Words of Most Rev. Dr. Denis Brennan D.D., Bishop of Ferns on the occasion of his ordination to the Episcopate at St. Aidan’s Cathedral, Enniscorthy, Co. Wexford
23 APRIL 2006
WORDS OF MOST REV DR DENIS BRENNAN D.D.
BISHOP OF FERNS
ON THE OCCASION OF HIS ORDINATION TO THE EPISCOPATE
ST AIDAN’S CATHEDRAL, ENNISCORTHY
“I have only one ambition today, to walk with you, the people, religious and priests
of the diocese in your joys and your sorrows. Sometimes I may be able to help you,
sometimes I may need you to help me.” – Bishop Denis Brennan
There is an old African proverb which says ‘it takes a whole village to raise a child’.
In a sense you could say that it takes a whole diocese to raise a Bishop. Today is not
just about me alone, it is about all of us and it is about that which binds us together,
our common faith in God.
A vocation does not come flat-packed; it grows out of a context of faith and worship.
So today is about my family and their neighbours, working and worshipping at the foot
of the Blackstairs in the middle of the last century.
Today is about the good, caring priests I knew in Rathnure and Kiltealy as I grew up.
It’s about the Master and Mrs Power, both of whom explained and reinforced the faith
of the home.
Today is about the good teachers, lay and clerical whom I met in St. Peter’s College.
It’s about the friends I made there, many of whom are here today. It’s also about the
six years I spent in St. Peter’s Seminary, again blessed by teachers who nourished our
idealism and wanted us to be the best people we could be.
At the present time over four hundred priests who trained and were ordained in St Peter’s
are ministering here in Ferns, in England, in Scotland, in the U.S., in Latin America
and Africa. I look upon today as a celebration of their lives and ministry. The ministry
and good work of those who completed their formation in the other colleges is also very
much valued today. Our shared ministerial priesthood binds us as one.
Today is about the Church of Ireland neighbours among whom I grew up and whose sense of
God and good neighbourliness I have always admired.
Today is about the sixteen years I spent in the House of Missions, the sense of community
and mission that we had there, the shared memories that will always be with us and the
fun and friendship that we had, as we travelled from place to place.
Last week I received a letter from the retired Archbishop of Armagh, Cardinal Cahal B.
Daly saying that he would not be able to be with us today and wishing me and the diocese
well. In the course of his letter he mentioned that when he was a student in Maynooth,
he remembers conversations among the student body along the lines of Ferns having something
that no other diocese had. The House of Missions was simply that – a very special place –
a bequest to the diocese from Bishop Thomas Furlong in 1866 and a place where I was taught
both how to priest and preach.
Today is about the eleven years I spent in St. Senan’s Parish here in Enniscorthy, it’s
about the good people I came to know and admire there and what I can only describe as the
good natured humanity of the place!
It’s about the nine years I spent in Taghmon, again a place with a great sense of identity,
community and fellowship with our Church of Ireland neighbours.
Today is about persons who were abused by priests of the diocese; it’s about their struggle
to be listened to and believed, their on-going pain and their search for healing.
Today is about the people of the diocese, that little strip of land between the mountains
and the sea that we call Ferns, its about our journey in the faith, where we have come from
and where we will go in the future.
Today is about the priests of the diocese, good men, who in very challenging times stayed
at their posts.
It’s about the Religious, generous hearted people who have made a huge contribution to the
diocese and who are still quietly bearing witness.
Today is about my predecessors back to St Aidan, about the bishops who confirmed and ordained
me, who appointed me and supported me, and the gifts and talents they shared so freely with
It’s about Bishop Eamonn and his tireless work over the past four years to bring justice
and healing. The greatest compliment we can pay to him is to continue his work of healing
Today is about people who for whatever reason no longer walk with us, they challenge us to
be more credible witnesses and they are family too.
It’s also about those who have come to live among us, the ‘new Irish’, they have come to
make a new life here, they will enrich us with their talents and heritage and they will
help to shape the Ireland of today – and indeed the Church of today – and tomorrow.
Today is about the sick and the witness they give, and through the offices of South East
Radio, I would like to say a special ‘hello’ to them today.
