As we launch out into Catholic Schools Week, it is so encouraging to see so many young people here today! During my life as a priest I have worked a lot with young people. I have often heard it said that young people are the future of the Church, but we must remember you are not just the future, you are the Church of today! Each one of you is created by God in a unique and special way. He has a special mission in mind for each one of you. You are His disciples! Remember, the world needs Christ, Christ needs you! He needs your energy, your enthusiasm, your generosity. As you share these gifts in the life of the Church, you open up all sorts of new possibilities now and into the future. So, let’s work together to build that future of hope!
Returning to my own story, one of the first questions people tend to ask is “Where are you from?” My own answer to that question is a little complex. I was born in Carlow Town and then, when I was seven, my family moved to Athy in Co Kildare, where I lived until I was eighteen. So, I normally say I’m originally from Carlow, but spent most of my life in Co Kildare. Indeed, all of my life as a priest over the past twenty-two years has been spent serving in Co Kildare. I’m presently working in Newbridge parish, on the edge of the Curragh of Kildare tracing its roots back to the time of Saint Brigid who’s Feast Day we will celebrate in a few days, 1 February.
Those twenty-two years of service in the Diocese of Kildare & Leighlin, have brought me immense joy. I have felt loved and supported all throughout the years by my brother priests, parishioners, deacons, friends and religious. They have all helped me to grow as a person and as a priest, enabling me to say today that I love being a priest, despite the many challenges that have been part of the journey for any of us who have travelled this road. As I take a new direction, there is a sadness within me as I leave the Diocese of Kildare & Leighlin but I know the love and support I have received there, I bring with me to this new chapter of my life in the Diocese of Achonry.
The beginning of that new chapter started with a phone call from Archbishop Okolo on Monday morning, 16 December, a phone call that would change my life. Archbishop Okolo and I met later that day and he informed me that Pope Francis wished to appoint me as Bishop of Achonry. I’m still not over the shock! I would like to express my sincere thanks to Archbishop Okolo, firstly for gracing us with his presence here today as Pope Francis’ representative, but also for his welcome, kindness, patience and care shown to me over these past weeks. He has been a true pastor to me for which I am deeply grateful.
To my own Bishop, Denis Nulty, a man who is held in the highest esteem in the Diocese of Kildare & Leighlin by priests, deacons, people and religious. His episcopal motto is; “Serve the Lord with Gladness.” His ministry as bishop encapsulates that wholeheartedly as he works tirelessly to share the Gospel every day with all those he meets. Bishop Denis has been unflinching in his care and support of me since he became bishop over six years ago and especially these past few weeks. He has been a true brother and friend, for which I say, thank you.
Father Dermot Meehan has been administrating the diocese since Bishop Brendan Kelly was appointed to Galway almost two years ago. I remember Bishop Brendan today, whose episcopal ordination took place here in this Cathedral on this date, twelve years ago. I wish him every blessing on this his anniversary. Father Dermot has been most welcoming to me and I am very grateful to him for giving of himself so generously in service of the people, religious, deacons and priests of the diocese as well as serving the people in the Parish of Swinford. I look forward to working with him into the future and drawing upon his rich experience and wisdom.
I’m sure you can understand how daunting it is to take on the role of bishop in a new diocese. I’m conscious of my own unworthiness and sinfulness as I take on this role. I ask you to be patient with me as I endeavour to get to know the priests, people, deacons and religious of the diocese in the coming weeks and months. I have a strong connection with the diocese as my brother, Tony lives in Kiltemagh along with his wife Mary and family, a place I have visited many times.
Most of my life as a priest has been in parish ministry as well as youth and vocations work and some local media involvement. I hope the experience gained in these areas will help me in my ministry in the Diocese of Achonry. The diocese here is steeped in faith going back to the sixth century with its patrons’ Saint Nathy and Saint Attracta. Over the centuries that faith has adapted to changing times and now that faith is in our hands. We need to reflect deeply on how we nourish and hand on that faith today in the midst of many challenging questions. I look forward to us working together as we face those questions and respond to the call of Christ outlined in the Gospel of Luke; “Duc in Altum,” (Luke 5;4) “Put out into the deep.” That call of Christ to “go out” is as real here today in the Diocese of Achonry as it was when Christ first called from the shore.
Pope Francis reflects this when he said in his Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium;
“Pastoral ministry in a missionary key seeks to abandon the complacent attitude that says: “We have always done it this way”. I invite everyone to be bold and creative in this task of rethinking the goals, structures, style and methods of evangelization in their respective communities.” (EG 33).
As we begin this new chapter together may we be “bold and creative” in our task and mission of reaching out to all with the message of Jesus Christ, remembering especially those who have been hurt in any way.
Many thanks for being here today, thank you to all who organised today’s gathering, your work and efforts are very much appreciated. I ask you all to keep me in your prayers as I will remember you in mine.
Every blessing and good wish!