FOR some the novena is about nine days of unrelenting devotion. For others it’s a place of peace and tranquillity, and the chance to dip their toes - and their faith - back into a holy well.
Joe Collopy, a father of two from Dooradoyle, and a volunteer of 40 years’ service at the Redemptorists at Mount St Alphonsus, falls into the former category.
He rises at 4.45am, is at the church by 6am and finishes at 11.30 each night over the course of the nine days.
“There’s something special about this church in Limerick, people have an affinity to this church at least once a year. We see people who mightn’t go to mass for 12 months but they come here to the novena. I think they feel the novena is like a petrol station - it fills them up for the year,” he told the Limerick Leader.
On the first day of the novena, in honour of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, the crowds returned in force, and in even greater numbers than previous years. For the 7am mass - the first held each day - the car park and the overflow car park were nearly full, some 350 spaces.
“It’s about trying to get the people in their 20s to 40s, who have gone through the harsh times, with the recession, back to the church. They were crying out for help. I think we lost these people and lost a great opportunity. The only time we see them now is at communions, confirmations, or if they’re at a wedding. But we hope that the novena gives people the feeling that there’s something special here for them to come back to.”
Aside from the volunteers manning the front of the church and assisting with traffic management, a hoard of others are working quietly behind the scenes, among them a group in the novena gift shop, which opens once a year, in addition to their year-round shop.
It too opens at 7.30am and runs until 10.30pm, and is a treasure trove of ecclesiastical gifts, ranging from Novena mass bouquets to My Little Book of Prayers books for children, baby gifts, fridge magnets and Christmas decorations. Kevin Nolan, who runs the shop, said traditionally everyone had a religious artefact in their homes but now the items on display have been modernised for a younger generation, such as incorporating messages from the Corinthians into ‘Love’ and ‘Friendship’ themed photo frames. There are 10 masses each day, from 7am to 10.30pm, until this Saturday.