Why celebrate 150 years of worship in Saint Eugene’s Cathedral?
An anniversary often inspires us to reflect on the past by examining the journey so far. It can also inspire us to envisage a future, where every member of our parish is valued and helped to live out God’s plan.
The city I arrived in after I was married in 1973, was in many ways very different from the one which we enjoy today. I had no preconceived notions of what my new life would entail but given that Mass was a constant in my life growing up in the country I soon found my way to Saint Eugene’s, a more than century-old neo-gothic cathedral in the heart of Derry.
The actual building to many visitors is architecturally beautiful but my first impressions were of a large, cold, and unwelcoming space. The ambience was gloomy. I remember the dark ornate pulpit that seemed to loom large over the heads of the congregation. Whilst the people were always friendly and accommodating it was not a place to which I felt any sense of belonging. After all, I was a stranger.
There may have been as many as five working priests in Saint Eugene’s at that time and it was through their home visits that I settled into my new parish. Tea and biscuits were the preferred ritual by which the local clergy would acquaint themselves with parishioners, and they would always take time to share in their joys and support them in their sorrows. My children were baptised in Saint Eugene’s. This was really the start of a journey and I knew I was bound in a unique way to Saint Eugene’s.
Moving house brought me to a smaller church, much like the one in which I had worshipped as a child. I felt immediately at home there. The smaller parish helped me feel part of a church community. It was here that I began to realise that a place of worship is important, not just as a cosy place to pray and attend Mass but as a place of spiritual peace from the commotion of life.
Returning to Saint Eugene’s four years later, was like a homecoming. It wasn’t about the actual structure of the building anymore because I knew I had found my spiritual home. Through the years many alterations have been undertaken and my dark pulpit is no more.
I often sit there now and think of all the people who worshipped here. I think of the many worries that were brought before the altar. Worries of unemployment, sickness, separation, loneliness and all the pain of The Troubles. This wonderful place of prayer has allowed communities to gather to celebrate the sacraments for 150 years. We thank God for all who have gone before us and their lives are also part of the fabric that holds Saint Eugene’s together today. We also thank God for those who are there today building a community that respects each and every person. I feel the joy there now, especially when I attend early Sunday Mass and I’m met by the smiling familiar faces. They too are a reminder of Jesus’s presence in the work they do helping others in their local parish.
In the dark days of Covid, Saint Eugene’s became a beacon for all who were seeking God. Through modern technology and the devotion of our priests, the Mass and Christ’s message of hope were delivered to our home and indeed the homes of many outside our parish. This use of technology continues but the people in Saint Eugene’s parish are only too glad to come back to this wonderful church.
It is important to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the opening of Saint Eugene’s. It is our special place where we come to Mass, to praise and thank the lord or simply sit in the presence of Jesus. Bishop McKeown reminds us in his introduction last Sunday when he states;
“this is not a museum of fine artwork or beautiful Liturgy. It is a holy place, because for 150years, holy people have come here- alone or with others-to pray”.
Marian McClintock taught in Saint Mary’s College, Derry and is an active member of Saint Eugene’s Parish Community