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Bishop Denis’ Homily at Mass celebrating the Platinum Jubilee of Fr Michael Noonan

Platinum Jubilee of Priesthood – Fr. Mick Noonan PE:                         20.06.24

St. Michael’s Church, Portarlington: Mass @ 10am


We gather on the Feast of the Irish Martyrs, the eve of the summer solstice, to celebrate the Platinum Jubilee of Fr. Michael Noonan. A Platinum Jubilee, which is of itself understandably rare, celebrates 70 years and how great it is to join with you Fr. Michael or as your friends and diocesan colleagues might call you Fr. Mick.

It’s great to see you looking so well, as you prepare in July to celebrate your 95th birthday. We are all delighted to be with you and with the regular daily congregation here in St. Michael’s Church, Portarlington. I welcome your brother priests from around the diocese and your many friends who join with Fr. Tom, Fr. Eugen and myself this day.

The Feast of the Irish Martyrs commemorates the seventeen men and women, cleric and lay, put to death for their faith between 1579-1654. Each story and testimony is moving in the loyalty these seventeen showed to their faith and their belief.

Among them of local interest is included Peter Higgins, a Dominican Prior, who worked around Naas; Matthew Lambert, a Wexford baker and Margaret Ball from my own native county of Meath. Fr. Mick there are no Kilkenny ‘cats’ numbered among the seventeen! They leave their martyrdom to the green turf of Nowlan Park or Croke Park!

Matthews gospel reminds us how to pray using the Lord’s prayer. Conscious of our need every day to forgive and be forgiven we pray …


Next year is a Jubilee Year of Hope. Jubilees come every fifty years or so. The idea of a jubilee comes from the Old Testament. The root of the word is from the Hebrew word ‘yobhel’, which refers to the ram’s horn that sounded all over Israel to usher in a Jubilee Year. In biblical times, most people were dead by the age of fifty, so a Jubilee Year was in effect a once in a lifetime event, often marked by three particular actions – slaves were set free; fields were allowed to go fallow for the year and debts were forgiven. The Jubilee Year pressed society’s reset button, economically, culturally and environmentally.

Celebrating a Platinum Jubilee is, as I said at the introduction of this Mass, of itself a very rare occasion. I recall the celebration in June 2019 honouring the Platinum Jubilee of the late and fellow Kilkenny man, Fr. Jack O’Leary in Gowran Abbey Nursing Home. We celebrate Fr. Michael’s this morning  in the context of the Feast of the Irish Martyrs. The Bull of Indiction recently issued for next year’s Jubilee Year reminds us “the most convincing testimony to hope is provided by the martyrs. Steadfast in their faith in the risen Christ, they renounced life itself here below, rather than betray their Lord. Martyrs, as confessors of the life that knows no end, are present and numerous in every age[1]. Jubilee is in essence a time of great hope, looking back and looking forward. And so we gather in that great sense of hope here in Portarlington this Thursday morning.

Fr. Michael, you were ordained on June 20th, 1954, exactly seventy years ago today. A native of Inistigoe, in County Kilkenny, over the border in Ossory. You attended St. Kieran’s College, before entering Maynooth. Ossory was closed then to vocations, and you applied successfully to join Kildare & Leighlin. And how blessed we are that you did.

In 1954 there were 63[2] ordained from Maynooth, 58 by John Charles McQuaid in the college on this very day – 20th June 1954. There were more ordained on that one day than there have been over the last number of years in Ireland. You were the only Kildare & Leighlin man that year. 34 were ordained from St. Patrick’s College, Carlow; Joe Meaney for the diocese. There were 30 ordained from St. Kieran’s College by Dr. Collier, including our own Pat Breen. Remember not one ordained for Ossory as the diocese was closed to vocations, they had enough of priests. How times have changed! Among the 7 ordained in the Irish College that year was Dick Kelly, late of Rhode.

