Boyle Family Life Centre 30th Anniversary Conference

Address by Very Rev Dr. Michael Duignan, Chancellor of the Diocese of Elphin, 23rd November 2017

As Evelyn O’Donnell, Chairperson of the Board of Directors has already outlined the founding force behind the establishment of Boyle Family Life Centre was the Catholic Diocese of Elphin. Over the years Bishop Conway and Bishop Jones have always had a particular care for the centre and have been supportive of its work.

Unfortunately, Bishop Doran cannot be with us today. He has asked me to come to represent him and to represent the Diocese of Elphin’s continued interest in the centre and the work of supporting individuals, families and the local community.

Boyle Family Resource Centre and the Diocese of Elphin

As you are aware, last year, difficulties with state funding for groups in this area that wished to maintain a Catholic outlook meant that the Diocese of Elphin had to regrettably weaken its link with the Centre. The end result was the formation of a new entity – Boyle Family Resource Centre – as a body independent of the Church.

Although times and even structures have changed, that does not mean that people who live their lives inspired by the wisdom of their Catholic faith no longer have anything to contribute to the conversation around family and community life.

World Meeting of Families 2018

At the moment the Catholic Church in Ireland is busy preparing to host the 9th International World Meeting of Families. It was started in 1993 under the inspiration of Pope Saint John Paul II.  Every three years it “brings together families from across the world to celebrate, pray and reflect upon the central importance of marriage and the family as the cornerstone of our lives, of society and of the Church.” (World Meeting of Families 2018, Website) This family-focused event itself is of such importance for the Church that it is expected that Pope Francis himself will travel to Ireland to attend and take part.

The Family – “a good that society cannot do without”

Amid the ever changing tides of our contemporary world – Christian wisdom over and over again points to marriage and the family as of key importance not only for the church, but also for our local communities and for society in general. Pope Francis speaks of the Family as “a good that society cannot do without” and he insists that “it ought to be protected.” (AL, 44)

A Common Consensus: The Family is Important

During the week, I watched a video clip of Irish troops returning from a tour of duty abroad being united with their family. Tears flowed, kisses and embraces were warmly exchanged as they met in the arrivals area of Dublin Airport. Children were lifted up into long hugs, mammies cried. A variety of homemade children’s signs reading “Welcome Home Mammy” or “Welcome Home Daddy” were everywhere. There was a palpable sense of the utter importance of family to all who were there.

We can debate and even disagree about what defines a family or what family life should be about – but one thing I think everyone would agree on is that family is important.

The Good News of the Family

Over and over again, contemporary Catholic wisdom draws our attention to the importance of family and invites people of faith to intentionally work to promote, care for and support all that is good in family life. In fact the theme for the 9th World Meeting of Families is “The Gospel of the Family. Joy for the World”. The word Gospel meaning “good news” – the good news of the family that is Joy for our oft saddened world. As Pope Francis puts it “the Christian proclamation on the family is good news indeed.” (AL,1)

Family is where we start out life, family is where we are nourished on the road of life, and family is where we learn the basics of what it is to be a person and how to love and live life with other people. The family is where our God-given spiritual and religious openness is nurtured and grows. Family can bring us the greatest of happiness in life and because of its unique importance to us, family can also at times cause us the greatest pain in life.

The Church as a Field Hospital

Pope Francis, is a Pope who has over and over again reminded Christians of their God given call to have a particular concern for those on what he calls the “margins of life”.  In an interview, he gave to Father Antonio Spadaro the editor of the Jesuit-affiliated Italian journal La Civiltà Cattolica in 2013 he explains that:

“The thing the church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity. I see the church as a field hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars! You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else. Heal the wounds, heal the wounds. … And you have to start from the ground up.”

We all know of families on the margins of life, families in difficulty – in difficulty for a wide variety of reasons – social reasons, economic reasons, and personal reasons. The people who work with families here in Boyle know this only too well. In a sense you often find yourselves starting from the ground up, toiling in that field hospital of injured families – there working to care for families in crisis and to heal their wounds.

Father Edward Flanagan and the Family

In a few weeks’ time, on 12th December, we will celebrate the hundredth anniversary of the foundation of what is now known as Boys and Girls Town in Omaha, Nebraska by Fr Edward Flanagan (1886-1948), a native of Co Roscommon. As you may be aware, the process to have Fr Flanagan declared a saint is well under way. From his extensive experience working with children on the margins of society, Fr Flanagan over and over again emphasised the role of the family as “the place where children are nurtured and their characters developed”. For him “family is a great sustaining power for young people.”(New York Times, 1947). He insists that “the training of youth for citizenship properly should start in the home. The influence of home environment upon the thought and behaviour of the child is an influence that will be carried through life for better or for worse.” (New York Times, 1947)

The Responsibility of the Whole Community

I think Father Flanagan would be in agreement with the title chosen for today’s conference – “It takes a community to raise a child”. As well as recognising the importance of family, he was ever keen to widen the circle of responsibility and point out that one of the greatest duties of each community is the task of forming the next generation (Outline of Speech for Ireland, 1946). On many occasions, he returns to the idea that “the preparation of youth for citizenship is essential to the life of any nation” and that “a nation has no greater treasure than the treasure represented in its young men and young women.” (Outline of Speech for Ireland, 1946)

Reflecting on his experiences of assisting at the request of President Harry Truman, with the reconstruction of the child care system in Korea and Japan after World War II, he insists that religion has the capacity to shed light on this matter and that people of faith should not be afraid to voice their opinions in this regard.

The Contribution of Catholic Wisdom

Although times have certainly changed, I believe that the Catholic wisdom that Pope Francis speaks of, the Catholic faith that Fr Flanagan drew on for inspiration in his work and the faith vision of the Diocese of Elphin that inspired the foundation of the Boyle Family Life Centre in 1987, has still a very valuable contribution to make today. It holds up marriage and the family as the nurturing space for our humanity and society. It calls on men and women of faith to care for and support family and family life. It inspires action at the margins for families in need and it emphasises that this responsibility is not somebody else’s but each and every Christian’s and indeed citizen’s duty and responsibility.

Treasuring the Past, Looking Towards the Future

Today is a day for celebrating all those who down through the years here in Boyle have taken up that faith-inspired challenge to work with families. It is a day to take stock – to look to the past and to treasure and learn from what was best there. It is also a day to look forward to the future and the work that needs to be done and has yet to be done in this area. I am sure that those involved will treasure their inspired roots. I wish the entire community of persons involved in Boyle Family Resource Centre all God’s blessings as you continue the work of supporting, individuals families and communities into the future.