At the time of my appointment as bishop in April 1988, Ronald Reagan was President of the U.S.A. Mikael Gorbachev was in charge of the U.S.S.R. and the Berlin Wall looked impregnable. As all these have changed, it is inevitable that there is a change in Clonfert as well! After a little over 31 years since my appointment as Bishop of Clonfert, I am happy that Pope Francis has today accepted my resignation. The good news is that, despite the prognostications of some, the diocese will continue to have its own identity and its own bishop. Moladh go deo le Dia.
We live in a changing situation in the Irish Church. There are many changes and challenges facing us as Church and we must rise to the challenge and proclaim the saving message of Jesus Christ in a language that people understand. Certainly, Pope Francis is doing everything in his power to show leadership in proclaiming Jesus in a changing environment. I believe that there are great opportunities for a fresh proclamation of God’s unwavering love for us.
Within Clonfert, I enjoyed the duties of diocesan and parish life – visiting parishes and church communities on a regular basis. This is one of the advantages of being bishop in a small diocese – you can get to know people much better. I visited primary and post-primary schools on a regular basis, inter-acting with pupils and teachers. I value highly the work of our teachers both at the sacramental level and indeed throughout the whole religion programme.
The support of the Religious of the diocese has always been significant. While ages are increasing and numbers are declining, I thank the Redemptorists in Esker and the Carmelite priests in Loughrea for their backing in various ventures. I also appreciate the work of the Mercy Sisters, Franciscan Sisters and the Carmelite Nuns and their kindness to me particularly during some of the more difficult situations.
I was helped very much by various clerical and lay bodies. I formally meet with the priests as a body four times a year. I have worked closely with the Priests’ Council and more recently with the Development Committee whose report is a basis for future growth in the diocese. Among groups in which I was personally involved are the Clonfert-Lourdes Committee, the Clonfert Finance Committee and The Clonfert Child Safeguarding Committee. I thank those involved with me in these bodies and I trust that their work will continue to develop and thrive. Most of all, I thank the priests of the diocese for their support and commitment. It has been my privilege to work with them as priest initially and as bishop over the past thirty-one years. I have always felt welcome in the parishes and pastoral councils of the diocese and I appreciate the commitment to gospel values on the part of priests, religious and laity alike.
At national level, I was pleased to have been appointed as chairman of Trócaire and I enjoyed my 20 years involvement in its care for people in the developing world. The great commitment of the staff to the promotion of justice, peace and social development has been a tremendous feature of the Irish Catholic Church. Later I was chairman of the Irish Episcopal Commission for Emigrants and the Irish Council for Prisoners Overseas. These two related agencies are a great expression of the social commitment of the Irish church. I have also been the liaison bishop between the Episcopal Conference and the international Catholic Peace Movement, Pax Christi.
I warmly welcome Father Michael Duignan as the new Bishop of Clonfert. He comes from Bealnamullia, Co. Roscommon bordering the parish of Taughmaconnell in the Clonfert Diocese. Indeed, while our educational and clerical formations differ, Michael and I are both from the same parish, St Peter’s, Athlone. Michael has been involved in education and administration in Elphin Diocese for the past 25 years. He was Director of Religious Education, Theology and Chaplaincy in St Angela’s College, Sligo and was Chairperson of the Board of Management of Summerhill College, Sligo. Last August, he chaired the Liturgy Committee for the visit of Pope Francis to Knock Shrine. He has also been involved in organizing young adults and students in preparations for various World Youth Day events. He has organised and given training and formation programmes for Parish Pastoral Councils, Liturgy Groups, Eucharistic Ministers and Ministers of the Word. Clonfert will benefit hugely from his presence as our bishop. Céad míle fáilte romhat.