For Fr. Paddy Byrne, life is busy. His ministry is spread across three churches, encompassing masses, funerals, weddings, baptisms and day-to-day pastoral care. On top of that, he is chaplain in four schools, writes a weekly column in the local newspaper, and a blog on the parish website.
As the youngest priest in the diocese of Kildare and Leighlinn, Fr. Paddy sees no real sign of ordinations coming after him. There are only fifteen priests in the diocese under the age of forty-five. In the next five years approximately twenty priests are going to retire, which means that in five years time it's likely that there will only be sixty priests to serve fifty parishes in a population of over 250,000 people.
As clergy numbers continue to diminish, Fr. Paddy shares his vision on how the church will survive into the future. 'The work is increasing and the number of priests on the ground is decreasing. The challenge at all times is to renew and to listen to the mood of the spirit, and the spirit is challenging lay people to take leadership in the church.'
Having been ordained ten years ago, his whole priesthood has been in the milieu of scandal in the Catholic Church. While he feels disconnected from the 'official church', he is happy and fulfilled by his life in the 'local church' and the parish that he serves.
Being a young priest can be lonely, particularly at weddings. "I love celebrating a wedding, but I find it very difficult walking into the hotel on your own, looking around and wondering if there is anyone there I know. After the meal the music starts and you'd love to be able to go out and dance, but not having a woman with you to do that. I think it's a lonely moment walking out of every wedding and it reminds me of the cross of celibacy."
We get an insight into what it's like to be a priest on the ground as we follow Fr. Paddy going about his daily work in the vibrant parish of Bagenalstown, Co. Carlow. He talks about being called to the priesthood, his faith, his frustration with the leadership of the Church, celibacy, and his role as a priest in the community.
Produced by Sarah Blake.
Sound Supervision by Anton Timoney.
First broadcast Saturday 27th November, 6pm
An Irish radio documentary from RTÉ Radio 1, Ireland - Documentary on One - the home of Irish radio documentaries.