Faith Matters

Book review: A Priest's Diary - The whole world in seven parishes

A Priest's Diary by Fr Brendan Hoban
Fr Gerry McFlynn

YOU could be forgiven for thinking that a book entitled A Priest's Diary might be boring and, more often than not, you would probably be right.

But not in this case. In his introduction, Fr Brendan Hoban says that his latest book is less a "diary" in the usual sense of that term and more a collection of "jottings" amassed over almost 50 years of ministering in seven parishes in the west of Ireland.

I should declare an interest here. Fr Brendan and I are Maynooth classmates (1973). He is now a retired priest of the diocese of Killala.

Since he decided to turn his hand to writing many years ago, Brendan has matured into a gifted weaver of words.

A founder member of the Association of Irish Priests, he is the author of more than 15 books, some on local church history and others on the urgent need for radical change in the Irish Church.

Brendan has also been writing a weekly column for the Western People newspaper for decades and is a regular contributor to local and national radio and television.

His 'diary' is a collection of reflections on his dealings with parishioners and priest colleagues, a pot-pourri of events and encounters that have inspired a series of musings on life in general and parish life in particular.

And all life is here, in 60 short chapters covering the many diverse experiences that have stayed with Brendan all these years.

A brief glance at the titles gives a sense of his broad canvas: Housekeeper, A Lovely House, About Having Friends, Visiting, Called to the Bar, The Talk of the Place, A Voyage around the Priest, The Trouble with Helen, A Kind of Love, Cancerland and A Wet Day.

Surely anyone who can make a wet day in the west of Ireland sound interesting must be worth reading; seriously, though, along with the humour and the sadness in these pages, there is much serious comment and reflection, all expertly picked from the rich tapestry of parish life.

It is difficult to choose a favourite chapter but if I were to choose one it would have to be the sad story of Brendan's last pastoral visit to Grace, a 28-year-old woman dying of what her mother called "the bad thing". Its final short paragraph, rich in empathy and compassion, stays long in the memory.

Every once in a while one comes across a book that lifts the spirits and restores one's faith in the human condition. This is such a book.

Indeed, I cannot think of a book in recent years that has given me so much pleasure as well as cause for reflection. If you want a good read this summer, make it this one.

A Priest's Diary by Fr Brendan Hoban, €15, is available from book shops in Co Mayo, including Castle Street Bookshop, Castlebar (mayobooks.ie) and Knock Shrine (knockshrine.ie/bookshop).

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