The end of Irish chaplains abroad helping Irish immigrant communities may be at hand due to a lack of vocations.

If it occurs it would end a centuries-old role for Irish priests ministering to Irish communities in the United States.

In the aftermath of a week when San Francisco Irish immigrant chaplain Father Brendan McBride played a critical role in the support of families who lost children in the Berkeley platform collapse, Irish church authorities are warning that chaplains may soon be no more.

They warned in the Irish Catholic that the inspired work of priests like McBride and Father John McCarthy in Boston, who is deeply respected there, will be very difficult to continue. There are only two Irish-born emigrant chaplains left.

Father Alan Hilliard of the Irish Episcopal Commission for Emigrants told The Irish Catholic “this is one area where the shortage of priests is really biting.”

Referring to the “wonderful work” of Fr Brendan McBride of the Irish Immigration Pastoral Center in San Francisco, Hilliard said Irish chaplains in the US are “trying hard to hold onto an identity that is about pastoral care.”

“Given the shortage of clergy in Ireland, the bishops will be asking themselves if they can afford to be sending priests abroad,” he said

Meanwhile, Irish-born Fr Aidan McAleenan of St Columba Parish in Oakland, who is not specifically an emigrant chaplain, also played a huge role in comforting the Berkeley families.

He stated that it was “shocking” the lack of priests available to be sent from Ireland as chaplains to expats in the US.

Fr McAleenan, who is originally from Banbridge, County Down, said: “I know resources are spread very thin, but I just couldn’t imagine not having the pastoral center here.

“It has to be asked: where are we going to get priests to send to America to take care of the Irish there when we can hardly take care of what is going on at home. It’s a very troubling situation,” he said.

Meanwhile, Bishop Brendan Leahy of Limerick has said the Berkeley tragedy while unspeakable, brought people together.

“The sense of solidarity across Ireland and beyond, and particularly from the young, is hopefully shining through for them in these darkest hours.”