Sanctuary and solidarity at Limerick's Novena

Thousands from Limerick and Mid-West draw comfort from the community spirit at annual celebration

Fintan Walsh


Fintan Walsh

Sanctuary and solidarity at Limerick's Novena

Ross Kearney receiving a blessing from Fr Derek at the Childrens' Novena, hosted by the Redemptorists Picture: Oisin McHugh/Fusionshooters

“SOLIDARITY, togetherness, and community” have been the watchwords of the annual novena, as thousands continue to attend the nine-day celebrations, to reunite with friends, family and the faith.

With just a few days remaining, a delighted Fr Seamus Enright, Redemptorist Church rector, has called the holy festivities “a tremendous success”, with people from all over the Mid-West coming to honour the Lady of Perpetual Help.

Since the kick-off last Friday morning, there have been 10 sessions of prayer a day, and Fr Enright is there to open the Mount St Alphonsus church doors at 6.30am and shut them at midnight. In between Mass times, he has been conversing with the church-goers, volunteers and emergency services on the ground.

He told the Limerick Leader this week that he has noticed a “significant” influx of new, young families attending the Mass. He said that this boils down to the “community element” of the celebration.

“There is something in the Irish temperament that likes gathering. People like coming together, people like celebration. That is one of the big reasons why people come here; the sense of being a community here.”

The popularity of the Novena, he said, also links back to the late Fr Vincent Kavanagh who “revolutionised” its structure in the 1970s. He said that Fr Kavanagh’s tradition of advertising and marketing still works to this day.

He added, that is why the local Redemptorists use live streaming and social media to promote the “modernisation” of the summer event.

Moments before the Boherbuoy Band serenaded the public with a powerful brass and wind arrangement at the church, on Tuesday evening, Fr Enright said that people are already starting to “feel refreshed, uplifted and boosted”.

The warm atmosphere was felt much earlier than Tuesday evening. During the 11.30am Mass on Friday, Moyross resident, and head of security Joe Collopy said that he has been coming to the Novena for 41 years. 

“There are a lot of people who don’t usually go to Mass who are coming this year. And I think, when there was a recession, people returned to the faith. That is what we are hearing every year. People are being hammered by the banks and they have no one to talk to. That’s why people come here. You have someone to talk to.”

One woman, who did not wish to be named, travelled to the Mass to thank Our Lady for helping her daughter through surgery.

The thanksgiving prayers are a “strong element” of the Novena, Fr Enright said. People from Limerick and beyond write personal petitions to Our Lady, to pray for loved ones and those suffering around the world.

He said that the petitions this year deal mainly with family issues; family breakdowns, people falling out, and parents praying for their young ones doing State exams.

He said that the usual petitions touch off sickness, job worries and financial problems. However, he said that concerns over drug addictions have been a recurring item.

“Some of it is actually heartbreaking. There are ones that you would be sad about, and angry, maybe. Things like homelessness, employment - things that are maybe in the control of society. But there is a sadness that is totally out of your control. There are some very sad prayers for children who are sick. That is, of course, devastating for families.”

Through the heartfelt prayers, people have “drawn comfort from each other. That is a great part of it. There is a great sense of solidarity, community and togetherness, and that comes true in the praying. There is a lot of empathy”.

This “togetherness” was evident on Friday afternoon, as old friends, couples and families gathered outside the church to chat.

South Circular Road woman, Helen McCormack bumped into her her old friend Patrick Sheahan, from Askeaton. They hadn’t seen each other more than 50 years. 

“Your family had one of the best pubs in Ireland,” he reminisced. “Whenever Kerry won the All-Ireland, they would stop by Collins’ pub and have a pint. And your father was the greatest fishermen in Limerick, too!”

Phyllis Pearse, Thomondgate, and Eileen Culbert, Fr Russell Road, looked back on their working days in Cleeve’s factory in the 1960s. Eileen told the Leader that she tries her best to come to the Novena “for the family”.

“There is always someone out there who needs a prayer.”

Mass times are 7am, 8am, 10am, 11.30am, 1.10pm, 4.30pm, 6pm, 7.30pm, 9pm and 10.30pm. On Saturday, June 25, Mass commences at 9.30am, instead of 10am.