Important Announcement

This was not the way I expected to be sharing this news with you but nothing about the last eighteen months has been predictable, I don’t know why I expected this last week of restrictions to be any different. I had prepared myself to share this news with you last weekend and was totally gutted that I had to go into self-isolation on Saturday night (I don’t have COVID) and not be able to celebrate the Sunday Masses. The benefit of not being able to announce my news at Mass means I can share it with in written form, in a clearer way. My news is that I am taking some time out of active priestly ministry and will be leaving St Bon’s at the end of August.

In January I was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder which is known to many as ADHD. ADHD is a Nero-developmental condition which sits on a spectrum with dyspraxia and autism, in schools it is regarded as a Special Educational Need. The cultural myth surrounding ADHD is that it is a condition which makes little boys hyperactive and unmanageable at school. However, it is believed that between 5-7% of the population suffer with ADHD, many of those who have it will never be diagnosed. It affects many girls also but is harder to spot in females as the hyperactive elements are usually more difficult to identify. ADHD comes as a mixed bag; some of the world’s greatest entrepreneurs and creatives like Richard Branson, Will Smith and Emma Watson have ADHD but so does a high percentage of the prison population! Before last November I had no idea that I might even have it and had only ever heard of it through my work as a school governor. Through a series of events starting last November, I sought a professional diagnosis and now I can see that the impact of ADHD on my life has been huge.

ADHD makes me creative, empathetic, a quick thinker, quick to act and helps me see solutions to problems that others can miss. But it also affects my ability to organise, to execute tasks, to prioritise, to concentrate for long periods, to think in a consistently ordered way and it leads me to have a poor working memory which can make me forgetful. My ADHD makes me very sensitive to noise, which can make it very hard for me to relax and it also makes me sensitive to criticism which can make relationships challenging. I am very proud of my creative traits but over my lifetime; in school, university, priesthood I have taken responsibility for the deficits, blaming myself for them. But now I am beginning to be more forgiving and accepting of myself and it feels good!

ADHD affects the way I relate to and communicate with the world around me. What I consider ‘normal’ behaviour, because it’s all I know, is not seen as normal by many people. Many adults who have been diagnosed with ADHD later in life say that the way they were treated by adults and peers as children had a big impact on them. Because ADHD can make you inquisitive and highly energetic you do not necessarily fit into the standard school system, you can be seen as disruptive and can be reprimanded duly. Concentration comes in bursts which makes focusing on long pieces of work difficult. Without a diagnosis those around you have no idea why you behave in the way you do and many children and adults with ADHD are told they are too much, too loud, too talkative, too intense. What I found hardest about this, in my experience, was that I didn’t see my behaviour as wrong or odd, I was just being me and when you are consistently told off or criticised for just being you, you stop being you. You learn to hide yourself to stop getting noticed.

I have only realised all this since my diagnosis in January and it has made me view my life in a totally different light. Essentially, I carried many childhood coping mechanisms into my adult life. Now I am beginning to identify them and let them go, rather than surviving life I am learning to live life. Because of the enormity of the changes, I am experiencing I have decided to take some time away from active priestly ministry to give myself space to process all this new information and grow as I need. This has been the hardest decision of my life and has been many months in the making but I know it is the right decision and I have seen God’s loving hand mysteriously working throughout this process.

This decision leaves me with mixed emotions, I am very sad to be taking a break from priestly ministry and never imagined I would ever do this. I am very sad to be leaving St Bon’s, a parish where I have felt totally at home and have received so much love and affection over the years, I will miss all of you very much. It has been a place where I feel I have been most fruitful as a Priest. Yet at the same time I am very excited to have the chance to explore the rich new insights I am gaining about my life. I am taking a year out and I have no expectation as to where that year will lead, placing myself under loving God’s care I know it will lead where it is meant to. I will be leaving St Bon’s after the evening Mass on 22nd August and my initial plan is to spend time close to family and friends.

Bishop Declan has been amazing throughout this process and was insistent that I did not announce this news before I was able to tell you that he has appointed another Priest to replace me and to continue offering you the love and pastoral care you deserve and need. We will announce his name in the next week or two. I expect this news might make you sad and it will probably come as a shock. If you have comments or questions, please direct them to the parish email account bristol.stbonaventure@cliftondiocese.com. Please do this rather than leaving comments on our social media as these might get missed.

I am gutted that due to myself isolation I will not be able to celebrate Mass with you this weekend or see you, being our feast day makes it even harder, but I am very grateful to Fr Michael for all he has done this week to help me and you! When I am allowed out, I hope to spend time chatting with you and hearing your thoughts on what I have shared.

Fr Tom

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