Top of the Morning

by Janet Thomas

Assistant Managing Editor

Listen Download Print Share

Sharing is an important part of friendship, especially when you share seminary.

To be honest about it, the seminary students in the Phoenix Park Ward of the Dublin Ireland Stake were a little worried. More than a little worried. Their stake president and their bishop had approached them about something new. Would they be the first seminary class in all of Ireland to try meeting every day—early every day?

Elaine O’Farrell, 15, put their fears into words. “I thought if we see each other every day, we’ll get on each other’s nerves.” And there was that other obvious worry. Pamela Fagan, 15, said, “No way would they get me out of bed that early.” And Farris Bukhatwa, 17, and Louise Byrne, 17, lived the farthest distance away. It was not going to be easy.

But not everyone was worried about the early-morning class. Jenna Gallagher, 15, was a little bit excited about the idea. Of course, her dad is the stake president. But it went beyond supporting dad. This was going to be her first year of seminary. She said, “I used to hear about early-morning seminary in America. I always dreamed of going to seminary that way. I was really pleased when we were told we were going to do it. I knew if I made a sacrifice, the Lord would bless me.”

Then it happened. Things started to work out. Farris got the car in the mornings and could pick up Louise. Pamela even agreed to getting up extra early to be ready to leave on time with her brother Derek. Elaine changed her mind and said that she liked seeing these people every morning. Jenna was happy just to be in seminary. Brett, 18, and Brandt Crowther, 16, the mission president’s sons, were thrilled to be with other Church members their same ages every day. And best of all, their teacher, Rosemary Richmond, was terrific.

On the last day of early-morning seminary for the year, they were able to look back and see some remarkable things that had happened in their lives during the past year.

Knowing the answers

At school in Ireland, all students are required to take religion class. Even though they go to early-morning seminary, these Latter-day Saint students are not excused from their school religion requirement. But their study of the scriptures has paid off. Louise said, “We have Franciscan friars that visited our school. When they were asking questions, they would point to me and put their fingers to their lips as if to say, ‘Shhh, don’t answer the question.’ They know I can answer it.”

Elaine has the same story. “I always get A’s in religion class. If my teacher asked what a word means, like covenant, I would answer. He knew I would know the answer no matter what he asked.”

Derek Fagan, 17, has excelled both in school and in seminary, and he credits an experience he had just before he received his patriarchal blessing. “We had been talking about patriarchal blessings in seminary. I prayed and asked if I should get my patriarchal blessing. Our stake did not have a patriarch at that time, but three days later, our new patriarch was called. I felt it was my answer. That was the time I decided for myself that the Church was true and I would try harder to do well and choose the right. My patriarchal blessing was amazing. I carry it around with me everywhere. Since early-morning seminary started, everything has been clearer. Even in school, I just learn very quickly now. It’s unusual to do ordinary level subjects for exams and then move up and take the exam at a higher level. The teachers were rather amazed when I moved from ordinary level to higher.”

Derek has also become the first seminary student in Ireland to learn all the scripture mastery scriptures. As an extra challenge, he memorized the First Vision as found in Joseph Smith—History.

Becoming converted

Brett and Brandt Crowther were giving up high school in the United States to come to Ireland with their parents while their father served as a mission president. Brett would miss only his senior year, but Brandt would miss three years of high school. Then, by the time his dad’s mission was over, Brandt would be old enough to serve his own mission full-time. “Some of my friends did tease me about going on a five-year mission.”

Brandt remembers the time right before early-morning seminary started just a few months after he arrived in Ireland. “I prayed almost every night of my life, but one night about eight months ago, I prayed with sincerity and asked the Lord what He wanted me to do here. I needed to know in my heart that the Church was true. And I found out that God does live and He loves me. I gained an understanding of what He wanted me to do. And since then, I’ve been happy being here. I’ve loved it. I’m closer to the Savior now.”

Brandt explains some of the things the Lord told him he needed to do. “I needed to read the scriptures every day and to pray every night and keep the commandments. And be enthusiastic. I needed to get in gear. That night the Spirit was with me. I didn’t want to go to bed. I stayed up feeling that feeling. The best way I can explain it was like I wasn’t alone and I knew it.”

Seminary class often helped give direct answers to Farris. “I received a testimony of prayer and of tithing. I was just praying about things that I really needed to find out about. It would click in seminary. I would understand things better. It is so much better when you get an answer. The Spirit tells you it is true. What is that like? It’s calm, and you understand things. You’re not nervous. You know it’s true. You feel it in your heart.”

