Dia is Muire dhibh go léir. Good morning and thank you for being here. I welcome, in particular, the people and priests of Ferns who are tuning in via webcam.
As we gather here in this beautiful cathedral, it is with a great sense of unworthiness that I accept the gracious invitation of Pope Francis to the ministry of Bishop here in the historic Diocese of Ferns.
We are living in strange times as we continue to cope with COVID-19. I would like to begin by offering my sympathies to the relatives of those who have died recently, including those who suffered with the COVID-19 coronavirus and in particular, the families of Ferns diocese who have lost loved ones. Leaba i measc na naomh doibh siud ata imithe uainn. Also, I would like to acknowledge the heroism of all the healthcare and frontline workers who continue to be involved in responding to the pandemic.
I am privileged to be chosen by Pope Francis to lead this historic Diocese and I feel very humbled. I would like to thank His Excellency, Archbishop Jude Thaddeus Okolo, the Papal Nuncio to Ireland, for his presence here this morning, leading us in the celebration of the Eucharist, as well as his kind support and detailed preparations for this announcement. My links to Ferns Diocese is principally through the Ferns students who were classmates in Maynooth. Father John Carroll, Diocesan Secretary, has been a source of both welcome and help over the past week and whose deep knowledge of the Diocese I know I will draw on frequently during the coming years. I also mention today with great affection, the late Fintan Morris who was a great friend in Maynooth and afterwards and who would no doubt have a raised eyebrow at me standing here. Mentioning those classmates who have died, I remember my great friend John Cummins who died so tragically a few years ago and John Byrne, Joe McKeever and Paddy Mullaney all of whom are now with the Lord.
My faith story began in the parish of Tulla in East Clare. I am the eldest of a family of four, three girls and myself who were blessed to have Tommy and Mary Nash as their parents. Both of them passed away in the early years of this century as did my sister Bernie. My other sisters, Teresa and Margaret and my brother-in-law Jim are here in the Cathedral today. I also acknowledge my aunt Rita, who was a significant figure in all our lives and who has also gone to God. I went to both Primary and Secondary school in Tulla and after studying business for a few years and a number of years working in industry, I went to Saint Patrick’s College Maynooth, to study for the priesthood for the Killaloe Diocese.
My vocation story began with my involvement in two organisations, Muintearas Íosa, a youth movement begun in the 1970s by an tAth. Michéal Liostún in Limerick, founded on the three principles of Fáilte, Foghlaim agus Guí. Welcome, Learning and Prayer. The other formative organisation was the Young Christian Students/Workers – YCS and YCW. This European movement founded by Joseph Cardijn, a Belgian priest who later became a Cardinal, developed a methodology for young people to integrate their faith and with the reality of their lives either as students or workers. The method Cardijn developed – See, Judge, Act – is the exact outline used by Pope Francis in his latest book Let us Dream.
I was ordained on 15 June 1991 and my first appointment was as chaplain and teacher in Roscrea Vocational School. In 1996, Bishop Willie Walsh asked me to take on the role of General Manger in Clarecare, the Social Services Organisation for the County of Clare. I went to live in Corofin, Co Clare, and worked as an assistant priest. In 2003 when I left Clarecare, I remained in Corofin and began to work with three other priests to set up the first example of Team Ministry in the Diocese. The Pastoral Area, which still exists is called Imeall Boirne – (The Edge of the Burren). In 2010 I moved to Crusheen, also within the Imeall Boirne Pastoral Area and took on the role of part-time Diocesan Secretary. In 2016, I was asked by the Diocese to take on the role of Director of Pastoral Development.
As part of the Pastoral Development Team I was privileged to work with Maureen Kelly as Pastoral Worker, supported by Jean Gaynor our secretary.
I am particularly proud of our project of the last three years where we recruited and are continuing to train 25 candidates as Catechists and Pastoral Workers. Maranna Quinlivan is the third invaluable member of the Formation Team for the New Ministries and I want to acknowledge all who participated in this training even when Covid made it difficult to meet other than online. The academic element of the training was facilitated by the Theology Department of Mary Immaculate College, Limerick, under the direct guidance of Father Eamonn Fitzgibbon who has been a wonderful colleague in our project. I also want to acknowledge the great work done in Youth Ministry in the Diocese, by the Youth Forum, volunteers in a number of different projects and especially through the work of Joanne O’Brien, Director of Youth Ministry.
