Hallowe’en; All Saints; All Souls

How long has the tradition of Hallowe’en been around and why did it begin? Perhaps it started with the pagan festival of Samhain (one of the four major festivals in the Celtic Calendar – 1st February: Imbolc; 1st May: Bealtaine; 1st August: Lughnasa; 1st November: Samhain).

Festival of Samhain

Festival of Samhain

The festival of Samhain is a celebration of the end of the harvest season. The Celts were avid followers of nature and the cycle of life. They observed that in October plants died animals disappeared, days grew shorter and nights grew longer. Samhain was a time used by ancient pagans to take stock of supplies and prepare for winter. The ancient Gaels believed that on October 31, the boundaries between the worlds of the living and the dead overlapped and the deceased would come back to life and cause havoc such as sickness or damaged crops.

On October 31 and November 1st every year they would try to pacify Samhain (the god of death) with food and also scare him off with bonfires (bone-fires: kindled from skeletons of sacrificed animals). They carved lanterns out of turnips. Masks and costumes were worn in an attempt to mimic the evil spirits or appease them.

How is this connected with Christianity? When Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, deliberate efforts were made to announce its victory over paganism. This was done by replacing pagan symbols, places and feasts with Christian ones. In the ninth century, the Church officially designated November 1st as All Saints’ Day, a celebration commemorating all the saints (people who we are sure are in heaven). The night before became known as All Hallows’ Evening (Hallowe’en for short), a holy vigil to draw attention to the following day.

Over time, different cultures have added to the evolution of Hallowe’en. Medieval beggars knocked on doors for ‘soul cakes’ in exchange for prayers for the household’s deceased members. Costumes became a way for people to participate in pageant form in the story of life, death and what happens hereafter. Brought across the world by Irish emigrants, the feast eventually lost any religious significance and became a purely secular event.

All Saints' Day

All Saints’ Day

What about November 1st? This is All Saint’s Day and is a holy day of obligation – Catholics should attend Mass on this day. It celebrates the lives of all Christians who have died in a state of grace.

But what is a saint? Saints, broadly speaking, are those who follow Jesus and live their lives according to his teaching. Catholics, however, also use the term narrowly to refer to holy men and women who, through extraordinary lives of virtue, have already entered Heaven. St. Paul often addressed his letters to ‘the saints’ of a particular place. The assumption was that those who followed Christ had been so transformed, that they were now different from other men and women and should be considered holy. Soon, however, the meaning began to change. As Christianity began to spread, it became clear that some people lived lives of heroic virtue while others struggled to live out the Gospel of Christ. The word ‘saint’ took on the narrower meaning of those who easily practised the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity.

Why is November 2nd significant in the Catholic Church? This day is called All Souls’ Day and it commemorates all those who have died and are now in Purgatory being cleansed of their venial sin and atoning before fully entering Heaven. Praying for the dead is a Christian obligation. The Church devotes the month of November to prayer for the Holy Souls in Purgatory.

The triduum of Hallowe’en, All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day may have its roots in a Celtic pagan festival, but today the last two have a richly Catholic significance with the first being a reminder of the holy days that follow.

All Souls' Day

All Souls’ Day


6th Year Retreat Nov 2013

heldyouinthepalmTo retreat means to take a step back. With sincere thanks to Fr Ulic, our College Rector, the 6th Years will have a chance to do just that. The Emmaus Retreat Centre, in Swords offers a programme of reflection and faith development in an environment of peace and serenity, away from the hectic pace of life. In the centre’s own words:

The sound of birdsong and the profusion of wildlife all add to the beauty and tranquility of the place. Here God and nature dwell in harmony.

In the gospel story of the journey to Emmaus, it was while in conversation on the road that the disciples had their ears and hearts opened to Gods Word. It was in the sharing of the bread that the disciples recognised Jesus. Our hope is that those who come to Emmaus will experience the presence of Jesus in their lives as they ‘break bread’ together and break open the word of God.

Let us remember the words of Isaiah, the prophet, as the students embark on a journey of discovery while searching for answers in a world full of temptations and misdirections: “I will not forget you… I have held you in the palm of my hand.” Whatever our path in life, whatever our choices, it is good to remember that we are always safe in the palm of God’s hand.

The 6th Year retreat takes place on Monday 11th November. We will start with Mass at 8.30 am celebrated by Fr Ulic in the college chapel and then proceed to Emmaus to start at 9.45 am. Many thanks to the generosity of Fr Ulic and the Franciscan Community at Gormanston.

