It was a case of where it all started for Arva priest Fr Jim Sorohan on Sunday as he returned to where it all began 50 years ago-The Church of the Holy Family, Loch Gowna.
The veteran cleric stood before parishioners in almost the exact same position he occupied half a decade earlier, looking relaxed and unmistakenly assured.
This was, after all, a cleric who has seen and achieved most things in that time. Leading Mass on Sunday, assisted by local parish priest Fr PJ Fitzpatrick and his cousin Fr Eddie Burns, the Cordonaghy native cut a pensive figure as he looked back on a long and distinguished career.
Greeting family members and close relations who came to share in his big day as well as local worshippers, Fr Sorohan admitted the priesthood may not have been his first occupational choice.
“It’s very hard to put my finger on it, but I suppose we (family) had a very strong faith background,” he openly confessed. “Prayer was important in our lives. When I went to the seminary I said to myself ‘Do I have a vocation or not’? To be honest I wasn’t too sure at the time though I said I would give it a try until the time for the big decision came. When you’re young, enthusiastic and zealous nothing seems a problem I suppose.”
A graduate from both the local Cortober National School and Moyne Community College, Fr Jim attended St John’s College in Waterford, before receiving his official ordination on June 17 1962.
The following day, he took charge of his first official Mass at the Church of the Holy Family, Loch Gowna.
“My family and friends were there so yes it was a very big milestone. Also it was very emotional in the sense that I knew I had prepared for this moment for all those years,” he reflected.
Four months later, the newly ordained cleric was preparing to set sail to New Zealand as one of hundreds of Irish missionaries working overseas.
Young and exuberant, he set about spreading the word of the Gospel thousands of miles away, unaware it was a task which would occupy the next 44 years of his life.
“ I have no regrets, it was a wonderful experience,” he explained. “Meeting new people and the kindness of the people of New Zealand was quite marvellous.”
Back home since August 2006, Fr Jim spent a year serving the parish of Edgeworthstown ahead of a move to Ballinamuck where he currently enjoys the role of assistant priest.
“You adapt as the years go by,” he conceded as he continued the discussion inside the warm surroundings of the Piker’s Lodge Hotel. “But, yes it is true there have been changes. In those days we said Mass with our back to the congregation facing the alter.”
His thoughts on the challenges facing the Church both from incessant controversies surrounding clerical abuse scandals as well as attracting new entrants to the priesthood are refreshingly open.
“There has to be a bit more repentence for the wrongs that have taken place, very serious wrongs,” he accepted.
On the topic of vocations he said: “Certainly the lay people need to become more involved in the life of the Church. I have tried to do that over the years.”
Whether those exertions pay off, only time will tell.