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Episcopal Ordination of Fr Paul Dempsey as Bishop of Achonry

Sunday was a day of immense joy for Kildare and Leighlin to see one of our own, Fr Paul Dempsey, ordained as Bishop of Achonry. While COVID-19 restrictions made it impossible for the many who would have liked to travel to Ballaghaderreen, the few of us who were there were honoured to witness such an occasion.

We look forward to welcoming Bishop Paul back for a celebration at a later date when restrictions ease further. We very much keep him in our prayers particularly as he settles and puts down roots in a new part of the Lord’s vineyard.

The episcopal motto Bishop Paul has chosen is “Duc in Altum” (Luke 5:4) (Put out into the deep) which is a challenge to all of us, priests and people, to move together into new waters where we will find a great catch of fish.

Below is a selection of images from the ordination that I particularly like and the words of Fr Vincent Sherlock’s homily along with Bishop Paul’s first address as Bishop.



Homily preached by Father Vincent Sherlock

The story goes back many years and finds us in the sacristy of a church in this diocese, in the presence of a priest, long since gone to his Eternal Reward.  There is a funeral taking place, the lady who has died is the mother of a priest and the bishop and many concelebrants have packed the small sacristy to overflowing.  A young Altar Server, realising there is more happening here than on the normal day, edges his way through the crowd of priests, finds his own and tugs at his Alb: “When do I ring the bell Father?” he asks in hushed tone.  He feels this is a day when things need to be done right.  The parish priest smiles, looks at him and says, “Anytime you feel like it!”  I think that comes under the heading “No Liturgical Fuss”!!

Our liturgy today may be simple in style, taking place in the absence of many who Paul and indeed our diocese would have wanted here but remains nonetheless deeply profound.  At day’s end, we will have a new bishop in Achonry Diocese, and this is for all of us, a cause of great joy.

Paul Dempsey, who will be among the youngest of our priests, takes up a calling today that had its stirrings in his Carlow home.  Among the photos in the ordination booklet today there are two that come to mind, one is clearly visible and the second hides itself behind some text.  The clear picture is of a family celebrating the baptism of the youngest child, with one of his sisters wearing her First Holy Communion Dress.  No doubt it seemed the right thing to do on such a happy day and I like to think it reminded her of her own happy day celebrated sometime earlier.  This is a central photo in the story that unfolds itself here this afternoon, for the characters in that photo and the sacrament it recalls have made Paul Dempsey the man he is today. The man who was able to say yes last December when Archbishop Okolo spoke to him of Pope Francis’ decision that he should be the new Bishop of Achonry.  There are only two of the characters in that photo here with us today, Paul and his brother Tony.  Sadly, his parents have gone to reap the rewards of lives well lived and COVID-19 made travel here today a journey too far for his sisters Bernadette and Angela.  Though not physically with us, we know that they, like the many who wished they could be here with you Paul, are filled with pride, immersed in love and praying you every blessing.  We join with them.

Coming to us from Newbridge, might we take that very name to locate you in the faith journey of our diocese.  You are and will be a NEW BRIDGE – a bridge between what has been and what is to come, a bridge between what has been lost and what is to be found, a bridge between Heaven and Earth, between God and His people.  The bridge makes travel possible, the NEW BRIDGE puts shape, puts its own stamp on the journey and we are thankful for the roads you will travel within our diocese and beyond, to help us find and know the way, the truth and the life.

The Monaghan poet, Patrick Kavanagh, wrote a poem one time for a neighbour who was being ordained a priest.  He called it “TO THE MAN AFTER THE HARROW” and it is a wonderful poem, a man’s gift, born of his own talent, to a neighbour who is taking a significant step in life.  “Now leave the check reins slack”, he tells him, “for the seed is flying far today”.  There is something deep being said here to a young man who could run the risk of being rigid, fearful, anxious – wanting to make no mistake.  The slackness of the check reins, far from leaving the horse to wander, encourages the horse to give of its best, to walk a straight path and allow far flung seeds to embed themselves in the stony grey soil ….  Paul, I hear Kavanagh say the same to you.  Be yourself Paul, be relaxed and encourage others through gentle witness.  No need for a tight grip, since you are walking in the Gospel message, with your people, walking for your people, the journey and the work will continue.

Kavanagh also tells the neighbour to “Forget the men on Brady’s Hill,/ forget what Brady’s boy may say;/ for destiny will not fulfil/ unless you let the harrow play”.  He knew what might hold his neighbour back, fear of what people might say, and Kavanagh felt that was not a good starting point.  We all have that fear, the fear of people’s reactions, fear that our words might not be carefully enough stitched together, fear of ridicule.  To the young priest, his poet-neighbour, says don’t worry about what people say, be the priest you need to be – be the priest people need you to be and as long as you are speaking from a place of rootedness, your words are only intended to build up, to take us across the NEW BRIDGE.  Our wish for you today, is that those words you have spoken through your twenty-three years of priesthood, those healing and meaningful words, will flow into and out of your words and actions as Bishop of Achonry.

