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Pictured in Maynooth at the launch of Acedia and the Transformation of Spiritual Malaise: Essays in Honour of Martin McAlinden, are, (L-R): Susie Collingridge, Ruth Craig, Professor Wayne Morris, Helen Warnock, and Dr Gill Henwood.

Acedia and the Transformation of Spiritual Malaise: Essays in Honour of Martin McAlinden has been produced to honour the work of Father Martin McAlinden, who spent over 25 years in priestly ministry. He was a Catholic priest of the Diocese of Dromore in County Down, Director of Pastoral Theology at the Pontifical University of St Patrick in Maynooth (Republic of Ireland), and a student on the Professional Doctorate in Practical Theology at the University of Chester. He was also a well-known charity marathon runner. Martin was awarded a posthumous honorary doctorate in Practical Theology from the University of Chester in 2017, in recognition of his work and research.

In his life, Martin made a significant contribution to the life of the Catholic Church in Ireland. His research was concerned with the wellbeing of priests in Ireland and the need for the training of priests to better prepare them for ministry in the wider world. He used an ancient theological concept, ‘acedia’, as a lens through which to do this research. He addressed the pressures placed on clergy in a secularising society that often leads to burnout. He also challenged the Catholic Church on the isolation and loneliness experienced by its clergy, created by rules on celibacy, and their isolation in parishes. Often this led to a low sense of well-being and, in many instances, mental health problems.

The Greek word ‘acedia’ (which literally translates as ‘without care’) has proved difficult to define by scholars, with some describing it as a ‘sort of restless boredom, a listlessness, and beneath that, discouragement’. Martin’s research – and his personal experience – considered the word as ‘losing one’s taste for the spiritual life’, and he wanted to explore what might trigger this condition. He believed that the word ‘acedia’ needed ‘to be reclaimed and defined and used to diagnose and describe the spiritual malaise common today in the lives of clergy, and more generally within the culture of the Christian Church/institution and secular society’. His work was set to have radical implications of the practice of the Church in Ireland. However, unfortunately, in June 2016, at the age of 51, Martin died of cancer.

Before he died, his research supervisor, Professor Wayne Morris, Director of the School of Humanities and Professor of Contextual Theology at the University of Chester, had promised that he would do what he could to ensure that his research could be disseminated.

Professor Morris said: “Martin was a dream student – intelligent, thoughtful, hard-working and creative. He was also a genuinely very nice person and it was always a pleasure to be in his company. His research had such potential and I am honoured that he thought I might be the person who could bring his ideas and research to fruition.

“This book brings together a major article that has emerged out of Martin’s research, together with a series of responses from many who accompanied him during his studies. It also includes a foreword from Martin’s friend, former Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland, Baroness Nuala O’Loan, DBE, MRIA. It has been a sincere privilege to work on this book, and it is offered to Martin’s brother priests, and to the whole Church, as a gift of love that might, it is hoped, contribute to the spiritual renewal of the Church.”

A book launch for Acedia and the Transformation of Spiritual Malaise took place recently at the Pontifical University of St Patrick in Maynooth, where Martin had worked. Guests included the President of the Pontifical University, Revd Professor Michael Mullaney; and Baroness Nuala O’Loan, as well as members of Martin’s family.

Professor Morris added: “I want to express my gratitude to our Vice-Chancellor, Professor Tim Wheeler, for permitting this book to be published. This has meant a very great deal to me, to Martin’s fellow students, his fellow clergy in Ireland, his family and friends.”

Copies of the book have already been well received, including by Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster, and the Archbishop of Armagh, the Most Revd Eamon Martin.

Reviews of Acedia and the Transformation of Spiritual Malaise include:

Most Revd Donal McKeown, Bishop of Derry, who said: “This series of reflections on acedia is both a welcome tribute to Dr Martin McAlinden and a timely examination of how we can name and tackle the spiritual malaise which so saps the energy of many who began their spiritual journey with great enthusiasm.”

Helen Warnock, Principal of Belfast Bible College, said: “This book captures well two aspects of theological research: that of presenting thoughtful comment and then the corresponding attentive listening and response. Martin’s work on acedia is indeed a helpful lens through which to consider ministry across Ireland and as the subsequent papers contained in this book illustrate, his work also acts as a stimulating conversation partner, to aid reflection on various contemporary issues.”

Acedia and the Transformation of Spiritual Malaise: Essays in Honour of Martin McAlinden, edited by Professor Wayne Morris, and published by the University of Chester Press, can be purchased online; email sarah.griffiths@chester.ac.uk or ring 01244 513305.

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