Changing Times with Pope Francis

Pope Francis is a new kind of pope. He is causing a stir because he is moving away from many of the conventional trappings that have long been associated with the papacy. From the outset he has made some changes that represent his new approach to his role of leadership. Take a look at these images showing the changes to the papal throne and papal clothing:

A simpler throne

A simpler throneSimpler ClothingSimpler clothing

These changes indicate Pope Francis’s desire to move away from ostentatious and superficial trimmings.

The pope is also gaining a wonderful reputation as a ‘man of the people’. This is clear by his involvement with young and old, his willingness to be of service and most notably the millions that he inspired at the Papal Mass in Rio last July during World Youth Week. These images are representative of the great humanity of Pope Francis:

A selfie with the Pope

A selfie with the Pope

Washing Feet - True Service

Washing feet – true service

Three Million Attend mass

Three million attend mass

In a recent controversial statement, Pope Francis claimed that he could not judge gay people. This was widely welcomed by many Irish and international groups. And finally, Pope Francis has recently gained attention by changing the traditional ‘pope-mobile’. He is taking on a 30-year old vehicle similar to one he drove in Argentina and says he will drive it himself. Let’s see the old and the new (which is in fact older than the old)!

Old Popemobile

Old popemobile

'New' Popemobile (1984 Renault)

‘New’ popemobile (1984 Renault)

Our thoughts, prayers and best wishes are with Pope Francis as he guides his followers through the changing times of the 21st century. You can follow some of the inspiring words of Pope Francis on twitter: @Pontifex


The Holocaust (Learning about and from it)

Senior Religion this year will see students and teachers engaging in a deeply sensitive and eye-opening topic – The Holocaust. Some of our approaches will involve looking at historical facts and personal stories. An understanding of the roles played by all people associated with the Holocaust – perpetrators, victims, rescuers and bystanders will also be a big feature of our studies. We will question how such an atrocity could ever have happened, and how it is possible to go from bias (non-criminal) to the annihilation of an ethnic group – genocide.

The Pyramid of Hate

The Pyramid of Hate

As the course continues students will read stories based on fact, research the events and look at a film portraying a viewpoint of the Holocaust. One of the key aims is to examine our own behaviour as non-criminal people, but still to identify our role in preventing any level of individual prejudice and combatting systematic discrimination. Here is the reading list that will be furnished to students:

Reading List:

‘If This is Man’ and ‘The Truce’ by Primo Levi

‘The Reader’ by Bernard Schlink

Neighbours’ by Jan T Gross

‘The Diary of a Young Girl’ by Anne Frank

‘Fateless’ by Imre Kertesz

‘Beyond These Walls: Escaping the Warsaw Ghetto’ by Janina Bauman

‘The Book Thief’ by Markus Zusak

‘Nine Suitcases’ by Bela Zsolt

‘Hanna’s Suitcase’ by Karen Levine

‘Faraway Home’ by Marilyn Taylor

‘Sophie Scholl and the White Rose’ by Annette Dumbac and Jud Newborn


Schindler’s List

Life is Beautiful

The Pianist


The Counterfeiters













From an academic point of view, this aspect of the Senior Religion course will be advantageous due to its cross-curricular nature. Current history, English and future psychology, philosophy students will derive countless benefits from this in-depth study. These lessons will encompass some of the characteristics at the core of human nature – survival, fear, aggression, struggle, protection, indifference, compassion, hope, love to name but a few.

By way of introduction, we will look at an artefact found at Auschwitz-Birkenau – a shoe – in order to gain an understanding of the person (a child) behind that artefact. Have a look at this profound examination of such a shoe:

Fundraising from the Camino – the Gary Kelly Centre

What a delight it was to meet Ann Tracey from the Gary Kelly Centre in Drogheda on Wednesday. As Director of Fundraising she came to Gormanston to officially receive the cheque for 1,350Euro gathered by the students who walked the Camino last March. Nine students walked and five of them – Sean Brennan, Kate Brennan, Jake Malone, Robert Tully and Sean Hayes raised money for the centre. What a whopping sum between them. The walk itself was a major challenge, so the additional effort of asking friends, family, neighbours, teachers and more is highly commendable.

A Fantastic Donation

A Fantastic Donation

Franciscan College Gormanston Run for Pieta House

Darkness into Light 5km Run/Walk

Calling 5th/6th Year Runners/Walkers

What: 5km run/walk

When: 4am Sat 11th May 2013

Where: Newbridge House, Donabate

Why: In aid of Pieta House: Suicide and Self-Harm Crisis Centre

How much: 15euro

(Starts at 4am in order to cross the line just as dawn is breaking.)

Darkness into Light is the flagship fundraising and awareness event for Pieta House, and without support, they could not have helped over 7,300 people in distress over the last 7 years.

