THIS coming weekend we will wave goodbye to Fr Shane Crombie when he celebrates his final Mass for Durrow Pattern.
When the announcement came that the popular curate was to leave Tullamore parish, there was a huge outpouring of sadness at his leaving but also of gratitude for the work he undertook for almost 15 years. He will now move on to pastures new in Navan.
A native of Rahugh, Fr Shane is the eldest of two brothers James and David born to parents, Ann and Sean, “My childhood was very happy, I only realised how happy my childhood was when I started working in schools and working closely with families and I realised how blessed I was to have a very happy and secure childhood. I always describe our home as very active. We knew our place and where we were in the world. There was really good structure and within that structure there was great freedom,” he recalls.
He never wanted to be anything other than a priest and his call came early in life.
“When I was a teenager, probably 14 or 15, I was expressing my interest to go for the priesthood. My parents would have been hesitant. It was a big step and I was still quite young, but still I was given the freedom to choose.” His home was not overly religious. “We went to Mass every Sunday but I wasn’t ushered in that direction. When I told my grandparents I wanted to be a priest even though they supported it, there was no clapping. This was the late 90s when we were in throes of all the crisis, child abuse and declining numbers in clergy, there was a great unknown.”
His grandfather was a big influence on his life and he credits him with teaching him how to pray.
“I was lucky, I always had a close relationship with my grandparents, they were of a different era and I got an insight into what their Catholic faith was to them. My grandfather, Mick Wyer, opened and locked the church and I would have spent a lot of time with him and I would have gone up to the church. While he was praying I was rooting in the rooms at the back of the altar to see what I could find. I learned to pray with him.” Fr Shane put his priestly calling on hold while he completed his Leaving Certificate at 17.
After his grandfather died he went to live with his grandmother for a year and went to college for a year.
“I was acting on advice from people saying I was too young, I should go to college and do this, that and the other. I went to Maynooth as a lay student. I spent a year there and I wasn’t there too long when I realised that’s what I wanted to do.”
He was just 18 when he entered the seminary in Maynooth.
“I remember on the first day in Maynooth. We were a relatively big group. Twenty-six started and 18 were ordained. We were an unusual group because we were the last of the young group, a lot of us were 17 or 18, at least 10 of us were that age. I was in Maynooth for three years and they were really really great years. I was in Rome for four years. There is always a tradition in the diocese of Meath to have students in Rome but at that stage there were none. There were three of us going from Philosophy into Theology so it was a natural break in the seminary so I was asked to go to the Irish College in Rome.”
He found Rome very different from Maynooth. “I was totally immersed in the life of the university. I was involved in the debating society and drama, there was a substantial number of seminarians, we had a presence on campus, it was tremendous, and they were great years. Rome was very different. The Irish college was a very secluded building, you would go down to the city to the university but we lived in the Irish College and did all our seminary training there as well. It definitely wasn’t as free, even though you were living in Rome which was a tremendous experience in its own right, it was a totally different atmosphere.”
Fr Shane was there for two very significant and historical events. “I was there when Pope John Paul was coming to his final days and died and was there for his funeral and the election of Benedict.”
“There was this phrase that it is better to go to Rome to get a sense of the universality of the church and I used to think that was one of the throw out statements.
But being in St Peter’s Square that night I got a sense of the universality of the church. I remember that night meeting a young father and his son, six or seven and they were from Scotland they weren’t Catholic, I don’t know if he was a believer at all. They happened to be in the square that night and they realised what was happening and stayed on. His impression was he had never witnessed anything like it, or expected anything like it.”
“Then Rome finished and I came home and I was ordained and I found myself in Tullamore.
The strange thing about being ordained is there is no warming up period, you are ordained, you are out then hearing confessions, saying Mass and I think there is an expectation when a priest is appointed to a parish, people see the role and the office not the person, particularly when you are a young priest, you are really trying to figure out how to do things. It takes several years in the seminary to know everything and seven years in a parish to realise you know nothing,” he commented. “I remember waking up one morning in the Parochial House. In the Irish College the ceilings were very high, when you woke up in the morning there was a big vacuum up to the ceiling. I remember waking up in my room in the parochial house and almost getting a fright the ceiling was so close to me, I thought where am I. Then I realised at that moment. Oh my God I’ve done it. I’m here now this is forever. In the seminary it’s never forever. This is a decision you have made for life and I remember that was a very deep moment, it was a lonely moment. You learn on the job and people are very good and patient. People are incredibly tolerant, and people put an awful lot of trust in you.