Today is about classmates who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith, Michael
O’Rourke, Frank Barron, Declan Jordan, Jim Shaughnassy and Fintan Whitty.
Today is about Monsignor Patrick J. Corish, our most senior priest, who when he was seventeen
years old remembers hearing that Bishop Codd, the last Wexford born bishop had died.
It is also about our deacon Jim Doyle who is preparing for Ordination to the priesthood
All these people are part of what we celebrate today, part of our journey and part of our
story – our past, our present and our future – Jesus Christ, yesterday, today and forever.
I have only one ambition today, to walk with you, the people, religious and priests of the
diocese in your joys and sorrows. Sometimes I may be able to help you, sometimes I may need
you to help me.
My prayer is that whatever the future may hold for us, we will walk into it together in
faith, hope and love.
+ Denis Brennan
Bishop of Ferns
23 April 2006
Notes to Editors:
Biography of Bishop Denis Brennan:
Monsignor Denis Brennan was born in 1945, the son of Denis and Bridget Brennan,
Springmount, Rathnure. He received his primary education in Kiltealy National School,
and his secondary education in St Peter’s College,Wexford. He then entered St Peter’s
Seminary and was ordained at St Peter’s College on 31 May 1970. In September that year
he became a member of the Missionaries of the Blessed Sacrament at the House of Missions,
Enniscorthy, and conducted missions and retreats in Ireland, Britain and Newfoundland.
He was the last Superior of the House of Missions before its closure in 1992. He was
Administrator of St Senan’s Parish, Templeshannon, from December 1986, and was appointed
parish priest of Taghmon in March 1997. Since then he served as Vicar Forane for the
Wexford deanery and as the diocesan delegate charged with child protection, and was
a member of the diocesan Council of Priests.
The Bishop’s Coat of Arms
The shield is divided per chevron gold and black. The gold field is sown with crosses
which are in purple. These tinctures are a reference to the traditional colours of the
county of Wexford, wherein lies most of the diocese of Ferns. The crosses reflect the
sowing of the seeds of the gospel, a reference to the new Bishop’s time as a member of
the House of Missions, Enniscorthy. The lower part of the shield is black and is in
the shape of an inverted V. This is a reference to the Blackstairs Mountains, one of
the most familiar boundaries of the Diocese and the home area of the new Bishop. The
gold torch refers to the Hook Lighthouse at the southern end of the Diocese, the torch
is used to illustrate the function of a lighthouse as a beacon shining in the night.
The torch and the black field can also reflect John 1:5……’a light that shines in
the dark, a light that darkness could not overpower.’
The Diocese of Ferns
The foundation of the diocese of Ferns (Fearna) is said to date from the year 598 when
Brandubh, king of Uí Cinsealaigh, gave a grant of land to Maodhóg (St Aidan) who became
first bishop in the area at that time. One of his successors, St Moling (+697) dedicated
a holy well at Ferns to his memory, known as Maodhóg’s Well. During the ninth and tenth
centuries, Ferns was attacked and plundered on at least eight occasions by the Vikings.
At the Synod of Ráth Breasail in 1111 the boundaries of the diocese were determined. One
of the results of the Norman invasion in the twelfth century was the foundation of
Cistercian abbeys at Dunbrody (in the present parish of Horeswood) about 1175, and at
Tintern (in the present parish of Ballycullane) in 1200. In 1184, Ailbin Ó Maolmhuaidh,
abbot of the Cistercian foundation at Baltinglass, succeeded to the See of Maodhóg. He
attended the Fourth Lateran Council in 1216. He wrote to Rome requesting, on behalf of
the Church in Ireland, the canonisation of Lorcán Ó Tuathail (St Laurence O’Toole). His
successor was an English courtier-cleric, John St John, nominated by King Henry III. The
last pre-Reformation bishop of the diocese was Alexander Devereux, abbot of Dunbrody at
the time of its suppression by Henry VIII. He endeavoured to be loyal both to Rome and
to the king. He died in 1566 and no Catholic bishop was appointed to Ferns for fifteen
years when Peter Power was appointed by the Holy See in 1582. The previous year six
Wexford men were martyred for the Faith: Matthew Lambert, a baker; Robert Meyler, Edward
Cheevers, Patrick Cavanagh, and two others whose names are not recorded. They were beatified
on 27 October 1992, their feast-day being 5 July. Bishop Nicholas French, consecrated in
1645, had to flee to the continent in 1651; he died as assistant bishop of Ghent in 1678.
