When the Very Rev. Lorcan Sharkey entered Maynooth Seminary in September of 1967, he was one of a class of 74 young men.
“There are less than 70 in the whole of Maynooth now,” Father Lorcan said, sitting in the parochial house at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Cloghan.
The drop in the number of priests is one of the many changes Father Lorcan has seen in his years in the priesthood. He will celebrate the 40th anniversary of his ordination in the coming days, with mass and a social evening at Our Lady of Perpetual Help tomorrow, June 6th, and in Maynooth with former classmates next Monday and Tuesday.
There will be a con-celebrated mass at Our Lady of Perpetual Help on Friday at 7.30pm, with the local Glenfin marching band, Irish dancers and children who made their First Communion this year also taking part. Afterwards, there will be refreshments, music and entertainment in the church hall.
“It will be a nice, sociable evening,” Father Lorcan said.
The third youngest of James and May Sharkey’s seven children, Lorcan Sharkey was born and raised in Ranafast, in the Donegal Gaeltacht. It was a religious household, with prayers and the Rosary said in the home.
“There was a lot of faith in the family,” he said. “Religion was very much a part of the home.”
When he completed fourth class in Ranafast, his parents sent him to continue national school in Bunbeg, where Master Johnny McGinley was known for steering young people to the exams they would need for secondary school. He earned a scholarship and attended boarding school at St. Mary’s in Galway.
Father Lorcan’s uncle, Father Alphie Sharkey, was curate in Falcarragh, and later a parish priest in Tamney. As a teenager, Lorcan spent time with his uncle and enjoyed what the priest did -- not just the mass, but the time he spent visiting people in the parish who were sick.
“I thought I might be able to do that well,” he said.
Father Lorcan was ordained a priest in his home parish of Annagry in 1974.
Over the years he taught at St. Eunan’s College, Letterkenny, was back at St. Mary’s in Galway to teach while he studied for his HDip at National University of Ireland Galway, and also taught at St. Columba’s College in Stranorlar, where he also served as the school chaplain.
Following that, he trained at Mount Oliver in Dundalk, for his next posting: serving as advisor for religious education to the 108 primary schools of the Raphoe Diocese. During part of that time he also served as diocesan secretary to then-Bishop, Séamus Hegarty.
Father Lorcan was later curate in Killybegs from 1988 to 1990, when he became parish priest after the death of Father Charles McGrenra.
He loved Killybegs and being close to the sea -- it recalled his Ranafast childhood.
“I remember ships so loaded down with mackerel the water was washing over the decks in midship,” Father Lorcan said.
He was assigned to Milford and Kerrykeel in 2004, to Glenvar in 2005 and then to Glenfin in 2007. He still gets back to Ranafast nearly every week but he enjoys his Glenfin home and the people of the parish.
“I like the countryside,” he said.
He said the Raphoe Diocese has been more fortunate than most -- there is still at least one priest in each parish. But the numbers of clergy are declining, as are the numbers of people in the pews. When he was a boy, ushers were on hand in the chapel to find seating for people at mass. Today, he said, you could bring a busload of people to mass, “and there would be room for everybody.”
“I think the greatest challenge here at the moment is to help people feel their faith is relevant to their lives, especially younger people,” Father Lorcan said. He said he believes in recent years people have decided they can live lives independent of religion; they don’t see the spiritual aspect as relevant or important, he said.
“It’s not that God is not calling people, but amid all the other conflicting noises around them, that call is not being heard,” Father Lorcan said.