When a funeral comes, particularly in tragic circumstances, you have front row access to that, you are right in with the family, you’ve got access that nobody else has and that’s the tremendous trust that people put in you. That’s very humbling. I have to always realise that I’m Shane Crombie, I’m there because I’m a priest of Jesus Christ. ”
Fr Shane experiences his faith in a very deep and meaningful way. “At some stage in my life I discovered that God really loves me and that my faith is something that is incredibly important to me and is something incredibly deep. It gives meaning to my life, it’s the base rock on which everything is built on including my happiness, my hopes and fears. My role as a priest is how other people experience that.”
“I experienced from my parents a great love and great sense of sacrifice they would do anything for me. That is what God’s love is, a giving of everything for me. I’ve never had any doubts. One thing I thank God for is the gift of faith. I’ve never had any doubts about my faith and that has deepened over time. It’s not a spell or an injection, it doesn’t mean I haven’t had any troubles or woes over time. But my faith has always been very deep.”
So who is God for him and how would he describe God. “God is a person,God has revealed himself in Jesus. Jesus Christ has been revealed to us in the Gospels. I don’t believe in him as a sort of a cartoon, or a statue or something to see in a stained glass window. I believe in someone who is real and my relationship with him is a personal one.” “I wish I prayed more. One thing which is very important to me is adoration in the hospital. I find that chapel a very special place. I suppose my prayer is always connected with the Eucharist.
There is a story told about Mother Teresa who was giving a talk to priests in which she said every day priests should spend one hour on front of the Blessed Sacrament. This particular priest said this is all very well, I’m a very busy priest I have all these schools and the hospital to visit I have no time. It’s just not possible for me to spend one hour on front of the blessed sacrament and Mother Teresa said Father you are absolutely right you don’t need to spend a hour on front of the Blessed Sacrament you need to spend two hours.”
In the light of declining numbers in church, Fr Shane wonders are priests doing a good job.
“There are an awful lot of things to be occupied with, your time is very packed, the work never stops, it’s from one thing to the next to the next. You could have some plan made to go to the hospital and when you are in the hospital someone else calls you, we can be busy. I have to ask myself am I’m being busy for the sake of being busy or being busy for the Kingdom of God.”
“I think there is tremendous faith in our parish even with people who don’t go to Mass, there is faith and it’s surprising when you see it.”
“I believe there is a huge challenge for the parish to make sure as time goes on that there is a real living Christian community in Tullamore. I realise that the parish is a part of the community. We have to make sure the parish is a real good, kind, welcoming believing Christian community.”
“I think we have to realise that the model of the church we have had in the past is not going to continue. In certain circles of the church the way reorganisation is done is to prop up that model. Spread the priests as thinly as possible to keep as much of the stuff going as long as we can. I don’t think that that is the way to look at it, I think every era has its own way of expressing the faith. And every era has it own way of living as parish and I think we are in transition at the moment and I don’t think anybody knows. Transition is awkward, a parish is not priests. I have been asked to go some place else now but the people of Tullamore are still here. This is their parish and this is their community and everybody without exception has to play their part. That requires putting yourself out sometimes, people are phenomenally generous. People will happily give you money if you leave them alone then and don’t ask them to do anything.”
So will the church of the future involve married and women priests?
“Women priests there won’t be, married priests is another question. A Pan Amazonian Synod takes place this year in South America. We think we are bad here with one priest to three thousand people, out there it’s one to 40,000. I think all types of things will be looked at there.
But that’s not going to change anything now, it won’t help now, its something for the future, we have to concentrate on where we are now. We need to look at areas where life is at the moment
On the 21st of December we looked at suicide and mental health and there was a great response to that. I think we need to be very clued in to where people are. Because if the church remains a building on Harbour Street it’s just a monument as much as any other public building, We have to identify where the need is and respond to that. But the parish is not a social service, everything we do has to be in context . All other agencies can offer things infinitely better.”
Now that his time in Tullamore is drawing to a close, what are his thoughts on moving to Navan.
“I only realised how difficult this is going to be when I went to Navan yesterday to visit the parochial house. They are a lovely team and I got to see the rooms as well that I will be living in. I realised that this is home now or it has to become home. It was a bit overcoming to hear how things are done there. The impression is like the chess board you move from one square to the next but I don’t think it’s going to be like that, I think it will take a long time to transition, to say goodbye here, to leave Tullamore behind and then to go to a new place. Change always involves pain change is tough but change is good. I go back to what I said the only reason I’m going to Navan is because I’m a priest, the only reason I’m a priest is my love of Jesus.
Tullamore will always be special to me,” he concludes.