Irish Mission Now: Could Everyone Pray ‘Grace’?

Sep 12, 2017 | 11 comments

Gerald Donnelly, Clondalkin, Dublin – with the ‘Grace’ prayer card he offers to all

A call to Christian ‘mission’ is a call to ‘go out’ into the world – to spread a faith or practice of some kind – to strangers.

So how would you respond to a call to ‘mission’ in today’s Ireland? What questions might you ask – if you were even ready to entertain the idea? Would you be more likely to leap at the idea than to make objections and then change the subject?

In July 2017, out of the blue, ACI was contacted by Gerald Donnelly, based in Clondalkin, Dublin – just west of the M50 and not far from the Phoenix Park. He startled us with the story that he has been busy for some time in that very diverse and secularised locale – with a door-to-door mission to all families to pray ‘Grace’ together – no matter what their faith – when they meet for a meal.


Gerald’s parish church: Rowlagh – Clondalkin

Gerald’s story

Fascinated, we asked Gerald how he had come to attempt this. He explained that he had grown up in Dublin in a large family, during challenging times. His own faith had come in stages, strengthened by these challenges. Volunteering to read at Mass he had been reminded in training that he would be reading ‘the word of God’ – and had then decided to read the Bible cover-to-cover. Encouraged by programmes of study found on EWTN he had then read books on Darwin, atheism and conflict.

As a result he had grown to accept the view of the church that since Creation is shared with everyone, and the Old Testament is shared with the three Abrahamic faiths “we have more than enough in common to overcome any differences between us”.

He goes on: “I needed to find some way to bring people together in a common cause. At that time I was asked to make up numbers for a group of senior citizens who were trying to get a dinner service started in their community centre. I noticed some people were quickly blessing themselves before they ate their dinner in an embarrassed kind of way. I was aware from conversations that all were practising Catholics and saw an opportunity to bring the group together through Grace before Meals. All accepted it, with the exception of a couple of begrudgers who made some difficulties – but we soldiered on. It is now an accepted practice in the group.

“Next there was a get-together in my own family. That happens every five years, involving 70 odd people from a number of continents. There was a number of faiths and non-faiths among them. I was looking for something to bring the family together and thought again of the grace before meals which I discovered was practised by all faiths and non-faiths alike.

A Prayer Card for all?

“Later I approached leaders of the Atheist community and the Old Testament communities and the New Testament community in Clondalkin – and put three versions of Grace on the one card, plus a simple Children’s version which I promote door-to-door at no charge. (My daughter, Sandra, found that children’s version on the Internet.) This card  is well received at the doorstep, with one in three accepting it.

‘Grace before meals’ – Gerald’s prayer card

“It also gives me the opportunity to discuss beliefs with them which I think they rarely get the chance to do. They tell me about people belonging to them that are ill or have passed away – their falling from faith or their hostility to religion. This challenges my own faith daily which in turn strengthens me.

“Going door-to-door recently a man replied ‘I don’t believe in religion – it is the cause of all the trouble in the world.’ My instinct was to reply ‘that’s funny, that’s exactly what the believers would say about the “Godless People”’! I didn’t. I thanked him for his opinion which I respected, and for listening to me, and wished him a good day.

“It made me think. I had heard it many times before. It was the clarity of it and the conviction with which he said it that was different. He really believed what he was saying!

“He was partially right. There are people of ill will in every religion and there are people of good will who are “Godless” There are good and bad in all walks of life and if we ONLY concentrate on doing good every day this is acceptable to God and man.

“I believe we all need to be challenged daily to overcome our complacency. We need to re-examine the values we cherish and be able to share (sell) them in layman language, without biblical reference as all our ideals are based on reason also.”


It was partly this news of Gerald’s initiative that led us to begin this sequence of articles on ‘Irish Mission Now?’  What Gerald is doing may not be for everyone – but the theme of spreading harmony amidst the growing diversity of Irish society – and making space for discussion of faith – is surely part of what we should all be trying to do.

His response to the man who condemned all religion was surely exactly right also. Given the awful experiences of Catholicism that some unfortunate people in Ireland have had, the last thing any of us should do is to insist on the last word!

Do you have experience of broaching the subject of faith to strangers in Ireland today?  If you do, please contact us at , to tell us your story.



  1. Kevin Walters

    You can only applaud Gerald’s initiative as any action that draws our attention to the love of God is praiseworthy, I am sure it will bear fruit.
    kevin your brother
    In Christ

    • Gerald Donnelly

      Thank you Kevin, that is my hope too.Thanks for your kind words. Gerald.