Having fun on Saturday nights

One unique thing about this seminary class has been how much the students enjoy being together. It seems every weekday morning isn’t enough. They now get together every Saturday night, too.

It all started when Louise’s mother told Brett that Louise’s friends always ask her to go to the pub with them on Saturdays, but she never goes. Brett said, “We can get a group of people and go out and have some fun. We decided to take the whole class, make it a seminary thing. After that, every Saturday night, we’ve been doing it. It’s good fun.”

What do they do? The first week they went to the cinema, but that quickly became too expensive. So they started going to each other’s houses to play games (the Crowthers taught them to play capture-the-flag) or watch videos or just talk and talk and talk. Elaine explains, “We used to have nothing to talk about; now we don’t have enough time to talk. It’s very fun. When I was in Primary, I never used to mix. I’d stay to myself. When I was in school, I never talked to anybody. But my confidence has grown to talk to people more since I started hanging around with the group.”

For Louise, having something else to do on Saturdays has helped her be comfortable in her decision to stay strong in the Church. “It’s not an excuse, but it’s a reason for me not to go with my friends from work because they go out every weekend. Sometimes, I used to go along. I didn’t do anything I shouldn’t, but it was just being there. It just didn’t feel good. It wears out your spirit eventually. I got so tired of trying to speak up for myself. When I go with the seminary class, I can just be me. And that’s accepted.”

And most of all, “Saturday nights are fun,” says Pamela. “Usually my friends go out on Saturday night. Their standards are completely different from mine. I prefer and feel much better going to the seminary activity. We have great fun.”

Derek adds, “Early-morning seminary has brought us closer, and we’re better friends. Definitely. Saturday evenings we have activities. It’s not planned by any adults. It’s all arranged by us. I’ve gotten a lot closer to everyone in the class, even Pamela, my sister. Most nights the kids at school would go out and get drunk and break the Word of Wisdom. I wouldn’t even consider that as a choice.”

Making the commitment

Most of all, this year of seminary has taught them the meaning of faith. Standing before the class each morning is their teacher, Rosemary Richmond, prepared to help them learn from Church history about the faith of the early prophets and members. Her husband, Brendan, suffers from an extremely rare and damaging lung disorder and is confined to a wheelchair. She has the constant worry about her husband’s care and health, yet she is willing and eager to prepare lessons and have the early-morning seminary class come each day.

Louise said, “Members here are very faithful, especially Rosemary, with all the trials she’s been through. It makes you realize how lucky you are. While in seminary, we read about the Prophet Joseph Smith and the pioneers. Joseph Smith did a marvelous thing. He’s a great man. I love him. The testimony that he had never faltered. Can you imagine living back in those days? Some people say these are the hardest days, but I think then it was so much harder. Now if we were called to Zion, we’d just catch a plane. The pioneers had to walk halfway across America just to practice what they believe. I want that sort of faith because I love the Church.”

Louise is developing that kind of faith. Every day she stands up for her beliefs. But with her small group of valiant seminary friends, she doesn’t have to stand alone. None of them do. They have found a way to strengthen each other. And that has made all the difference.

Photography by Janet Thomas

After an incredible first year of early-morning seminary in Dublin, the class created a bond of friendship. Four girls, (left to right) Elaine O’Farrell, Pamela Fagan, Louise Byrne, and Jenna Gallagher, in Ireland’s first early-morning seminary class, found that being together helped them make good choices in all areas of their lives. (Inset) A view of downtown Dublin.

Meeting with their teacher, Rosemary Richmond, each morning at her home (top, left), the Phoenix Ward seminary class learns about the sacrifices of the early members of the Church. (Center, left to right) Class members Derek Fagan, Brandt Crowther, and Brett Crowther pause on a Dublin city street.

The class sings for Brother Richmond (top, right) while he is temporarily hospitalized. (Insets, far left) Picturesque Irish countryside; (left) doors at the entrance to Trinity College in Dublin.

Spending time together outside of class (top, left), has created a group of friends who enjoy each other even when playing silly games or just talking. (Center) Louise and Jenna have become close friends despite their age difference, something that may not have happened without early-morning seminary.

Having people they can depend on to be supportive and friendly has made a huge difference in this class. (Top, right) Just sitting together in Phoenix Park can be great when with the right people. (Insets, left) Kilkenny Castle, south of Dublin; (right) coastal road on the outskirts of Dublin.