The Pieta House Vision

Its vision is to provide suicide and self-harm support services within 100 kilometres of everyone in Ireland.

Its mission statement

Pieta House wants to:

  • reduce the number of deaths by suicide
  • reduce the number of people engaging in self-harm
  • bring about social change

For more details, and to join the Gormanston Team, see Miss Ryan, Miss Meighan or Mr Black. And get out there training!

5th Years Walk to Santiago de Compostela

Snow, Sunshine, Smiles

WELL DONE to the Franciscan College Gormanston 5th Years. After 8 days and 160 km + of walking, they reached Santiago Cathedral on March 28th along the Camino de Santiago. Fantastic!! Physically, spiritually, socially it was a very demanding and challenging experience, but at the same time very rewarding and worthwhile.

Friends, Food, Fun

Here is a slideshow of their amazing achievement. The captions on the pictures refer to lyrics from the following songs used in the presentation: “You Get What You Give” (New Radicals), “Feeling Good” (Muse), “Forever Young” (Alphaville), and “In the Sun” (Michael Stipe and Chris Martin). A full write-up will follow shortly but pictures first!!

Gormanston Camino 2013 by MissKRyan

Camino Prep Hike 3 – Slieve Donard Again

What a tough but thoroughly rewarding hike on Saturday 9 February. It was the second time for the Camino group to take on Slieve Donard, but this time a more challenging route was taken. The starting point was Bloody Bridge and the hike continued along the course of the river with the same name. Bloody Bridge River is a spate river – meaning in dry weather it is just a trickle and easy to cross, but in rainy conditions it can be a torrent. Crossing over the boulders was a bit tricky indeed as the river flooded around them.

It was onwards and upwards through the mist and muck. As we rose higher, spatterings of snow were all around and it was hard to resist throwing snowballs. The mist lifted briefly for everyone to enjoy crossing through a stone quarry with a gushing (but small) waterfall. The hike up was tough among the stones and heavy muck. Even the most experienced hikers in the group could not avoid a slip or two.

Reaching the Mourne Wall was a relief, but only because no-one had a clue of the mossy, stony, and horrendously steep trek to the summit. There were sandwiches and snowballs before the gruelling ascent began. Despite the exhaustion, a great sense of achievement was felt by all to finally reach the 850m peak of Donard. It was just barely possible to see the sea from the top.

Downhill might be pleasing to the mind, but was in fact quite tricky on the body with a few more slips by some. At the saddle between Donard and its neighbouring peak Commedagh a major snowball attack took place. Liam and Sean H on one side of the wall were a strong match for everyone else! After that the group headed down the valley of the Glen River in more rocky and rather slippy conditions.

Fair play to all the students on the hike and to Adam’s mam for coming along too. Despite the wet, cold and mucky day, everyone was in good spirits and certainly enjoyed the challenge of the hike.

One guarantee – the 155km trek along the Camino will be a walk in the park compared to the preparation hikes undertaken by the best bunch of students ever! Here’s a slideshow of that difficult hike:

Slieve Donard 9.2.13 by MissKRyan

Follow Pope Benedict on Twitter

If you like to tweet and are interested in religion, then the ideal person to follow is, of course Pope Benedict XVI. His messages are very positive and enlightening. Here is a list of other inspiring and religious people to follow on twitter.

@Pontifex (Benedict XVI)

@religiontoday (Religion Today)

@TheDivineWedgie (The Divine Wedgie)

@DalaiLama (Dalai Lama)

@catholicsalmon (Catholic Salmon)

@Bible_Time (Bible Time)

@RCYouthWorker (Jack Regan)

If you decide to follow any of these tweeters, then you can always look at their list of followers to consider who also might be of interest to you.

Update – it is now Pope Francis who is tweeting @Pontifex:

Pope Francis on Twitter

Pope Francis on Twitter

Camino Prep Hike 2: Djouce

What a great achievement by some brave 5th years today. Glorious weather conditions added to a fantastic day hiking along the Wicklow Way.

Sean Hayes, Sean Brennan, Kate, Matthew, Chris, Joe, Robert, Jake and Eoin should all be very proud of conquering the daunting and challenging Djouce. After 5 hours and nearly 18 kms, leg and back muscles were starting to ache. But sunshine, good spirits, breathtaking views of lakes and forests kept everyone going strong. A bowl of soup in Roundwood was greatly appreciated to revive the body and soul. How wonderful that Mr Hayes joined us for the last leg of the hike – thanks! Super day but it’s good to put the feet up now. Watch this space for the next Camino prep hike.

Here’s a slideshow of today’s highlights:

Djouce 4.1.13