Bishop Philip Boyce’s Address for Centenary of Raphoe Cathedral

18 Jun 2001

Address by Dr Philip Boyce, Bishop of Raphoe, on the occasion of the first century of the Cathedral of Saints Eunan and Columba

18 June 2001

Most Rev Philip Boyce, DD
Bishop of Raphoe
Sunday, 17th June 2001

Your Eminence,
Your Excellency, Brother Bishops, Dear Fathers, A phobal Dé.

Fáilte romhaib uilig go Ardeaglais na deoise.  Seo lá glórmhar agus lá athasach dúinn go léir.  Taímid ag tabhairt mile altú do Dhia ar son céad bliain ón lá ar coisreacadh agus ar foscladh Ardeaglais Naoimh Adhamhnáin agus Cholumcille.  Mar adúirt an salm fadó:

“Rinne mé gairdeas nuair a duradh liom:
‘Rachaímid isteach, i dteach an Tiarna'” (Salm 122:1).

St Paul told us in the reading: “You are part of a building that has the apostles and prophets for its foundation, and Christ Jesus himself for its cornerstone” (Eph 2:20).  We have come together from all over the Diocese and beyond it to celebrate this ‘building up’ of our community of faith in Christ over the past hundred years. This spiritual reality is made visible in our splendid Cathedral.  We now gather, with representatives from every one of the 33 parishes of our Diocese, to praise and thank the Lord for a century of prayer and worship, of faith and sacramental grace in this, the principal church of the Diocese and seat or cathedral of the Bishop.

It is a day of joy and gratitude for us as we come to this symbol of the heavenly Jerusalem in our midst. With the pilgrims who journeyed to the Temple in Jerusalem, we can say:  “I rejoiced when they said to me: ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord'” (Ps 122:1).

When Dr Patrick O’Donnell, then Bishop of Raphoe, spoke to the people of the Diocese six months before the Dedication of the new Cathedral, he said in Gaelic (now somewhat antiquated):

Cuireann an t-Áirdteampoll i gcuimhne duínn go soilléar deise ealadhanta teampoll arsa na h-Éireann.  Rinne sinn ar n-dicheall le na choiriughadh go sgiamhach chum chomhartha craibhtheachta do chloinn spioradalta Naoimh Adhamhnain agus Naomh Choluimcille. Tá sé iongantach aluinn, co maith le na bheith go mór air nós na h-Éireann, agus air an adhbhar sin tá sé an-fhoirstineach le luthghair , brigh agus biadh intinne a thabhairt do bheatha spioradalta na nGaedheal.”

Bishop O’Donnell’s words were:  Our Cathedral “revives in a unique manner the artistic beauties of the ancient Churches of Ireland.  We have striven to make it beautiful for the honour of God, the honour of the Saints of Ireland,  and the edification of the spiritual children of St. Eunan and St. Columba.  It is very beautiful and very Irish, and very capable, therefore, of inspiring, gladdening and strengthening the soul of the Gael”.

We now look back with a sense of deep admiration on the vision of faith, the spiritual energy, the organising power and the generosity of Bishop (later Cardinal) O’Donnell and the people of the Diocese at home and abroad.  They built and left behind them a magnificent and sacred building. It is a monument in stone to the values they held in greatest esteem.  For us it is a silent reminder of the faith of our fathers.  Bishop O’Donnell wished to present it “without a penny of debt, to Almighty God” on the day of its consecration one hundred years ago.  He had its walls and windows adorned with statues and images of all the local saints of the Diocese.  His intention was that it would “remain for ages, not only a memorial, but a resurrection of the fallen shrines of Donegal”.

It amazes us that, in times of such great poverty and widespread emigration, the faithful people of Donegal could have such a splendid Cathedral built.  The work took ten years to complete.  White sandstone and a group of expert stone cutters came from Mountcharles;  other masons and craftsmen were brought from various parts of the County.  Priests went abroad to fundraise in the United States, Britain and elsewhere.  The largesse of the Irish abroad corresponded to the generosity of the poor at home.  The finished building surpassed all expectations.