In 1691, the Dean of the Diocese, Daniel O Breen, and another priest, James Ó Murchú,
were martyred at Wexford. The cause for their beatification is proceeding. Coming forward
to the nineteenth century, most of the existing churches in the diocese were built following
Catholic Emancipation in 1829, some of them designed by the celebrated Augustus Welby Pugin,
including the Cathedral Church of St Aidan. Later in that century Bishop Furlong (+1875)
founded several convents and institutions in the diocese. He attended all the sessions of
the First Vatican Council. His successor, Dr Michael Warren, promoted strongly the cause
of Temperance and established the Catholic Total Abstinence Association in 1876, appointing
Fr James A. Cullen as organising secretary. Fr Cullen, a member of the House of Missions,
later joined the Society of Jesus and founded the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association of
the Sacred Heart. Since the Second Vatican Council, the older churches were renovated and
many new churches built.
Presentation of Bishop Elect
Monsignor Joseph L. Kehoe – Vicar General
Consecrator: Archbishop Diarmuid Martin (Archbishop of Dublin).
Co – Consecrators: Archbishop Lazzarotto (Papal Nuncio to Ireland),
Bishop Eamonn Walsh, (Apostolic Administrator, Diocese of Ferns).
Irish Catholic Hierarchy
His Eminence, Desmond Cardinal Connell
Archbishop Seán Brady (Armagh)
Archbishop Dermot Clifford (Cashel & Emly)
Bishop John Buckley (Cork & Ross)
Bishop Anthony Farquhar (Auxiliary Bishop, Down & Connor)
Bishop Raymond Field (Auxiliary Bishop, Dublin)
Bishop John Fleming (Killala)
Bishop Thomas Flynn (Achonry)
Bishop Laurence Forristal (Ossory)
Bishop Christopher Jones (Elphin)
Bishop John Kirby (Clonfert)
Bishop William Lee (Waterford & Lismore)
Bishop John Magee (Cloyne)
Bishop Fiachra O Ceallaigh ofm (Auxiliary Bishop, Dublin)
Bishop Leo O’Reilly (Kilmore)
Bishop Michael Russell (Bishop Emeritus, Waterford & Lismore)
Bishop Kevin Boland, Savannah (USA).
Other Religious Denominations
Coptic Orthodox Church – Rev. Dr. Thomas Flanagan
Church of Ireland, the Venerable Paul Mooney
Methodist – Rev. E. Rosemary Lindsay
Presbyterian Church – Rev. Stephen Rea
Commandant Lester Costello representing Her Excellency, President Mary McAleese
Mr John Browne TD Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Marine and
Natural Resources representing An Taoiseach, Mr Bertie Ahern
Mr Richard Roche TD Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government
Mr Tony Dempsey TD
Mr Brendan Howlin TD
Mr Paul Kehoe TD
Dr Liam Twomey TD
Mrs Avril Doyle MEP
His Worship the Mayor of Wexford, Councillor Tommy Carr
Mr Pat Collins, Wexford Town Clerk
Mr Eddie Breen, County Manager, Wexford
Mr Eddie Sheehy, County Manager, Wicklow
Mr Jimmy Curtis, Chairman, Wexford County Council
Gardai Chief Superintendent Michael Murphy
Very Reverend Joseph McGrath – (see text below)
V. Rev. Denis Lennon
V. Rev. Patrick Cushen
Intellectual Disability Services – Michael Kelly, Josephine Kennedy
Traveller Services – Jim & Kathleen Connors, Michael & Mary Hughes
New Irish – Damian Teng, Paul Mendy
St Senan’s Hospital – Martin Freeman, Paddy Galavan
St John’s Hospital – Mary Ellen Fitzhenry, Mary Buttle
Seminarians – Tomás Kehoe, James Cullen, Philip O’Brien
Rev. Gerald O’Leary
Rev. Peter O’Connor
Master of Ceremonies
V. Rev. Thomas Dalton
Choir of the Church of the Immaculate Conception, Wexford
Director – Cyril Murphy
Organist: Éanna McKenna
Members of the Organising Committee for this Ordination Mass
Mr Frank Flanagan, Ms Theresa Gleeson, the Revv. Séamas de Vál, Ken Quinn,
Gerry O’Leary, Odhrán Furlong, John Sweetman, John Carroll, James Fegan,
Chris Hayden, William Howell, Richard Lawless, Tom Dalton (Committee Chairman).