The other picture, the one I said was hiding behind words in the booklet is of a young boy on a bicycle.  Paul Dempsey, do you remember who taught you to cycle?  Was it your father or your mother?  Was it Tony or one of your sisters? Was it a friend in Carlow?  Do you remember someone walking behind you, holding the carrier as you tried to stay upright?  Do you remember that day when, looking back you realised you were on your own, cycling and that you had found your balance?  The open road was yours and life would never be quite the same again.  Of course you were not on your own, for the hands that let go of the carrier, reached out to you, the eyes watched out for you and the one left standing delighted that you had found your way.  May the boy behind the words on a page of today’s booklet, be found in the man who will find words today and answer “I am”, “I am”, “I am” …. until he says “I am, with the help of God.”

I mentioned Kavanagh earlier and his poem to a young priest about to be ordained.  There is another of his poems, not written to a young priest but about an old priest.  It is entitled “Father Matt” and there is an incredible description of the priest and his place in the parish. “He was part of the place,/natural as a round stone in a grass field;/he could walk through a cattle fair/and the people would only notice his odd spirit there”.  Is it just me, or is that not perfection?  The priest in the parish, as “natural as a round stone in a grass field” – natural, that has to be the key, “part of the place”, that is the call.  Our diocese has its share of grass fields with stones in their corners and our diocese needs priests and a bishop to be a natural part of the place.  Working with you Paul, as priests, religious and laity, may HIS gentle spirit be known through ours.

Today’s Gospel speaks of picking up the Cross and following Christ.  Today’s ceremony will see you presented with symbols of your office, among them, the cross you hang around your neck and the crozier that speaks to the shepherd in you.  Many years ago, I went to St Mary’s in Sligo to pay my respects to Bishop Dominic Conway who had died.  As I prayed at his coffin, I noticed a crozier and mitre left close by.  Later that day, I attended the funeral of a neighbour from home – a man of this parish, a cattle dealer called Eugene Casey. Beside his coffin were his cattle stick and an old hat.  I could not help but think that both men had sought to make a difference in life.  The hat they wore and the stick they carried may have had different names, but they called both men to be hard workers, to do their best and to make a difference.  We pray that you will find that strength today. You have already found it in saying “yes” to this moment, but may you find it afresh and find it often that you can make a difference.

Launch out into the deep, “DUC IN ALTUM”, there are fish there – maybe we cannot see them with the naked eye, maybe they are swimming near the bottom or hiding in the rushes but they are there.  So too, people of faith, people trying to swim and often against the tide – people caught up in the rushes, drifting and uncertain.  They need to hear the casting of the line, the lowering of the net and above all the patient waiting of the fisherman, who knows the waters, the flow of the stream and the NEW BRIDGE to cross it.

Finally, let us go back to that sacristy, to the young boy and the priest and the question: “When do I ring the bell?”  Paul, chances are you have questions today too, questions rooted in the answer you will give, the answer you have given but questions, nonetheless.  “When can I ask them to help me?”  “When can I seek their support?” “When can I ask for their prayers?”  “When can I approach their door?” “When can I ring the bell?”  The answer …….

“Anytime you feel like it – anytime you need to.”

May God who has begun the good work in you, bring it to fulfilment.

Address of Bishop Paul Dempsey 

I remember my first visit to the Cathedral here, it was back on a chilly day in mid-January.  Fr. Dermot Meehan, the Diocesan administrator, brought me along to see it.  We parked at the front of the Cathedral and walked around by the side.  As we walked around the first thing Fr. Dermot pointed out was where the bishops are buried!  A sobering thought in case I got ahead of myself!  In a similar vein, while reading the history of the diocese, I came across a bishop who came to Achonry, transferred from Killala Diocese, in the late 18th Century.  It was observed that he was “very elderly, toothless and goutish…”  I still have my full set of teeth and to the best of my knowledge, I don’t suffer from gout, so I hope things are looking up!

Many years ago, I came across an important saying that went; “Gratefulness is the heartbeat of prayer.”  It is certainly the heartbeat of my prayer here today!  I give thanks to God for my family, friends, Bishop Denis, the priests & people of Kildare and Leighlin Diocese and the parishes I had the privilege to serve in.  I am truly grateful for your love and support.

To those who have become part of my story since December last; Archbishop Okolo, the Papal Nuncio, for his support and encouragement and for representing Pope Francis here today.

