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Irish pilgrimage: Footsteps of saints and scholars

placeholder November 21, 2016   •   VOL. 54, NO. 20   •   Oakland, CA

Irish pilgrimage: Footsteps of saints and scholars

Rev. Aidan McAleenan

St. Patrick is depicted in a stained-glass window at St. Mary's Basilica in Phoenix. Father Aiden MacAleenan plans a visit to the gravesite of St. Patrick in County Down.
Nancy Wiechec/cns

A pilgrimage to Ireland, "in the footsteps of the saints and scholars" is planned for next summer by Rev. Aidan McAleenan, pastor of St. Columba Parish in Oakland. He's keeping up a tradition of 17 journeys to Ireland led by Sister Sister Joanne Gallagher, a Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet, from Christ the King Parish in Pleasant Hill.

Irish-born Father McAleenan spent the first four years of his ministry at Christ the King.

"For 17 years she led a trip to Ireland," he said. "Same bus driver every year, Mr. Tom Tynan," he said. Although he had not traveled with her, "I knew all these names."

"It would be a way of keeping up that tradition," he said, "and connections she had. It's all about relationships."

As a priest, he decided to emphasize the pilgrimage aspect of the journey. The pilgrims will begin their journey in the rugged terrain of western Ireland.

"I decided to go to the Redemptorist monastery in Galway," he said, where pilgrims will spend time "doing a little bit of history, praying and acclimatizing.

"The lovely thing about that place is there's a pre-Reformation Dominican priory that's in ruins just a few miles away from the monastery. It's a launching pad into the experience of Ireland as the land of saints and scholars. It gives you a real perspective."

The monastery is a place Father McAleenan remembers well. In his days in the Redemptorist community, before he came to America and became a diocesan priest, he went on retreat there and went there every summer with his classmates.

"I feel very much a part of the family of the Redemptorists," he said.

Among the faith-filled aspects of the journey, he said, will be Mass at St. Columba Church in Derry; Mass at St. Patrick Cathedral in Armaugh; and a visit to the gravesite of St. Patrick in County Down.

The journey will also visit cultural touchstones in Ireland, including museums. A visit with Irish officials, who came to know Father McAleenan when he served the Irish community after the death of six Irish students in a balcony collapse in Berkeley in the summer of 2015, is a possibility.

Introduction to Irish culture includes a taste of the pub culture, with traditional music and lively conversation.

The pilgrimage begins June 29 and ends July 13, 2017. Land price is $3,550 per person based on double occupancy. Airfare is available on request. Contact Father McAleenan at 650-248-8355 or ajmcaleenan@gmail.com. Those interested are invited to attend an information meeting at 6 p.m. Dec. 3 at St. Columba Parish Hall, 6401 San Pablo Ave., Oakland.

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