August 7, 2005


The Redemption of Shane Paul O'Doherty: He was a teenage terrorist. He tried to kill a bishop. After 14 years in prison, he got married. Now the Catholic Church wants him to become a priest. Is no man beyond salvation? (Kevin Cullen, August 7, 2005, Boston Globe Magazine)

"LET'S GO FOR A WALK," SHANE PAUL O'DOHERTY SAYS. The Long Corridor at St. Patrick's College, Ireland's last remaining seminary, is a vision out of Harry Potter's school, Hogwarts, dark and slightly foreboding. The oak walls are lined with solemn portraits of clerics who have educated more than 11,000 Roman Catholic priests since 1795. Inside College Chapel, heels click on the marble mosaic floor, under the gaze of a procession of saints and angels painted on the ceiling. Outside, the three Gothic buildings that form St. Mary's Square overlook a lush garden and a pond with rocks positioned as steppingstones, designed to symbolize man's spiritual journey toward God.

In the sleepy college town of Maynooth, 15 miles outside Dublin, we walk through a stone archway into an idyllic Gothic quadrangle called St. Joseph's Square, gravel paths snaking through grassy swaths dappled with bright red flowers. The only sound is bird song. At 50, O'Doherty still boasts a boyish appearance, thin and fit, bone-china skin, his brown hair closely cropped.

Between 1993 and 2002, seven seminaries closed in Ireland, leaving only St. Patrick's. Though it reeks of history, it also seems a lonely place. In the 1960s, as many as 600 seminarians studied at St. Patrick's; today, 60 do, a drop that's been attributed both to a more materialistic Ireland and to the country's own ongoing clergy sex abuse scandals, which mirror those in Boston and other American dioceses.

The last time we had gone for a long walk together, a decade earlier, I was covering the conflict in Northern Ireland for the Globe, and he was a married man six years removed from prison. Before his arrest, he'd become the most wanted man in Britain, a hero for the Irish Republican Army whose letter-bomb campaign had maimed a dozen people and terrorized all of London. We had walked the streets of Derry, his hometown. At that time, we paused at the rooming house for British soldiers where he had planted his first bomb in 1970, when he was 15. We passed the spot in the Bogside where Barney McGuigan's brains spilled out onto the pavement on Bloody Sunday in 1972, when British paratroopers shot and killed 14 civil rights demonstrators. We walked by the apartment in Crawford Square that O'Doherty used as a bomb factory, the one that blew up, killing Ethel Lynch, his 22-year-old assistant.

He was given his middle name because he was born on the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, who was a zealous killer of Christians before his own conversion on the road to Damascus. But O'Doherty's story is not about a miraculous religious conversion as much as a gradual spiritual evolution. He had a tug of war with God, and God won. His odyssey, from teenage revolutionary to middle-age seminarian, is a story of redemption.

"Hell," he says, shrugging. "If I can be saved, anyone can."

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 7, 2005 9:36 AM

Better they ordain nums.

Posted by: NC3 at August 8, 2005 10:23 PM