Archbishop Neary, for leading us in the Ordination and the bishops of the Western Province.  They have been so welcoming to me and I look forward to working together over the coming years.

Rev. Andrea Wills, representing the Church of Ireland Community.

Fr. Dermot Meehan, who administrated the Diocese in the absence of a bishop.  Fr. Dermot has put in many hours of hard work and effort.  He has been a tremendous support to me and has offered his wisdom and guidance, which is very much appreciated.

There are so many people who have made today possible, people who have worked very hard to bring it all together in very difficult circumstances with the Covid situation;

Fr. Vincent Sherlock for his homily, as always words chosen beautifully, a gift he has and is so generous in sharing it.

Fr. Martin Henry, our Master of Ceremonies.  Fr. Joe and Fr. Paul in the Cathedral and the team with them, our sacristan, stewards and all who worked hard in the background, your time and efforts are truly appreciated.

To our Choir and Organist, Antionette Byrne under the direction of Maria Moynihan.  Our traditionalist musicians Grainne Horan and Fr. James McDonagh and also Fr. Tommy Towey.  Thank you all for making our ceremony so prayerful and special.

Sr. Pat and Bernie at Bishop’s House, thank you for all the extra work and effort over recent weeks and months.

Because of the various restrictions and lockdown, the importance of our virtual presence became all the more important for those watching in from home.  We are socially distant, but spiritually close.  For enabling this to happen I thank Fr. Bill Kemmy and the team at iCatholic and Brendan Nugent for his assistance.

To the Priests and people of Achonry Diocese, thank you for your warm welcome.  I look forward to meeting you in the coming weeks and working together into the future.

The world has changed radically since we gathered here on the 27th of January for the announcement of my appointment. None of us could have imagined how the Pandemic, in the blink of an eye, could change our lives in such a profound way.  Many lives have become fragmented, uncertain, somewhat fearful.  It’s all a bit wearisome.

However, I wonder does the present moment pose an opportunity for the Church? Perhaps in this moment of uncertainty we have the chance to look to something or someone greater than ourselves, someone who is there for us no matter what, someone who says to us in the midst of trials and tribulations; “Do not be afraid!” Perhaps this crisis nudges us to reflect upon our relationship with Christ and with one another.

When a priest is appointed bishop, he normally chooses a motto, it is something that gives a focus to his ministry.  I chose “Duc in Altum,” meaning “Put out into the deep.”  It is taken from Luke 5:4. In that passage, Peter and the disciples were wearisome, fed up, tired… perhaps a bit like ourselves at this time!  But it is in that very moment Jesus appears to them on the shore.  He sees things differently! He sees an opportunity in the moment.  He invites them, challenges them to “Put out into the deep water…”

We’re all familiar with the story and what happens, but we must be careful not to reduce this to Jesus simply asking them to try again! He wasn’t telling them to try again, he was inviting them, asking them, challenging them to go farther out into unchartered waters.  He wanted them to go beyond what was familiar and safe to a place they had never gone before!  Not only that, dropping their nets in that deep place involved more work, more energy, more effort than staying by the safe shoreline.

Surely this must resonate with us in the Church today.  Perhaps we have become satisfied with the shoreline, the place that is familiar and safe?  Or do we hear that call of Christ in a renewed way today to the Church; “Go out, go out into the deep…”

We can all agree that this is not an easy task, we too like the disciples can find ourselves wearisome, fearful, tired.  But it was in the midst of all these struggles, that very moment that Jesus appeared and called his disciples!  He doesn’t stand at the shoreline calling to us from a distance, he has climbed into the boat with us!

My vision, my hope, my dream for the Diocese of Achonry, is that we, the people, priests, religious and bishop, listen to that call of Christ in a renewed way today.  Let’s not be prisoners of mediocrity, but agents of hope, going out into the deep, the unchartered waters with, as Pope Francis put it, “The Joy of the Gospel!”  Let us not be held back by the voices that say; “we have always done it this way.” The disciples would still be sitting at the shoreline with empty nets if they listened to that voice!

In recent months we’ve become familiar with the saying; “We’re in this together.”  As a diocese we’re on this faith journey together, as a diocese we listen to and discern the call of Christ together, as a diocese we share the mission together.  There will be challenges along the way, there will be difficult decisions to be made.  But from the words of the Kerry poet Brendan Kennelly we draw hope and encouragement where he reminds us;

“Even though we live in a world that dreams of ending
That’s always seems about to give in
Something that will not acknowledge conclusion
Insists that we forever begin”

So, from this sacred place, where the Christian story has been celebrated for generations… let us go out, go out to where Christ is calling us as community of disciples today…Let us begin!