Find your parish Donate

Bishop Denis’ Homily at Mass celebrating the Golden Jubilee of Fr John Stapleton, PP Killeigh

Golden Jubilee of Ordination – Fr. John Stapleton PP:                           30.06.23

St. Patrick’s Church, Killeigh @ 7.30pm


We gather to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of Ordination of Fr. John Stapleton this Friday evening. Tomorrow by date, July 1st , marks the 50th anniversary of Fr. John’s ordination in the place of his birth Vicarstown. Indeed today by date is his birthday, so we wish him well on both counts!

Our gospel comes from St. Matthew and is the great commissioning, the sending out of the disciples – to make, to baptise and to teach. Fr. John in all your appointments you have reached out to many who were at times broken and dispirited. You were the face of Church that gave them hope. You have been a teacher from your days of study in Mount St. Oliver that led you to your role as Post Primary Diocesan Advisor, a role you held from 1978-1990. And you have been a baptiser from that first baby you baptised in your few months in St. Mullins who probably now is dad or mam to one of the successful hurlers on the Senior St. Mullins or Mount Leinster Rangers Panel to the last baby you baptised Molly Kayla Gorman on March 8th in Raheen Church for parents Catherine and Mark.

Tonight we have come to give thanks, not just to a man who would shy from personal adulation but for the gift of priesthood. A gift that Fr. John generously shared and continues to share with you the people of Killeigh parish over the past 23 years. And so as at every celebration, we call to mind our sins and pray for forgiveness …


The prophet Isaiah offers us the template for ministerial priesthood. It is the reading we hear every year at the Chrism Mass in the Cathedral. It’s the Mass where sacred oils are blessed and priests gather to renew their ordination promises. Our psalm and our gospel both are a sending out. It’s not enough to have the good news, we must spread it, we must share it. And then the letter to the Hebrews reminds us that Melchizedek is the order we must imitate: “high priest of the order of Melchizedek[1].

Fr. John was ordained in the Church of the Assumption, Vicarstown on July 1st, 1973. There was only one other co-diocesan ordained that year – Edward Doyle in Bennekerry. So two ordinations in 1973, ten years earlier in 1963 there were nine men ordained for the Diocese. There has never been a year like it since! I have no doubt such a year will never be seen in our lifetime. A year has just begun especially dedicated to the promotion and encouragement of vocations to the diocesan priesthood. The theme is “You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you” with the tag line ‘Take the Risk for Christ’.

Fr. John took that risk in 1973; Msgr. Tom in 1958. And both of them some years earlier in their decisions to begin formation in the Irish College, Rome and in Maynooth College respectively. Taking a Risk for Christ is putting ourselves up front and out centre as the hands and feet of Christ working alongside wonderful lay people, for whom their faith remains very important to them.

At the moment across the diocese we are reflecting in the newly formed Pastoral Areas as how best together we might serve the Lord in a very different Ireland, a very different diocese. Within the Pastoral Areas are cluster groupings of parishes, for example Killeigh here is linked with Clonaslee, Rosenallis, Portarlington, Mountmellick and Emo. It’s important to work together, to work collaboratively. Long gone has to be the days when the life of a parish waxes or wanes with the personality of whoever the priest may be. It’s not about the priest, it’s about all of us, working together, co-responsible for our faith and the faith life of the community. It’s about all of us living out our baptismal calling. A reminder of Fr. John’s first baptism in those months in St. Mullins and in later appointments in Kill, Newbridge and here in Killeigh.

When Priests are ordained, when Permanent Deacons are invited forward, when the names of Confirmation Candidates are called out, the only response all are invited to give is ‘Present’. A Golden Jubilee is a celebration of fifty years of that presence, that response, in several parishes, in several appointments.

In every appointment, a priests vocation is endorsed and affirmed by the privileged intimacy he enjoys with those he serves. An intimacy where boundaries are respected. An intimacy where trust is core. An intimacy where ministry is affirmed.

I absolutely accept that the culture today is not near as conducive or receptive to religious vocations as in the 1960’s, 70’s, 80’s. There are less going to Sunday Mass, the pandemic has done a huge disservice to public worship and for some it has simply slipped off their radar. I want to encourage you all, including those on webcam, back to Mass. There is nothing to equal the physical gathering, when we feel able to do so.

The decline in the interest of things spiritual accompanied by sickening reports and enquires where the abuse of the most precious was uncovered has rightly so angered many, including our very good priests. Religion is not at the centre of society, we have been relegated to the side-lines but the voice of Church is still important and must be heard today. We need priests. And we need them very much in Kildare & Leighlin.

My message today if you are a parent or grandparent, a friend or a sibling and a young man confides in you, encourage them. If you think someone would make a good priest one day, hold them in your prayers and gently invite them to consider the priesthood. There is nothing that would give John Stapleton more joy in this the fiftieth anniversary of his ordination than to see someone from the parish community offer themselves for formation.

I delighted in reading Fr. John’s story as told by himself for Killeigh Community Centre Development Association in April of last year. His story is no different than any of ours. In it he reminds us of a rhyme his dad taught him:

God made man, man made money.
God made the bees, and the bees made honey.
God made the big man to plough and to sow.
God made the little man to hunt away the crow”.

For some reason at home I too was sent to frighten the crows from the barley fields. I want to assure John, its doesn’t always go with the territory of being “the little man!”

Earlier this evening the remains of Msgr. Caoimhín O Néill were received into Abbeyleix Church. He was a huge presence in our diocese, President of St. Patrick’s College, Carlow for 21 years. He will be remembered as an accomplished artist, a scholarly poet, a raconteur but most of all as a faithful priest who served Kildare & Leighlin for 54 years. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam uasal.

In celebrating Fr. John’s golden jubilee, we also remember absent friends like Msgr. Caoimhín and others, Fr. John’s own brother and sister, his parents and the Stapleton clan who now are in eternity. The Stapleton home was a house of boys – the one sister dying at birth. I’m not sure if any of John’s brothers ever contemplated a vocation to priesthood, but there were 13 sets of brothers ordained for the diocese in the past hundred years. Of course John’s uncle Mick Coughlan served as Administrator of the Cathedral before becoming PP of Arles, there are many examples of uncles and nephews. May this year of vocation bear great fruit for vocations in our diocese. Fr. John, ad multos annos!

[1] Heb.5:10