At this point I would like to thank Bishop Denis Brennan for the welcome extended to me from the moment he heard of my appointment. Thank you Bishop Denis – and I also want to offer thanks on your behalf for his leadership and care of the Diocese over the past 15 years. I wish you good health and time to enjoy your retirement. Thank you for your welcome as well as your offer of practical support and your prayers. Thanks also to John Carroll and Frs Odhrán Furlong and Jim Doyle here in the Cathedral Parish for their coordination of the preparations for today. Thanks also to the Vicars of the Diocese, Joe McGrath, Denis Browne, Aodhan Marken and Brian Broaders and also to Trish Murphy in the Diocesan Office.
My hope and prayer is that we can work together here in Ferns with the Spirit of God sustaining us to nurture the faith and to ensure that our Church is a place of welcome and hospitality for all. In accord with Pope Francis’ model in Let us Dream, I would wish to lead this Diocese in Seeing, Reflecting and Acting so that we become a refuge of healing and encouragement with space for all who are searching for meaning, especially, as we emerge tentatively from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Pope Francis continues to call the Church to work in a synodal manner. In the last few weeks the Holy Father has postponed the Synod of Bishops which was due to be held next year in Rome, so that their deliberations will be informed by discussions at parish, diocesan, national and wider levels. In parallel with this, the Bishops of Ireland have announced their intention to begin a synodal process involving the whole country over the coming years. I have a sense that we are at a turning point in our Church story in Ireland, and it is exciting to be asked to take a leadership role at such a time.
I look forward, with the help of God, to walking with the people and parish communities throughout the diocese of Ferns as we respond to that call to synodality.
As I leave Killaloe, I also thank the three Bishops with whom I worked closely during the past 12 years. Bishop Willie Walsh lives his motto of Cinealtas Chríost every day of his life and I hope to have the courage he has always shown as priest and bishop. I want to thank Archbishop Kieran O’Reilly SMA, whose time in Killaloe was short but whose vision and planning gave us our current pastoral plan which emphasised collaboration as a central principle. Finally, I thank my classmate, Bishop Fintan Monahan, whose availability and kindness to people and priests sets a benchmark for good ministry. I also thank him for his unwavering support for the projects we undertook in Pastoral Development over the past five years.
In acknowledging my roots in the Diocese of Killaloe I would like to thank all who have given support and friendship to me; people, priest colleagues, staff members in the Diocesan Office, candidates for the New Ministries and the many parish people in parishes and parish groups who continue to work tirelessly to build sustainable Christian Communities in a time of great change.
In particular, I want to thank the priests with whom I’ve worked in different parishes or areas of work or responsibility. Our Diocese has been blessed that many priests go the extra mile in the building of parish community or are generous with their talents towards the wider community of the Diocese. I was also part of a team in the Diocesan Office and I thank everybody who carried responsibilities in Finance, Safeguarding, Administration, Catechetics, Care of Priests and Helen, who made our office, a home from home.
Today is the Feast of the Sacred Heart, an image familiar to most of us reared in twentieth century Ireland with its distinctive Sacred Heart picture and lamp. Can I suggest that its expression today is to remind me that I am called to have a heart for all people and to paraphrase the old prayer “Christ has no heart on earth but ours”. When reading Father Billy Swans’ reflection on this feast-day in the Hook of Faith blog, I was delighted to be reminded that in addition to its spiritual significance, the Sacred Heart lamp was the place you looked to see if you had power in the house after a storm or other break. Then you could get on with the milking or with the washing or you might even be in time to catch Glenroeon television!
There is a scripture quotation which always gives me hope in times of challenge and uncertainty. It is from the prophet Jeremiah when he hears the Lord saying “My plans for you are peace and not disaster. I have reserved for you a future full of hope.” I pray that here in Ferns we will turn our faces towards the future set aside for us by God and that we will journey forward together in faith.
Thank you for listening and please remember me in your prayers.
Ag Lorg na Suáilcí
“Dóchas, creideamh agus grá
Bíodh go brách ’na stiúir do mo chroí,
Agus cuir leosan foighid, a Dhé,
– Ba chabhair thréan don triúr í.”
Go raibh na suáilcí sin Dóchas, Creideamh, Grá chomh maith le foighne
os mo chomhair inniu agus i gconaí agus mé ag tógáil an chéim seo, in ainm Dé!