Frank McCourt’s famous memoir Angela’s Ashes depicts life in Limerick, Ireland’s fourth-largest city, where for decades residents have struggled to overcome poverty, unemployment, and other social problems Three years ago a trio of Franciscan Friars from the Bronx, New York moved to the Limerick suburb of Moyross to serve the needs of its residents.
Brothers Shawn O’Conner, Jason Grandell, and Thomas Joseph of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal established their friary there in 2007 by converting three abandoned houses into a simple residence and chapel. Shortly before they moved in, they got a reminder of how tough the neighborhood was. Two children were nearly burned to death when a group of teenagers firebombed the car they were sitting in. But O’Connor and the others saw a need, and over the last three years they have worked hard to get to know the community.
“Many of the young people here just have no real proper guidance, that’s one thing we found,” O’Connor says. “They’re very wild. They’re great and they’re wonderful kids but they don’t have any discipline, they don’t have any sense of right or wrong.”
The monks persist with the kids, not shying away from a bit of soccer or American football or some good-old-fashioned roughhousing. They do it all wearing their grey, hooded robes, beards, and shaved heads.
Among other projects, the monks have built a community garden and a youth center. They’ve endured the teasing, the jokes, and the rocks that were sometimes thrown through their windows.
“Anytime there is a new brother, too, the young people test him. You have to go through somewhat of a crucible and rightly so because you have to earn the peoples’ love and respect,” said Brother Joseph.
Earlier this year the monks organized a rap contest in the neighborhood. Though the area is still a troubled place—and the current economic crisis will not make life there any easier in the coming years—the contest and other efforts are the kind of small gestures they believe give people in Moyross a sense of pride and hope for the future.
The friars at work in Moyross: