I am delighted to hear the news that Pope Francis has appointed Dr. Michael Duignan to be the next Bishop of Clonfert. I have known Father Michael for over twenty-five years, and we worked together on the formation of Permanent Deacons long before my appointment as Bishop of Elphin. Father Michael, who is one of the youngest priests in the Diocese of Elphin, has made an enormous contribution to the mission of the diocese, particularly in the area of education. Since completing his doctoral studies in Rome in 2002, he has lectured in Theology at Saint Angela’s College, Sligo and has been an important formative influence in the lives of a whole generation of young teachers of Religious Education. Father Michael also guided the process of establishing the Permanent Diaconate in the Diocese of Elphin, one of the first dioceses in Ireland in which the ministry was established in modern times.
It has been a great blessing for me, in my own mission as bishop, to have been able to draw on the wisdom and expertise of Father Michael. In addition to serving as Chancellor and Diocesan Secretary, he generously agreed to take on the role of Episcopal Vicar for Education. In exercising that role, he has travelled the length and breadth of the diocese, supporting teachers and Boards of Management in their mission of providing quality education in the spirit of the Gospel. Since 2008, he has served as Chairperson of the Board of Management of the College of the Immaculate Conception, Summerhill, Sligo which provides a rich and diversified education for almost 1,000 boys and young men.
Father Michael grew up in Bealnamulla and had his primary education just down the road at Cloonakilla NS when it was a much smaller place than it is now. In recent years, he played a major part in guiding the amalgamation of his old secondary school, Saint Aloysius College with Saint Joseph’s College, Summerhill, giving birth to Coláiste Chiaráin, a bright hope for the future of our young people in the Athlone area.
One of the primary responsibilities of a bishop is to celebrate the Liturgy for the people. Father Michael is a prayerful celebrant of the Eucharist and the Sacraments and, in 2018, played a significant role in preparing the Liturgy for the visit of Pope Francis to Knock Shrine. Having the heart of a teacher, Father Michael always manages to preach in such a way that the Word of God and the experience of daily life are brought together.
We who have worked with Father Michael, and who have benefitted from his dedication to mission and enjoyed his good humour, will miss him greatly. I wish Father Michael every blessing in his new mission as Bishop and I join with all his family and friends in praying that the Holy Spirit will guide and strengthen him to lead, to teach and to sanctify in the Vineyard of Clonfert.
Bishop John Kirby is, himself, a son of Elphin, although he has served all his life as a priest in Clonfert. I think with gratitude of the service that he gave over many years as Director of Trócaire and his particular interest in the needs of Irish emigrants. He has joyfully and energetically continued the serve the people of Clonfert, long after the normal age of retirement. I have valued his friendship and the opportunity we have had to work together at the Episcopal Conference at regional meetings of the Western Bishops. I take this opportunity now to send him my best wishes and to ask God’s blessing on him on the occasion of his retirement.