Homily of Fr. Joe McGrath V.F. – Parish Priest of New Ross
On the 30th January 2000 we came here to our Cathedral Church to mark the 1400th
anniversary of the founding of the diocese by Saint Aidan. On the massive Pugin
pillars supporting the spire you can read the names of all those who have guided
the diocese ever since – today to this list, we add the name of our new Bishop.
Interestingly, at almost the same time as St. Aidan was founding the diocese, a
few miles south of here, St. Fintan was establishing his monastery at Taghmon and
the proud people of that ancient and historic “city” have been faithful to his
spiritual legacy ever since. So much so that they come today to proudly witness
the call of their much loved Parish Priest as our new bishop.
And as bishop, Denis takes his place with all the bishops of this word as successor
to the apostles.
Today is a very welcome day of rejoicing for us. And Denis urges us to do just that
in his motto, taken from Psalm 118 – “REJOICE AND BE GLAD”. The reason for our joy
is the fact that in spite of all that has happened, we go on with the knowledge that
the Lord is at hand and he will steer our path. Our recent history has been sad and
distressing. Our diocesan family and those directly hurt have been through traumatic
and damaging times. An experience much regretted. The first reading of the Mass from
the Book of Lamentations is both Denis’s acknowledgement of the hurt and scandal and
also his message of hope for the future. It said “my soul continuously thinks of it …
but this I call to mind and therefore I hope … the steadfast love of the Lord never
ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning”. Very fitting
thoughts for this DIVINE MERCY SUNDAY.
At the recent Chrism Mass, and in an earlier letter of encouragement for the future,
Bishop Walsh quoted inspiring lines from the late poet Jerome Stephens – very apt too
for our situation: “THE TIME HAS COME TO FIND A NEW TOMORROW/ FOR IN THAT NEW TOMORROW
THERE IS A NEW BEGINNING./ THE CLOUD HAS LIFTED AND THE LIGHT HAS SHONE THROUGH.”
The light indeed shines on us and for us today. Denis neatly captures this idea in his
Coat of Arms with the historic and monastic Hook lighthouse in the parish of Templetown,
in the very south of the diocese. That constant and all-embracing light symbolizing the
light of Christ that lights our way.
But light points up weaknesses and shadows too. And so the brief Gospel reading reminds
us to repent. Our diocesan history goes back 14 centuries… a history book of 14 chapters.
Many of those chapters are filled with light and love and goodness. Some recount years
of pain and persecution. This present chapter has the shadow of shame over part of it.
But no one chapter tells the whole story of any book, nor must any person or institution
ever be defined in terms of one experience. The future must be based on all the past.
Nothing in our past will be forgotten, ignored, airbrushed out or un-repented of. But
neither will any one experience dominate. The new tomorrow will be all the healthier,
truly genuine and Gospel-like when founded honestly on all experiences. In his Apostolic
letter at the beginning of the new millennium Pope John Paul II might have had us in mind
when he described the task as A JOURNEY STARTING AFRESH FROM CHRIST.
Our joy today is due in great part to the fact that we start that journey with Denis, a
Wexford man, leading us. Not since 1917 has this honour been bestowed on a priest of
But there will be a special spring in our steps from today on with Denis our shepherd.
Truly he takes on a massive task but not to be tackled alone. Our diocese has been put
back into our hands, so to speak, a massive challenge for every member of our diocesan
family. When in history did any Wexford woman, man or child ever go back from a challenge?
What a question to ask in the town of Enniscorthy of all places! The answer, of course,
is NEVER and we are not about to do so now. Our hope is that his will be the model diocese
in what is, and has always been, the model county! And how will this be accomplished?
