It was a dignified and moving retreat that is being replicated in towns, cities and country areas right across Ireland. Last Sunday, the Dominican friars moved out of their church in Athy in solemn procession for the last time, ending an ancient association with the Kildare town that goes back to the 13th century.
They closed up their church, St Dominick’s, for good, and the priest Fr John Harris remarked ruefully: “We can’t blame Henry VIII or Cromwell this time.”
That was an historic reference to forced closures in times of persecution centuries ago.
In the past, Protestant kings may have suppressed monasteries, but just a year short of their 800th anniversary, the Dominicans are now being engulfed by the surging tide of secularism.
Father Harris said as the church closed for the last time: “This is a day no one ever wanted to see dawn, but it is here.”
The problem for the Dominicans, as well as the members of other orders, religious sisters and diocesan clergy is that the Catholic Church is literally dying out in many places.
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