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Homily of Bishop Denis at the Carlow College, St Patricks Jubilee Reunion Mass 2021


On behalf of Fr. Conn, the College President and the College community of staff and students, I warmly welcome all of you who join with us virtually, for the annual Carlow College St. Patrick’s Jubilee Reunion Mass coming from the Cathedral of the Assumption here in Carlow, where perhaps many of you were ordained . It’s great that the Cathedral Administrator Fr. Tom, himself an alumnus of the College, joins us.

A very different Reunion this year. A Reunion that has adapted and adjusted but let us not be surprised Carlow College St. Patrick’s has had a proud tradition since its opening in 1793 of adapting and adjusting to an ever-changing environment.

A Reunion Mass brings of itself many threads. Threads that make up the complete tapestry of your own narrative and story of what Carlow College, St. Patricks means to you.

There are those celebrating significant jubilees this year and last year, all acknowledged so well by Fr. John, the College Vice-President, in the earlier recorded video message. Congratulations to each one of you. Ad multos annos.

There are colleagues, classmates, alumni who have died since last Union Day. May they all rest in His peace and in His light.

There are those of you for whom health and personal issues have perhaps loomed large in the middle of the painful pandemic that has stretched across the past year and a half. Know that you are remembered this day.

As we gather in prayer on this feast of St. Mary Magdalene, may we share her certainty in saying “Rabbuni![1] … Master, Teacher … and let us take a moment to recognise our sins and pray for His love and mercy …


John’s gospel brings us back the whole way to Easter. And the role of women particularly Mary Magdalene in the story of the resurrection. She was “the apostle to the apostles”. Many of your ordination class-pieces have the phrase: “Euntes Docete Omnes Gentes” (Go Teach All Nations). In more recent class-pieces the phrase may have changed but the sentiment remains. Carlow College St. Patrick’s, as one of the oldest third level colleges on this island, prepared you for a mission that for many went well beyond these shores. What Mary Magdalene began as evangeliser on that very first day of the week, all of you have continued and for this, this Jubilee day we hugely rejoice and sincerely say thanks.

Returning to John’s text it is Mary Magdalene who runs to Peter and the disciple Jesus loved to tell them what she has found. And a bit like a Netflix series we are not told how the two men respond, but the lens returns to Mary, and it is to Mary alone Jesus speaks. It’s as if there are several dramas unfolding in these few verses from St. John. And there is much weeping, pain and upset.

Since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic and its many variants we ourselves have lived with uncertainty. The pandemic has brought much pain and upset into all our lives. Maybe we too shed a few tears along the way, losing precious colleagues and friends to the virulent virus. Closing our Church doors was the hardest thing for any priest to do, and yet when we were ordained from the College we never thought we would become one day so proficient with technology, so adept with webcams, so creative with online ministry. The Church’s mission never stopped through the pandemic. We stood by our people and they stood by us.

For a long time there was a concern around the safe reopening of our Churches for public worship. We have proven yet again that the Church is of itself not a vector for a variant or for the virus. Our social distancing, our sanitising, our stewarding has been second to none. It is only right and proper that the hospitality industry get their reprieve, commencing next Monday. I believe it is timely now to look again at a reprieve around the safe celebration of sacraments in our churches, to look again at social distancing norms as they apply to religious worship.

Walking through the corridors of the college is of itself a lesson in Irish history, a lesson of adapting, reimagining, reinventing ourselves, our Church, our country. Names like the famous JKL Bishop James Doyle, James Fintan Lawlor, John Therry and the architect of this very Cathedral Thomas Cobden. These are only some of those closely associated with the College whose contribution is honoured in the naming of different lecture halls and gathering spaces. The pandemic has called us too to adapt to a different world and a different Church. We become stronger, more resilient when we face the future rather than long for a distant past where things were not all that perhaps we made them out to be. Mary Magdalene is richly rewarded for staying by the empty tomb. She meets her Risen friend, and not only does she recognise Him but He recognises her: “Jesus said, ‘Mary!’. She knew him then and said to him in Hebrew ‘Rabbuni’ – which means Master[2]. Mary had to find it within herself to become the apostle to the apostles, to become the strong one for the others.

The motto of the College is ‘Rescissa Vegetior Assurgit’ – ‘that which has been cut back burgeons forth more abundantly’. The late poet and alumnus who we were privileged to have among us as poet in residence in 2017, Fr. Michael McCarthy, a priest of Leeds and Corkonian to the core, speaks very fondly of his time in the College. It was as much the personalities as the place that gripped the young McCarthy mind. The staff, the students, the families, the friends. Many priests today are eternally grateful for the pastoral experience they were introduced to through the College.

A pastoral experience that finds you today missioning in other fields, in other places. I congratulate the jubilarians of this year and last year. I encourage those for whom the past while has been challenging to be inspired that by being pruned back we will indeed blossom all the more. I remember those no longer with us but who will always remain part of the story of Carlow College, St. Patricks. A story that was first rooted in 1782 and has adapted to a changing environment many times since. May Mary Magdalene who had the courage to wait at the tomb, give us courage we need this day. May Mary Magdalen who had the conviction to recognise Jesus, help us to recognise Him this day. And may Mary Magdalene who had the confidence to become the evangeliser to the apostles, allow us to “Euntes Docete Omnes Gentes” (Go Teach All Nations). Amen.   

[1] Jn.20:16

[2] Jn.20:16