  2. Aidan Hart

    A lovely way to bring family prayer back into the home; simple and non-threatening to those of all faiths and none. I admire greatly Gerald’s initiative, courage and faith.

    • Gerald Donnelly

      Thank you for your encouragement. Aidan. Best wishes Gerald

  3. Martin Murray

    Wonderful initiative by Gerard as it both respects nature and reminds us of our common humanity – something we can lose sight of in our pursuit of religion.

    Also slightly off the point – but Gerard’s initiative leads me to wonder if silent intercessory prayer vigils TIGHTLY FOCUSED ON RADICAL REFORM might attract more support than overt protests or appeals to the hierarchy, as they are more culturally in tune with how Irish Catholics express themselves. They should be easy to organise as simple prayer cards similar to Gerard’s would suffice. Small regular gatherings could grow organically and be replicated across the country. For those who feel the need to be more militant, they could see these gatherings as forms of silent protest. Either way “For where two or three gather together as my followers, I am there among them.” (Matthew 18:20) And its amazing the awareness building that can happen in conversations over a cup of tea. Anyone up for drafting a prayer card?

    • Martin Murray

      I just meant to add that I think the term “Godless people” is unfortunate here. I am sure It wasn’t meant to be used in an offensive way, but merely as meaning those who do not believe in God. My faith position is that no one (and indeed nothing) is Godless. Rather it is within God that everyone and everything “lives and moves and has its being” (Acts 17:28) God I believe, loves and believes in all God’s creation regardless of reciprocation.

      • Gerald Donnelly

        Thank you Martin also for your kind words. I struggled with the word “godless” and your interpretation is quite correct. I preferred godless to pagan which I thought outdated? Your idea of a different prayer card is excellent also. I have begun separately to call on houses in my parish to “touch base with them” to see how we as a parish are doing. Too early for feedback but it is interesting. Regards Gerald.

  4. Noel

    I can only join with others and express my admiration for Gerald. His initiative, as Aidan said, takes courage and faith. It would be very interesting, in due course, to hear more by way of ‘feedback’ from Gerald.

  5. Gerald Donnelly

    6 months further along the way, I have continued in a similar vein since writing to you in July. Since completing my initial coverage of my parish of Rowlagh/Quarryvale I have covered 2 further parishes and am working on a third.

    I have distributed nearly 1,800 cards to date in the Clondalkin area. There is a slight difference between areas but not much. My confidence in my own faith has grown enormously and I am confident I could approach anyone, anywhere and at any venue.The overall experience is warm and rewarding. Some people are really touched by my call because of something that is happening in their lives. I say a prayer daily which includes the words “May my territory be increased” and I believe this is my way of doing just that.

    I recently suspended distributing these cards temporarily to conduct a campaign to bring Pope Francis to our Parish when he comes to Dublin in August. A long shot, I know, but it is worth the effort. Again it is door-to-door and only one signature per household and I am pleased to say the response is great, even better than the cards.

    Whoever said the Catholic Church is dead is so far off the mark. Some people remember me from the previous call. Daily door-calling has given me a confidence and commitment I never had before. I would encourage anyone who wishes to bring their faith to a new level to find a way of engaging with the general public at their level on a weekly basis at least. The prayer card might work for you, or something else, and God bless your efforts.

    Best wishes,
    Gerald Donnelly.

  6. Gerald Donnelly

    It is now 5 years since the development of the card. It is amazing how quickly time passes and it’s awhile since I contributed to your website. I am now coming to the completion of the houses in the Clondalkin area. I am happy to report that the average of people accepting the concept (I never deliberately push a card on anyone) is about 8 persons per 30min promotion.
    Recently I started to promote outside the GPO Dublin between 12.30 and 13.00hrs on Saturdays among Atheists, Muslim and other Christian groups. The people I meet are both local, foreign and visitors to our country.
    It is a bit challenging and strangely uplifting an experience, but I am getting into my stride now. The response is still good although the take up is a little less maybe 5 persons per 30mins.
    As time goes on I am finding it constantly challenging my faith as well as the people I meet. It also means I have the privilege of taking about God to strangers. What a joy that is.
    I have also taken the concept to 2 local groups – one Muslim and one Christian and while I was well received it is work in progress. I hope to bring it to all practising groups in the Clondalkin area.
    I am optimistic that, with God’s help this approach may contribute greatly to the revival of our Church and faith in general as it is non-treatening and inclusive. We all share the 10 commandments and even atheists while rejecting the first 3 cannot deny the civil good of 4 to 10.
    Le Dia,
    Gerald Donnelly

    • soconaill

      Well done indeed, Gerald. You continue to show that in simply chatting in a friendly way with strangers we can build bridges – with who knows what consequences


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