I was curious to see number of students studying for the diocese when you returned to the Dunboyne in Maynooth College to study for the Dip. There were 31[3] Kildare & Leighlin students listed in that years Kalendarium. Moling Lennon, Larry Ryan, John Aughney, John Fingleton, Gary Doyle and Matt Kelly were then in third theology. Matt 68 years ordained last Monday. Returning to the Kalendarium of 1954-55, Sean Swayne, Joe Shortall, Pat Fleming and Bernard Ryan were in second theology. Tom Coonan and Ned Whelan were both in First Theology. Among those listed as first years in Philosophy and Arts was Brendan Byrne, with the second year group including Frank MacNamara, Tommy O’Shea and Denis Harrington. 

You were appointed on to the staff of Knockbeg after your Dip in September 1955, becoming its thirteenth rector in 1971. You held the post of Rector for ten years. I know there are many men across Laois and surrounding counties who owe you a huge depth of gratitude for your time there; helping to form them into the characters they are today. Recently a past pupil of Knockbeg, retired from a distinguished career in Oxford, reminded me how the priests role in Knockbeg had an immense influence on all the students there.

Knockbeg is a very different building and place than it was in your day, it is great to see the new library named in your honour. One young man, who begins his Leaving Cert there in September wrote in the recent College Annual that the teachers were not just “purveyors of knowledge, they are sculptors of character, moulding future students who are not only academically adept but also embued with integrity, resilience, and a sense of social responsibility[4]. I couldn’t put it better myself. You were that purveyor of knowledge and moulder of character.

You came here to Portarlington in 1981, and did outstanding work in the schools, the churches and throughout the parish over your 23 years at the helm. I know that Bishop Jim was here for your Golden Jubilee and enjoyed immensely the reception in the GAA Hall following the Jubilee Mass twenty years ago. You like your golf, your stamp collecting and your trips to Croke Park to watch your beloved Kilkenny.

The people of Portarlington, Fr. Tom and all the priests who have worked with you and served here are indebted to the annual social history known as the ‘Portarlington and Killenard Emigrant Newsletter’. You and the team around you have faithfully kept this production going, allowing emigrants to keep in touch with news straddling the Laois/Offaly border.

In the most recent issue[5] you wrote about the origin of the idea where teaching priests in St. Patrick’s College and in  Knockbeg offered summer cover in the Diocese of St. Augustine, Florida. Three of the staff then, Michael Noonan, Moling Lennon and Tom Coonan put their names down and landed in Orlando airport on the first Friday in June 1961. There you were handed the keys of a car and told you were the Parish Priest of Eustis for eight weeks! So Portarlington wasn’t your first parish!

The motto of St. Kieran’s College is Hiems Transit, Winter Passes. On the eve of the summer solstice may you be blessed with health to enjoy this Platinum Jubilee day as you look forward to your 95th birthday in July, even if your mothers date for your birthday and your birth cert differ by a couple of days. At 95 you can never blow out enough candles. You always went with your mothers date, noting “she should know”!  

As I conclude I am reminded of the Hurler’s Prayer

Grant me O Lord, a hurler’s skill,
With strength of arm and speed of limb
Unerring eye for the flying ball
And courage to match whate’er befall
May my stroke be steady and my aim be true
My actions manly and my misses few
No matter what way the game may go
May I rest in friendship with every foe
When the final whistle for me has blown
And I stand at last before God’s judgement throne
May the great referee when he calls my name
Say, you hurled like a man; you played the game

For all that has been Fr. Michael, thanks and for all that is to come, let us all remain open to God’s will and blessing.

[1] Spes non Confundit – Bull of Indiction of the Ordinary Jubilee of the Year 2025, 9 May 2024, ¶ 20.

[2] Figures taken from the Irish Catholic Directory and Almanac 1955, Duffy & Co. ltd, Dublin pg. 591-606

[3] Kalendarium, St. Patricks College, 1954-55, Browne & Nolan Ltd, Dublin, pg.211

[4] Gaffney, Michael, Leaving 2, ‘The essential elements of a Knockbeg student’, Knockbeg College Annual 2024, pg. 47 

[5] Portarlington & Killenard Emigrant Newsletter, ‘A Florida Interlude’, 2023, pg.20-21