Bishop-Elect Kevin Doran: “Vocation is not about achievement or personal advancement.”

The truism that “the past is a foreign country, they do things differently there” is very apt when you compare Ireland of the 1950s to the present-day.  
Bishop-elect Kevin Doran was born in June 1953 in a Dublin that was poles apart from modern Ireland. In the 1950s, the majority of Dubliners attended Sunday Mass. A 2011 poll showed a mere 14 per cent observed the Sabbath in the Dublin area. 
In the Ireland of Fr Doran’s youth, people were more likely to accept the authority of bishops. Fr Doran, who will be ordained a bishop on July 13, will exercise his ministry in a Church in which bishops have to earn respect and trust, and in a society in which, for many, his ministry will not be regarded as particularly relevant. Pope Francis has appointed him to the rural Diocese of Elphin, which has 37 parishes, 90 churches and a population of 70,000. 
Fr Doran was raised in the seaside area of Dún Laoghaire. The eldest child of middle-class Dubliners Joseph and Marie Doran, he has two younger sisters. 

His father was a maths teacher, but also prepared young children for First Holy Communion. He must have done a decent job, because Fr Doran has received letters in recent weeks from past pupils of his father, praising his dedication and his care.
But while his parents were devout, Fr Doran says, “they didn’t push us, they led us by their own example. They showed the importance of service, hard work and care of others.”

They were expected to go to Sunday Mass and every so often said a family rosary. His family nudged them in the direction of doing more than their obligations. He recalls: “During the summer holidays, when we were sleeping in, my dad would walk up and down outside our rooms, asking us if we would not think of going to morning Mass, instead of staying in bed. But it was left up to us. No one forced us.” 
Fr Doran’s family is dotted with relatives who were priests and nuns. There is a London link in that his uncle, Fr Hilary Doran, was the prior of the Kensington Carmel on Notting Hill during the Blitz and had to brush incendiary devices off the priory roof in wartime. 
Years later Fr Doran was at his uncle’s side when he was dying. He says: “He never lost the original purpose of his vocation. He grew into it more and more. That’s something so important for us to learn. A vocation is not something that happens in an instant – a spark that lasts a minute or a day – but is a lifelong relationship.” 
Fr Doran was inspired to become a priest in part by the example of a teacher who was a religious Brother. Brother Finbarr, a chemistry teacher, was 25 years older, but it was his simple faith, his way of living out the Gospel by his life of generous service that inspired the young Kevin to become a priest. 
When he told his parents, at the age of 17, that he wanted to enter seminary they were a bit wary. At that time in 1970s, when priests were still held in high esteem by Irish society, it would have been easy for his parents to keep their qualms to themselves. But they reminded their son of his young age and asked him if he was sure that he didn’t want to do a degree first. 
Fr Doran explains why they were hesitant. “My father had been a novice in De la Salle Brothers for a number of years. My parents understood the challenge and thought that it might be better to wait until I had more life experience.” But once he decided to persevere with a priestly vocation they gave their wholehearted support. 
He entered seminary after finishing secondary school. It turned out that shortly after he was ordained a priest his mentor, Brother Finbarr, entered the seminary. 
Fr Kevin Doran, Archbishop Martin and Pope Benedict

Fr Doran has now served for 37 years as a priest. He has spent the past 18 months in Donnybrook, Dublin 4, one of the most affluent parts of Ireland. His appointment to the Diocese of Elphin will be a dramatic change, from the quarters of well-heeled Dubliners to the rustic confines of the counties of Roscommon, Sligo, Westmeath and Galway. When I mention this, he is completely undaunted. "Sure, I’ll miss Dublin because most of my friends and family are in Dublin. But in Elphin, I’m going to have a lot of new friends and responsibilities. I’ve always felt that wherever the Church asks me to go, the spirit was guiding it.”  
I’m impressed by his willingness to venture into the depths of the Irish countryside, but he did after all spend four years as parish priest in Glendalough, one of the most rural parts of Dublin diocese. “That’s my street cred for a rural diocese,” he jokes.
When I ask about his new responsibilities he explains that, in addition to his own diocese, each bishop is assigned one or more portfolios for which he has a particular responsibility at national level. “I won’t know what they are until after I’m ordained in July,” he says. 
He seems remarkably down to earth about his new appointment, reflecting the type of shepherd that Francis expects. The Pope has underlined that becoming a member of the hierarchy is not a promotion, and Fr Doran echoes this, saying: “Vocation is not about achievement or personal advancement.” 
He seems to have a very steady character, so quietly certain of his own vocation, and I ask him if he ever has drops in his faith. “There’s times, like most people, that I get up in the morning and ask myself: ‘What’s the point?’ If I wake up and think to myself, ‘Oh no, I wish I didn’t have to get up for the 7.30 Mass’, that doesn’t mean I don’t want to be a priest anymore, but it may mean  that I should have gone to bed earlier. We can’t let our lives be ruled by transient feelings like that.” 
Have there been any experiences that have strengthened his vocation? “I had been a priest for many years,” he says, “before I realised that God loved me as I was. I didn’t have to prove myself worthy in order for God to love me. God’s love is never taken back. We can become what God wants us to be because of His love.”
One of the tenets of his priestly life so far has been a tireless dedication to marriage preparation. He thinks his awareness of the love of God has made him better able to help couples. “I try to get couples to take on-board that their love for each other comes from God,” he says. “I love working with couples who are preparing for marriage. There’s so much joy, and hope. I like to remind them that is they who will make the love of God real for their children.”
While insisting that “an essential element of the mission of the Church is to reach out to people who do not share our faith”, he says: “It is equally important is to nourish ourselves with relationships with people who do share our faith… St Paul warns against harnessing ourselves in an uneven team with unbelievers. This is the metaphors of horses pulling a plough in different directions, leading only to chaos.” 
But is the Church doing enough for young singletons? He points out that the Church does have organisations such as Youth 2000 which run prayer groups and festivals where young Catholics can meet a huge variety of other Catholics. There are the World Youth Days, too. But he concedes that young Catholics in Ireland feel they are in a minority. This is a sharp swing from the Ireland of Fr Doran’s youth, when practising Catholics were the mainstream. 
What does he think is the inhibitor, stopping this generation of Irish people from practising the faith as a normal way of life? “In my generation people reacted against a situation in which priests and nuns were authority figures in school, who were sometimes perceived to exert too much control,” he says. 
I mention that most young people, my age, did not know priests or nuns as schoolteachers. “They may have inherited baggage from their parents,” he suggests.
“More importantly, however, our culture is far more materialistic than it was and an excessive focus on what we have and what we want inevitably conflicts with a lived faith. Parents of faith experience themselves as ‘battling against the tide’  Many just don’t bother any more. From an early age, a disproportionate emphasis is placed on the material and social success of children at the expense of their spiritual growth. 

We, as the Church, need to support parents, but they also need to support one another. There are some great examples of generous commitment in our parishes; young parents running family friendly liturgies.” 

Fr Doran pauses and concedes: "But somehow it doesn’t carry over into the teen years. That’s a challenge for us all."

This interview originally appeared in the print edition of THE CATHOLIC HERALD.


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