From animal paddock to priestly pulpit

Fr Riordan

Columban Fr Michael Riordan was a vet before he became a missionary priest. His journey started in 1977, when he asked the Dean of Veterinary Medicine at University College, Dublin, for a reference, reports the Columbans Mission Society.

The Dean remembered a request he had received from a Columban friend in Korea for a volunteer vet. The idea of going to Korea as a volunteer vet was far from Michael's mind, but, once planted, it had its own attraction. Six months later Michael found himself on a plane to Korea, 'a place I could just about find on the map.'

The priest who had invited and greeted Michael on his arrival was Columban Fr Patrick James McGlinchey, founder of the Isidore Development Association, who had spent the previous 20 years setting up welfare projects to help the local people of Jeju (Cheju), an island off south-west Korea. At the time the farm had about 15,000 pigs, 2,000 Hereford beef cattle, and over 1,000 sheep. There was no shortage of work for a vet.

The reluctant vet developed such an interest that he stayed for two and a half years. On returning home to Dublin, Michael decided he wanted to be a missionary priest and joined the Columbans.

'This was the first time I had lived outside of Ireland among people who were not Catholic, who some, at times, had no religion,' he explained.

'When I saw adults asking for Baptism it made me ask: Would I, in my mid-20s, ask to become a Christian if I had not been born one? I began reading the Gospels and little by little the person of Jesus, his humanity, became real for me. I began to think that, even if He was not God, and I met Him today, I would certainly like to be a friend of his.

'Another influence was a visit to the Philippines, where I saw Columbans involved in work for justice and peace. I had always known that the sacraments were visible signs of God's presence. My visit to the Philippines led me to see that many other activities, outside the walls of the church, were also sacraments of some kind.'

Columban Fr Michael Riordan was ordained in 1986 and assigned to Korea. He lived with a Korean family while studying the language and then moved to a slum area of Seoul. He shared a tiny house with another Columban. From there he moved on to more conventional parish work and then into Church related justice groups. 

FULL STORY Priest and vet (

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