Parishioners and Providence – an Interview with Fr David Lonergan

In 2008, Irish priest Fr David Lonergan was asked to serve the Georgian Orthodox community in Dublin for two weeks while their own pastor was away. Seven years later, he’s still there and in the meantime has developed a deep love for the homeland of his parishioners. Currently in Tbilisi studying Georgian language and history, Fr David took time out from class to speak to Georgia Today about his journey.

We all know that “the Lord works in mysterious ways”, but rarely so mysterious as the twists and turns that brought Archpriest David Lonergan from his native Ireland to Georgia on the other side of Europe. He, however, uses a different turn of phrase – “providence.”

After working in special needs childcare, and establishing a successful transport service for children with special needs, Fr David heard a calling. “Once I got the business established I decided I’d go to university to study theology, so I went and did a BA in Philosophy and Theology, and during that particular course, some of the lecturers said to me that I had a very Orthodox view of life, and one of them suggested that I go and visit an Orthodox Church. So I did.”

Fr David converted to Orthodoxy soon after, in 1994, and decided to pursue his work in special needs alongside his vocation to serve the Church. “I then did a Masters in theology specializing in health-care chaplaincy and, at the same time, I did an MSc in Rehabilitation Management – I was very busy!”

Fr David’s route to ordination brought him into contact with one of the leading figures of Orthodox Christianity today. Metropolitan Kallistos (formerly Timothy Ware) converted to Orthodoxy as an Oxford undergraduate and went on to pen some of the best-known books on Orthodoxy in the English language. “I got ordained by Metropolitan Kallistos in 2006 as a Deacon and 2007 as a priest in the Antiochian Church. At that time the Antiochian Metropolitan Gabriel was very ill and so Metropolitan Kallistos did all the ordinations for the Antiochian Church.”

But through another twist in the story, Fr David wasn’t to stay with the Antiochians for very long. “In 2008, I was asked to help in the Georgian Church for two weeks while their priest was away.” Seven years later, he’s still serving them, overseeing a period of growth for the Georgian diaspora in Dublin.

“Two months ago we had the ordination of the first Irish-Georgian priest, a young guy, Father George. He’s a native Georgian, his wife is Georgian, and they have their family in Ireland. As far as I know, he’s the first Georgian in the diaspora to be ordained a priest. It’s really brought life into the parish, and having him there has given me the opportunity to come here and study Georgian!”

Since taking on the Georgian parish in Dublin, Fr David has been keen to help Georgians in the diaspora to preserve their traditions and culture, as well as being an active promoter of Georgian culture in Ireland.

“When I started working with the parish, we brought in a Georgian language school for the children, and we have another guy who teaches Georgian dancing. I think it’s very important that the children don’t forget their roots - that they realise that yes, they’re Irish, but they’re also Georgian, and their roots are in Georgia.”

“One of the things I became aware of very early on is that Georgia as a country isn’t very well-known abroad. With that in mind, in 2014 we persuaded the Dublin Port Authority to have a Georgian Festival of Culture. The children from our parish provided the entertainment for all the city, from 2pm to 6pm over the entire June bank holiday weekend.”

“We also had the Sukhishvilebi there - dancing in the evening, and also some of the best folk ensembles from Georgia. People loved it, they loved the music and there were Georgian flags all over the city. This year, we also invited the President of Ireland to come and pray with us for the people who died in the Tbilisi floods, which I believe makes him the only European head of state to attend a memorial event for the flood victims.”

Fr David is currently in Tbilisi studying a course on Georgian history and language, hoping to pick up not just the language, but also something of the Georgian “way of thinking.” Now that the Georgian parish in Dublin has an ethnic Georgian priest, I asked Fr David if he plans to continue serving them. “Archbishop Zenon (of Dmanisi, Great Britain and Ireland) once asked me why I’ve stayed so long,” he laughs.

“In the Divine Liturgy, just after the consecration, there is a hymn to the Mother of God. In Georgian it’s called ‘Ghirs ars cheshmaritad’ – ‘It is truly met’. Even if I have worries, even if I’m mentally not in the right place, the way the Georgians chant that hymn lifts my heart to heaven every time, and that’s why I stay.”

Joseph Alexander Smith

23 July 2015 22:33