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Homily of Bishop Denis at the Bicentenary of St Fintan’s Parish, Raheen

Feast of St. Fintan – Bicentenary of St. Fintan’s Parish, Raheen:           17.02.23

Mass @ 7pm – St. Fintan’s Church, Raheen


We gather on the evening of feast of St. Fintan, to honour the bicentenary of this parish community, a community that has been served by seventeen Parish Priests over those 200 years. And alongside the seventeen Parish Priests, I include the forty curates who also ministered here from 1835-1995.

It’s great that a number of those priests who served here and also priests who are natives of Raheen have returned to be with Fr. Paddy, Fr. Peter and you, the people of Raheen, for this evenings celebration.

The Book of Genesis introduces us to a people who felt by their building, they would in some ways reach the heavens. It was from the outset a futile exercise! When we lay a foundation stone, we never know what the final outcome might be; when we turn out the lights and close a door, we never know who’ll walk in through that door and turn them on the next time.

As we gather in prayer, at a time of deep reflection in the diocese as we continue to “launch out into the deep”, let us together acknowledge our past, recognise our present and anticipate our future …   


There are many legends around St. Fintan. I followed with interest on social media the pilgrimage to St. Fintan’s Well in Cramogue earlier this morning. I know the story of the woman who brought a kettle full of water home from that well and tried to boil the kettle when she got home and it wouldn’t boil! She took the lid off and prodded the water with a fork. There was a trout in the kettle and she is reputed to have taken the eye out of the trout with the fork! She hurried back with the trout to the well. And if you happen to see to this day that one eyed trout, you will be healed of all your infirmities!

Let’s leave that trout in the well and look to the saint himself. It is said that Fintan’s dad held a farewell party before his son departed for his monastic life. If that is true, it certainly was his last party, as life in Clonenagh was austere to put it mildly. Fintan’s monastic rule was known for its severity and strictness, even by the monastic standards of the day. And you can certain there were then no three star monasteries!

Like so many of our saints in our rich Irish cultural heritage there is little that is known with absolute certainty around the saint except for the monastic site over at Clonenagh. Clonenagh is of course what Raheen/Mountrath was known as, before Raheen/Shanahoe Parish was established in 1820.

Looking back to these monasteries, I often wonder what thoughts might have gone through the mind of the last monk as he blew out the candle and left Clonenagh behind him? A monastery that was founded in the sixth century by Fintan and most likely survived until destruction by the Vikings in the ninth century. Historians suggest it had well faded from history by the twelfth century. It’s at Clonenagh that Fintan chose to be laid to rest when he died in 603AD. In a time now when everything about Brigid is being celebrated; it is well accepted that Fintan was related to Brigid. The Book of Leinster in its corpus of saints pedigrees lists him third in rank behind Patrick and Brigid.

Let’s return to that last Clonenagh monk, successor to St. Fintan, most likely sometime in the ninth century. The Vikings were plundering every monastery in sight. He would have quenched the candle and left the monastery out of fear for his life. How long he survived, we can only reminisce? What did he feel about the faith that he nourished and embellished in the monastery, would it survive? In the matter of a few hundred years all traces of Fintan and his colleagues are well gone, all that remains are thirteen early Christian cross-slabs around the wall inside the gate. Maybe we have similar thoughts as we wonder what will become of our faith communities after us, after our time? What will be left of us and our families?

Under discussion in our diocese at the moment is the establishment of seventeen cluster groupings of parishes within seven Pastoral Areas. I’m very conscious that while we speak of 56 parishes, in effect there are 117 faith communities. Who would dare to say which faith community takes precedence? The people of Shanahoe have as much pride in their community as do you the people of Raheen and rightly so.

I recall being here on March 23rd, 2014 to mark the rededication of this splendid church, one of four churches in our diocese, dedicated to St. Fintan; a rededication made possible then because of huge generosity and local good will. This church is a beacon in the local community for what can be done by committed lay people working alongside their priest in tandem, in harmony. And it continues to be.

Long gone is the day when the life of a parish community waxes or wanes with the personality of whoever the priest. It’s not about the priest or indeed about that last monk who quenched the candle at Clonenagh, 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. The Ursuline Sisters now occupy the Parochial House, they are a wonderful presence here, Sr. Jasmine, Sr. Mareena, Sr. Vinaya and their first postulant Aoife. The Ursuline Sisters of Mary Immaculate show us what’s possible when we put our trust in a future not of our making, but God’s.

When priests are ordained, the only word that they are invited to say during the liturgy of Ordination is ‘Present’. All of us, priests and people, are called to be present in the field hospital, that is the Church today. The field hospital that is Raheen/Shanahoe.

Who knows what will be here in two hundred years-time? Ours is not to be like the people of the Old Testament building edifices that we will be remembered by, but to be really present with one another, taking up our cross together and following Him.