As you may have noticed by my Instagram posts recently, I am in Ireland! I have been so immensely blessed by the opportunity to study abroad for a semester in Dublin. I have wanted to visit Ireland for many years, so it is really exciting and fulfilling that I get to be here.
My second Sunday in the city included the first regular, local Mass I attended. The beautiful church known as St. Catherine’s of Alexandria welcomed me with open arms. I felt very connected to this church because of its devotion to Mary and its recent devastation.
During a tour of the area within my school’s orientation, our guide brought us to this church and taught us about its role in the community. In the past few years, this church burned. A fire was set in the building and the space suffered heavy damage. My high school chapel recently went through a similar crisis, so I knew the pain that this community felt. The people of the parish rallied together to restore their church. My favorite manifestation of this was their campaign to fix the roof. A donation of five euro would sponsor a tile on the roof, and each sponsor received a plaque to thank them for their contribution. Through the aide of this strong neighborhood, the church was restored to the beautiful space that it is now, as you can see below.
In an alcove in the back of the church, a small shrine is set up in remembrance of the fire. Several photographs are framed on the walls to show the damage, and a statue that was partially destroyed was left in its “tragically beautiful” burnt state as a tribute. There are candles to light as an offering at the feet of this statue. When I first entered the church with our tour guide, I was still looking at him as he described this alcove. When he finished speaking and gestured to the back, I turned to look at the statue, and instantly smiled. This particular image was of Mary Help of Christians. The Salesians have a very strong devotion to her, and seeing her in this alcove instantly created a sense of home. I felt the Holy Spirit surge within me as I looked upon Our Lady’s face, smudged with ash and smoke, but still beautiful. I thought of my home chapel, and how we also had an image of our mother get covered in soot but still remain a regal display. To see something so similar here… I knew God was connecting threads in my life right then. I knew that I was meant to be here. I knew that I had found a new spiritual home.
I returned for Mass shortly thereafter, and in all honesty, it felt like the Twilight Zone. Everything was the same but a little bit different. The most jarring change from Masses back home in America and Mass here was the speed. It was like the entire congregation was dialed up to eleven! Everyone spit back the responses as quickly as they could, even though that put people at mismatched paces. The Mass was full of cacophonous enthusiasm, and I was a little bit lost in it, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. The priest gave a lovely homily with a charming story about his childhood experiences as the introduction, and it was precious. I was very amused by his dire warnings that winter is upon us once more because the students have returned to school and the choir has returned from their summer hiatus.
I am eager to return to this beautiful church soon. Its history and its imagery remind me that God is my home everywhere, and that He is watching out for me and weaving my life together into a beautiful tapestry. Every place I go, every experience I have, is intentionally used for His plan. I am so excited to see what more He has in store for me!