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Homily of Bishop Denis at the Bicentenary Mass, Holy Cross Church Killeshin, 08.05.22

Fourth Sunday of Easter – Year C
3.00pm: Bicentenary Mass – Holy Cross Church, Killeshin


We gather on Good Shepherd Sunday, the Fourth Sunday of Easter – Vocations Sunday. It has been an absolute joy walking with you in our procession from St. Clare’s Church out here to the Church of the Holy Cross, Killeshin, as we celebrate its bicentenary this splendid afternoon. Isn’t it great to be able to resume our procession tradition once again; isn’t it great to be able to gather together after two years of pandemic. I welcome all of you who are here to celebrate the bicentenary, I welcome native priests and neighbouring priests and religious.

So much has been done by Fr. John but particularly by the local Killeshin community to make sure there would be a complete diary of events around this anniversary. The Stations of the Cross, which we blessed on Good Friday last are very sensitively and creatively designed and erected, in keeping with the beautiful Killeshin landscape. The picturesque and prayerful new grotto below. The art work around the church depicting our sacramental synodal journey. I love the one of the ancient Killeshin doorway entitled ‘Reconciliation’. Each art work takes something local and blends it into our own journey of healing, grace and eucharist.

The image of the ‘Good Shepherd’ is one that speaks volumes to all of us. It is one that resonates with every church and every faith community. The Shepherd continues to call His sheep. The call to take up a Priestly Vocation; the call to become a Religious; the call to enter Community life is still made today, but maybe we don’t recognise that call, those promptings. We pray for God’s love, God’s mercy and God’s Spirit to allow us simply to be open and responsive to that call …


A few days before the pandemic lockdown took hold I had the pleasure of celebrating the bicentenary of St. Fintan’s Church out in Ballinabranna. I’m still very moved by a line that offered a context on the church building period of the 1820’s. I quote from Shay Kinsella who beautifully captures the scene for us all: “those builders who laid its first stones on 26 May 1823, had they raised their heads to survey the surrounding countryside, would have seen little beyond the odd thatched cottage, poor mud tracks for roads and small fields of poorly-drained yet fertile land” .

While Shay wrote it in the context of Ballinabranna, it could as easily have been written for Killeshin or St. John the Baptist Church in Grange which celebrates its bicentenary on June 19th next. Three churches in a relatively short distance from one another built by a people who had very little to nothing but faith. Later in August I look forward to the launch of Pat Whelan’s book on ‘The History of Holy Cross Church’. I will let Pat tell the complete story rather than try to synopsise it in these few lines. However there can be no doubt that the economic conditions of the time will be no different, whether it was Ballinabranna, Grange or here in Killeshin.

“The sheep that belong to me listen to my voice.” The people of the 1820’s listened and recognised the voice of the Shepherd. Killeshin is sacred ground. Our diocesan historian Comerford reminds us the ancient parochial districts of Killeshin and Sleaty are intimately connected with the earliest period of Irish Church history. Perhaps we should have taken our shoes off as we climbed the steps after the Killeshin Pipe Bands rendition of ‘Faith of our Fathers’! We are indeed on holy ground. Killeshin is indeed a sacred place that links us to the earliest days of faith on this island.

The original name was Gleann-Uisean, which is said to have been derived from Uissin, the son of Finn McCool. The monastery was founded here in the sixth century, St. Diarmuid it’s first Abbot. St. Fiacc is very closely associated with Sleaty. So this church was built on the shoulders of a great tradition of faith. The church that preceded this church was at the cross-roads at Clonmore. Dr. Doyle (JKL) who lived at Old Derrig, which we passed on our earlier procession was instrumental in the building of this church and its dedication to the Holy Cross. Pope Pius VII in a decree dated 18th May 1821 granted a Plenary Indulgence associated with today’s devotions. The decree according to Comerford once again was issued under seal from Carlow by JKL dated 11th January 1822 . The indulgence centred on the ‘Feast of the Invention of the Most Holy Cross’ which was traditionally observed on May 3rd or the Sunday during its Octave.

So our procession is steeped in devotion to the Holy Cross, rather than a May Day procession as we might be inclined to believe. I am particularly pleased that a relic of the Holy Cross is being reinstated into the church today. I thank Fr. Christy Twomey, Capuchin, formerly of Dublin Street, now in Friary Street, Kilkenny for his help to me in attaining the relic. Fr. Seán Kelly told me in the sacristy that fifty years ago the carnival aspect of this day was introduced, we look forward to experiencing something of that later in Killeshin Hall after Mass.

Two hundred years later what kind of church might we build for our local faith communities? The Synodal journey which Pope Francis has invited the universal church to travel on and which we have fully engaged with in our parishes and diocese tells me and all of us that listening is critical. The initial synodal gatherings centred on the joys, the pains and the hopes we all have for our Church today. What features strongly is the place of the local parish, the local community where the priest and the people work closely with one another. 40% of those who engaged online were between the ages of 18-29. This is a critical group, a group perhaps that are not as engaged in the everyday of church, but link in for sacramental moments and parting moments like Requiems and Funerals.

The church building of tomorrow, while built on rich foundations of faith, will most likely have to have some multi-purpose element. A building where people feel welcome, no matter who they are, how they identify or where they come from. A place where people feel at home. A place where people listen to the Lord’s voice. A place where they recognise him not just in relics or tabernacles, altars or ambos but most importantly in one another.

On this Religious Vocations Sunday let us remember in prayer those buried all around us in this splendid cemetery that is Killeshin. People who handed on faith to families; people who were nourished in their faith journey from this very church. I include Fr. Hugh Cullen who died in 1917 and Mgr. P.J. Brophy who died in 1998 and of course Fr. John Fingleton, who died in May 2015, while not buried here but is fondly remembered on the headstone outside. May those who have gone before us and all associated with this church over the past two hundred years, all who recognised the voice of the Shepherd, rest in His embrace this day.