Statement from the Diocese of Killala – Saint Stephen’s Day 26 December 2011

01 Jan 2012

Bishop John Fleming has announced, with deep sadness, the death of Bishop Thomas Finnegan, former Bishop of Killala. Paying tribute to his predecessor, Bishop Fleming said: “For fifteen years, Bishop Finnegan guided the diocese of Killala with exceptional care, genuine wisdom and great love. He will be remembered for the many imaginative pastoral initiatives in the diocese which he began as well as for the contribution he made in the area of the development of the West of Ireland, the care of emigrants and the progress of Catholic education.

“An innovator and man of ideas, he encouraged consultation and participation in the life of the Church in the diocese of Killala. He will be remembered too for his unfailing kindness to everyone he met, as well as for his great respect and love for the Church.  Bishop Finnegan passed away in Sligo General Hospital on Christmas morning. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.”


Funeral details:
Remains of Bishop Finnegan will be received at Saint Muredach’s Cathedral, Ballina, by Bishop Fleming tomorrow, 27 December, at 4.00pm and he will repose in the Cathedral until 8.00pm when Solemn Vespers will be said.  Fr Gerry O’Hora, Parish Priest of Ballina, will preside at Solemn Vespers.

Bishop Fleming will celebrate Requiem Mass at 12 noon on Wednesday 28 December at which Cardinal Seán Brady, Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland will preside.  Archbishop Michael Neary, Archbishop of Tuam, will perform the committal in the Cathedral grounds.

Biographical details:
+FINNEGAN, Thomas Anthony

Thomas Anthony Finnegan was Bishop of Killala from 1987 to 2002.  He was born on 26 August 1925, in the parish of Castlerea, Co Roscommon. His parents were Patrick Finnegan and Margaret Connaughton.He received his early education in Runnamoat National School, CBS Primary School, Roscommon and Summerhill College, Sligo.

Thomas Finnegan was ordained a priest at Saint Patrick’s College, Maynooth in 1951. After four years postgraduate studies in education and Canon Law he taught briefly in Catholic University School, Dublin and in Summerhill College, Sligo. He was Elphin Diocesan Secretary for three years and then returned to Maynooth as Dean of Junior House from 1960 until 1966. He was President of Summerhill College from 1966 to 1979   During these years he presided over major developments in the College in terms of acquiring new buildings, broadening the curriculum and expanding student numbers from 400 to 800.  He was Chairman of the Catholic Headmasters Association in the 1970’s and was regarded as one of the leading educationalists in Ireland at a time when the advent of free secondary education revolutionised Irish Education.  In 1973 he was one of a team which investigated curriculum development in Scandinavia and Britain on behalf of IMTEC (International Management Training for Educational Change).  He also served on the Governing Body of Thomond College, Limerick and on the Co Roscommon Vocational Educational Committee. In 1979 he was appointed Director of the Galway Regional Marriage Tribunal.  In 1982 he became Parish Priest of Roscommon and in 1985 Vicar General of Elphin Diocese.

The appointment of Thomas Finnegan as successor to Bishop Thomas McDonnell was announced on May 8th 1987 and he was ordained Bishop of Killala in St Muredach’s Cathedral by the Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Gaetano Alibrandi on 12 July 1987. Among his first decisions as bishop of Killala was to reform clergy incomes.  Another of his first decisions was to organise a two-week conference or renewal course for all the priests together with the new bishop, with the declared purpose of planning for the future and setting priorities for five to ten years. At the end of the two weeks the decided priority was the greater involvement of lay people in the life of the Church. From this came the establishment of the Resource Group for Parish Development in 1991 – a diocesan group made up of priests and religious as well as laymen and laywomen and trained by the Parish Development and Renewal group in Dublin diocese – through which he encouraged active participation by resourcing the establishment and development of Parish Councils and a Diocesan Council. Pope John Paul’s document, after the 1987 Roman Synod, Christi Fideles Laici on the vocation and mission of lay people in the Church and the world became the handbook on lay involvement. And from 1995-1999 the parish pastoral pro­gramme Renew was launched in the diocese in preparation for Jubilee 2000.

In 1993, he undertook a consultation of the diocese regarding the re-deployment of priests, changing the num­ber and times of weekend masses and trying to solve anomalies created by parish boundaries, with the find­ings published in the Report on the Diocesan Consultation, 1994.

In 1993 also he established the Killala Diocesan Mission to Miracema, Brazil and since then the diocese, in conjunc­tion with other agencies, has resourced a team of missionaries, priests and laypeople. The impetus for this development came from a request from Pope John Paul for a more even distribution of priests – the priest-peo­ple ratio in Killala Diocese was 1: 800; in Miracema, it was 1: 10,000 – and the belief that a missionary outreach was important for Killala diocese.

During his time in Ballina the Pastoral Centre was built (1991) and a huge renovation of the Cathedral was completed to mark the Jubilee Year 2000.  Though an advocate of calm and measured change and of an unfailing respect for past diocesan traditions and precedents, his fifteen years as bishop were characterised by an imaginative and creative style of leadership that sought to use modern human and technical advances in the service of the gospel.

In the late 1980s when unemployment was high and a new wave of emigration to America denuded the parishes of the diocese of their youth, he sent Fr Martin Keveny to ‘walk with’ the youth of Ireland in the USA. Later Fr Keveny was joined in New York by Fr Michael Harrison with Fr Gerry O’Donnell going to Boston.

Among his pastoral innovations were: his development of ministry to young people, including sending Fr Francis Judge to be trained as youth officer; his appointment of a diocesan communications officer, Fr Brendan Hoban, and the founding and development of the diocesan newspaper, The Vineyard; his facilitation of the founding of Holy Hill Hermitage in 1995 and the Newman Institute in 1998 and the development of courses in theology of marriage and the family, community development and counselling. However his dream of found­ing a Catholic University – which his predecessor as bishop, Francis Joseph O’Finan, 1835-47, had also contem­plated and which had remained in the public consciousness of the diocese – did not materialise and a more modest educational foundation, the Newman Institute, was officially opened by Mrs Mary McAleese, the former President of Ireland, in 2010.

Bishop Finnegan was a member of the Irish Episcopal Commissions for Education, Emigrants, and Catechetics. He also served on the standing committee of the Irish Bishops’ Conference and the Liaison Committee of the ‘ Bishops’ Conferences of Ireland, England, Wales and Scotland.

An innovator and man of ideas, he encouraged participation, delighting at one point in finding the principle of subsidiarity at the heart of the Treaty of Rome. He voted against the Maastricht Treaty. He evinced an extraordi­nary commitment to his work as a bishop allied with an exceptional capacity for work. He will be remembered too for the kindness and respect with which he treated people.

His publications include: Branch of the Vine, The Furrow Trust, 1966; Sligo: Sinbad’s Yellow Shore, The Dolmen Press, 1977; The Faith of the Catholic Church, A Summary, Irish edition, Veritas, 2001; Coney Island, Sligo, Island House, 2005.


For further information and a photograph of the late Bishop Finnegan please contact Martin Long, Catholic Communications Office, Maynooth 00 353 861727678