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Joanne O Brien and Cora Guinnane whose book "Where I Find God" is being launched on December 2nd at the Temple Gate hotel. Photograph by John Kelly.

Homeless to benefit from Where I find God

TWO school chaplains from Clare will this week launch their thought-provoking book, which sees many of Ireland’s finest thinkers share where they have found, and continue to find, God in their lives.

The book, which is the brainchild of Cora Guinnane from Clarecastle and Joanne O’Brien from Quin, features contributions from former president Mary McAleese, Brent Pope, Finbar Furey, as well as Bishop Willie Walsh and Fr Harry Bohan.

Where I find God will be launched in Ennis on Friday and all royalties from the book will go to the Peter McVerry Trust and Focus Ireland.

Joanne is a secondary-school chaplain at St John Bosco Community College in Kildysart and Cora, who is on a career break currently, is a secondary-school chaplain at St Caimin’s in Shannon. Joanne said as they share an interest in spirituality, they liked the idea of exploring where people find God.

She said they felt that people in general are moving away from the traditional notion of God being far away up in heaven and that there are lots of places where people find God nowadays.

“It started off with this idea that spirituality is far and wide and people associate with spirituality. We wanted to find out where people find God because God is very tangible in all aspects of life. I think people before used to think that God was far away in the sky. We wanted to hear what people had to say because we felt there is a little bit more to religion,” Cora said.

Joanne added that the Irish have been spiritual for a long time and they wanted to explore this idea.

“The institutional Church might not be as well attended now but I do think we are still very spiritual at our core,” she said.

So the idea was born. Cora said it became a reality about two and a half years ago.

“We had been giving Communion and Confirmation talks together and it started as an idea we were chatting about. We then set about contacting some household names and there are people we’ve met on our journey who have shared their story with us or challenged us, so we thought we’ll ask those as well,” Cora revealed.

Joanne said they were delighted to receive positive responses from Mary McAleese, Brent Pope, Cathy Kelly, Finbar Furey, Tommy Fleming, Dr Ronnie Delaney and Bishop Willie Walsh.

In addition, they asked four renowned photographers, Clare Champion photographer John Kelly, Crusheen’s Christy McNamara, Norman McCluskey from Kenmare and Giles Norman from Kinsale, if they would like to donate photographs to complement the written word.

“They donated beautiful images that complemented the written word and it just allows people to reflect on what it says to them and stirs something in them as to where they find God,” Cora said.

There are 50 contributors to the book and Joanne and Cora wrote a piece as an introduction.

“The contributions varied. Many people found God in nature and the beauty of nature and others in the midst of grief and suffering in the love they received from other people at difficult times in their lives,” Joanne outlined.

“There was great excitement when Mary McAleese answered and said she would do this and she wrote a beautiful piece. We asked her would she consider doing the foreword for the book and she agreed. She was incredibly generous,” she continued.

Others who feature include the theologian Daniel O’Leary and Sr Regina McHugh, who is one of the Poor Clare sisters in Ennis.

“It’s lovely to get an insight into where Sr Regina finds God within the walls of the Poor Clare Monastery and the love and kindness that the sisters show each other,” Joanne added.

Cora explained that the contributors were just asked to write between 200 and 300 words on the topic Where you find God and left the rest up to the contributors. The responses they received were far ranging.

“Some of them are profound; they will really get people thinking. It will challenge people. There are some who find God in the traditional church and some of them are soul searching,” she outlined.

Mary McAleese’s entry begins, “I don’t think of God in terms of a treasure hunt where I set off hoping to find Him. It usually works the other way. God finds me, often when I would rather not be found.”

While Fr Peter McVerry echoes the sentiment of God finding him, he said the question he has to ask himself is ‘Where do I look for God?’

Meanwhile, Brent Pope says, “It’s about what I believe to be God’s greatest message: ‘That you always treat others as you would have them treat you’. I try to embrace that message every day.”

Joanne and Cora decided when embarking on this project to donate all the royalties equally between Focus Ireland and the Peter McVerry Trust and saw it as a way that they could give back to those who had fallen on tough times.

“Both of us down through the years have worked with the homeless and it’s very close to our hearts. We just recognise that there is a huge crisis in Ireland at the moment. We both have families, so we can’t go out helping at night and we just thought if we could make any contribution to help the most vulnerable in society we would,” Cora explained.

With the latest figures listing 6,525 people as officially homeless in Ireland, the book offers people an opportunity to reflect on their our own lives, especially in the run-up to Christmas and to think about what people can do to benefit society.

Where I Find God will be launched in the Temple Gate Hotel at 7pm and will be followed by a book signing in Ennis Book Shop on Sunday at 2pm. All are welcome.

About Carol Byrne

Carol Byrne is a reporter at The Clare Champion newspaper reporting on news in the East Clare area and the arts. She also covers the courts in County Clare and has received four national awards for this coverage from the Law Society of Ireland. A Masters in journalism graduate of NUI Galway, she also holds a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Limerick in Music and Media Studies. She began her career interning at The Limerick Leader and Clare FM, before taking up a full time post at The Clare Champion in 2006.

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