The Catholic Enquiry Centre made the highest number of enrolments in its course for at least 20 years last year.
Retiring director, Fr Paul Shannahan sm, says 2,200 people were sent a course of booklets with information about the Catholic faith last year and there were almost the same number in 2004.
Fr Shannahan has been with the enquiry centre for the past 18 years and will leave the post in the next month to make way for Fr Allan Jones sm who has just been appointed as the new director.
Many of the enquiries have come from television advertising, particularly from a two to three minute spot Fr Shannahan has on the Good Morning show, ‘where I’ve had a chance to talk about the Catholic faith and invite people to get this free material’.
As soon as the phone number – 0800 father – appears on the screen, the calls start coming in. The centre has had up to 200 calls in the first half hour which will amount to 70 to 100 enrolments within the hour.
‘Two or three days later there’d still be calls coming in.’
A bad day would bring in 30 to 40 calls.
The centre also receives 50 to 60 enquiries a day from coupons cut from newspapers or magazines, or from the cards that are on display in most parish churches.
Fr Shannahan says when people get married and settled issues of life seem to become more significant.
‘Jungian psychology talks about people getting into their inner journey when they reach their 40s.’
The climate is changing. In the 1970s the enquiries were often about settling arguments between Protestants and Catholics – ‘that old pre-Vatican II sparring’. Today there are more genuine enquiries about the faith from parents anxious to give their children spiritual values or ‘giving their kids religious teaching that might equip them to face the onslaught ahead’.
Many are curious or concerned or looking for another way.
‘So often people who do tell us that they’ve gone on to become Catholic say they’ve come home – that’s a common expression.’
Those who contact the centre expressing a wish to know more receive four lots of mail over two months including a prayerbook, a 10-booklet package explaining various aspects of the Catholic faith, a booklet on the rosary and a sheet on how to pray.
Fr Shannahan says the old ‘penny catechism’ is popular particularly with ethnic groups because the language is simple.
‘The Koreans have just ordered a bulk lot.’
Sometimes the enquirer is then directed to a parish where there is a catechumenate, or to a Catholics Returning Home programme.
Fr Shannahan says if he were staying on at the centre he would build up the website. Some enquiries come through the website but he believes there could be many more if it were revamped.