Since then, the Cathedral has dominated the town and has been a spiritual home for all the parishioners and indeed for all the faithful who visit the town.  Today, we could not imagine Letterkenny without its Cathedral.

People who visit the Cathedral admire not only the windows by Healy and Mayer, the richly-carved Columban Arch, the Telford Organ, the Italian and Connemara marble in the pulpit and altar rails, but are also impressed by the way the whole building is kept in good condition.  The reordering of the sanctuary after the Second Vatican Council was guided by Dr Seamus Hegarty,  now Bishop of Derry.  It was done with great care to preserve the style and materials of the original altar, pulpit and altar-rails.  The original character and atmosphere of the Cathedral were not lost.  All who treasure this house of prayer are most grateful for this harmonious restoration work, and we are very happy to have Bishop Hegarty with us on this solemn occasion in the history of the Cathedral.

The Administrators down the years have done excellent work of repair and maintenance.  In particular, Fr Francis McLoone, during the past 15 years has been tireless in his efforts.  Among the many works of refurbishment and maintenance he has inspired and supervised are:  the Conference room;  the permanent Crib;  pointing of the exterior south side;  a new floor;  the carillon bells; and much more.

The Cathedral is truly one of our most prized possessions.  It binds us all to the God who created and saved us.  The elevated position it holds on Sentry Hill reminds us that God guides our earthly life with its daily cares and chores.  The spire, pointing at a height of 240 feet into the heavens, is a powerful reminder for us not to get lost in the routine of this world’s duties, but to spare a thought for higher spiritual values.  The bells call us to prayer at the appointed times.  Here we have a meeting place between God and his people.  Well could Bishop O’Donnell one hundred years ago have echoed the prayer of Solomon at the Dedication of the Temple (in Jerusalem):  “Day and night let your eyes watch over this house, over this place of which you have said, ‘My name shall be there’…Hear the entreaty of your servant and of Israel your people as they pray in this place.  From heaven where your dwelling is, hear;  and as you hear, forgive” (1 Kings 8:29-30).

Over the past century the Lord has been true to his promise. He has met his people in this sacred building and answered their prayers.  Day by day, people have come here for public liturgies and silent adoration.  They came to meet their Lord,  to have their children reborn in baptism and their youth confirmed in the faith;  to have their sins forgiven and their immortal souls nourished with the Word of God and the Body and Blood of Christ;  to have couples blessed in marriage; chosen ones anointed, the sick strengthened and the departed blessed for burial.  The material building was our gift to God, but the life of the Cathedral has been God’s gift of life and grace to us in Christ.

It is our duty to accept God’s gift with gratitude.  We do so by living day by day the grace He offers so freely. He expects from us not simply the lifeless stones of a material temple, but wants us all to become “living stones making a spiritual temple” (cf. 1 Pet 2:5; Eph 2:21-22) for his glory.  As we enter a new century in the life of our Cathedral, we ourselves have to be built up in Christ, striving for holiness in faith and love.  Just as the stones of this sacred building had to be aligned and cemented together, so too must we as “living stones in a spiritual temple” be joined together in faith and love.  In the words of St Augustine:  “What we see perfected in stones and timber, let that be brought to completion in your bodies, with the help of God’s grace as the builder.”  Or, as a holy person who had a deep love for the Church once said:  “God’s house must be animated by love.  As far as possible, it must be a place whose ornamentation speaks of respect, honour, reverence and the frequent adoration offered by the people of God.” (M. Julia Verhaeghe)

My prayer is that our Cathedral may continue in the coming century to be what it has been in the past hundred years:  a place where God lives among his people and where He makes his home among them (cf. Apoc 21:3),  a place where believers receive grace and strength, where sinners are pardoned, God’s Word is preached and all are built up in faith and love to be a living temple to the honour and glory of our God, “the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light… To Him be honour and eternal dominion.  Amen” (1 Tim 6:15-16).


Further information:
Fr Martin Clarke 087 220 8044
Ms Brenda Drumm  087 233 7797