In a very short acceptance statement, that may have gone unnoticed, Denis revealed his
approach by using two powerful and significant adverbs. He pledged to carry out his
task FAITHFULLY and LOVINGLY … a masterly succinct description of our mission.
The bishop will lead us in teaching and defending the FAITH – the body of doctrines,
beliefs, teachings, traditions and Scripture of our church. The FAITH, if you like,
as a source of INFORMATION – at the level of knowledge about God. He will seek the
FORMATION of a life style based on these beliefs… the Christian way of life, leading
to a TRANSFORMATION into the person in whom we believe. Thereby we hope the crisis in
the TRANSMISSION of the faith experienced today will be challenged.
But the late Pope John Paul II said we are not saved by a programme but by a PERSON. He
stresses that “Jesus Christ must be presented as he really is, a living, fascinating person
… to be known, loved and imitated”. He also urged that, “we must breathe, so to speak,
in a climate of friendship and personal encounter with the Lord”. Our diocesan family
then must seek to be holy – gathering round our bishop in prayer, joining in the weekly Eucharist, being reconciled, reflecting on, proclaiming and LIVING the word of God.
Denis’s second word was LOVINGLY.
Living LOVINGLY is the test of all the above. Our friendship with Jesus Christ must always
issue in practical service and pastoral care to others, led by parish and diocesan pastoral
Councils. “By this will all know that you are my disciples if you have love for each other.”
The second half of Pope Benedict’s recent Encyclical DEUS CARITAS EST deals with love as
expressed in service. He stresses that, “only through contemplation (prayer) can we take
on the burdens of others”. A mammoth task indeed.
Could I take the liberty of offering Denis a word of consolation and this is a fact. Under
God, all the talents and gifts needed for this task are present here in this church and
right through the diocese – from the baby just baptized to the oldest member. And what
talent does the bishop bring? He is blessed with it already and it will be strengthened
today by the Sacrament of Ordination – the ability to enable and encourage each of us
members to make available his/her own unique contribution to the project.
This is an exciting project. It is God’s work no less. Today we are given a unique
opportunity to embrace this our Christian calling anew; to rededicate ourselves to this
mission which began for us at Baptism and strengthened at Confirmation and from there
along whatever path we follow in life – whether Marriage, Ordination, Religious Profession,
the single life, retirement, sickness, youth or old age. A powerhouse of faith, prayer,
gifts and goodness, all at the disposal of our new bishop as he leads us to that new
tomorrow and a new beginning.
Denis, nár laga Dia do lámh and gura fada buan tú in ár measc.
In God’s name, then let us begin.
In the words of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane – “ARISE, LET US BE ON OUR WAY.”
Words of Gratitude spoken by Bishop Brennan at close of ceremony:
“I would like to begin by saying a word of gratitude to my consecrator and co-consecrators,
His Grace, the Archbishop of Dublin, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, our metropolitan and
Primate, to His Excellency, Archbishop Giuseppe Lazzarotto, the Apostolic Nuncio to Ireland,
and to His Lordship, Bishop Eamonn Walsh, our former Apostolic Administrator here in Ferns
and current Auxiliary Bishop of Dublin.
Thank you for your graciousness, encouragement and support.
In particular, I would like to thank His Eminence, Desmond Cardinal Connell for his presence
here in the diocese today. You are very welcome to Ferns, Cardinal Connell, a diocese in
which you have family roots.
To Archbishop Brady, Archbishop Clifford and to all the other Bishops who have come today –
and Abbot Daly – I say a word of gratitude. Your presence is very encouraging to me as I
begin this new chapter in my ministry.
To the members of the other Christian denominations present, I say a special word of
gratitude. Your presence speaks very clearly of the close relationship that exists among
us and the distance we have traveled on the ecumenical journey.
To Commandant Lester Costello, who represents our President, Mrs Mary McAleese, I say a
word of gratitude as I do also to Minister of State, Mr, John Browne who represents our
Minister Richard Roche, your presence here on your native county soil is greatly appreciated
as is that of our members of the Oireachtas, our MEP, County Council members, Urban and
District Councils members, County Council officials and other public bodies.
To you the congregation, the representatives of the parishes, those who participated in
today’s liturgy and who prepared for today’s celebration, I say a word of thanks and appreciation.”
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