are opening conversations across the entire diocese and we are listening to what's being said, including what young people are saying online."

There is a lot to be positive about in what Niamh and the other youth workers are hearing in terms of caring about others and the environment, but they are also attentive to the issues that can be difficult or uncomfortable to express.

"Social justice, homelessness, climate change, compassion – these are among the issues that are very important to young people today. And we need to think about what we can do for them.

"We want to hear their voice" she says – before adding an emphatic, "No matter what!" 

Niamh McLaughlin, Youth Co-ordinator, Diocese of Derry.
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Diocesan Offices
St Eugene’s Cathedral
Francis Street, Derry
BT48 9AP

Tel: 028 7126 2302

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