- Saint Senan’s Parish, Shannon, Co Clare
I extend a very warm welcome to you all again this evening as we celebrate the golden jubilee (1967-2017) of the dedication of the Parish of Saint Senan here in Shannon. It is an occasion to rejoice and celebrate and savour memories and look to the future with hope and great faith.
Whatever about silver or ruby, there is something very special about a golden jubilee celebration. Gold is one of the most valuable, attractive and beautiful substances on the face of the earth. It is fitting that this occasion should have the significance of what gold represents, symbolizing the special significance of a celebration of fifty years, a great milestone, a half century as parish.
Church – The People of God
A church is always a people before it is a building. For that reason it is very appropriate that we would celebrate a coming together in faith of the people of this parish on this happy day. The Irish or Gaelic word for a ‘parish’ is not so much paróiste but pobal or community and church is not so much a séipéal or an eaglais, but teach an phobail. Teach an phobail. The house of the faith community, living, vibrant, alive, outward looking, and celebrating the good news of the Gospel!
Other elements to the building of Parish and Community
Of course, also a parish is not just the church building, but includes schools, clubs, societies, organisations – all part of the fabric of the building of community and they are included very much in the celebration of the significant jubilee we mark today. Special thanks to the Wolftones GAA club for hosting us in their magnificent grounds on the summer evening.
In 1966 this parish or community of Shannon was dedicated to Saint Senan one of the big patrons of the Diocese of Killaloe. For the past fifty years you have cared for and maintained this parish so that it is in the great state in which we find it today. I know that you, the people, priests and religious of the parish take great pride in looking after it so well and it is a wonderful tribute to yourselves to see such a vibrant faith community 50 years after it was founded.
Interest in the development of Shannon
Some years ago as a young student at school in Carraroe I recall being fascinated as I learnt during geography class of an interesting project concerning the creation of a completely new town in the South West of Ireland, ex nihilo, out of nothing, so to speak. Last October, in advance of the jubilee of Mary Immaculate Church, I had the most pleasant experience of reading a lot of the great work of Diarmaid Ó Donnabháin, Birth of an Airport Parish, the Early years of St Senan’s, Shannon, 1945-1988.
Interesting historical background
The narrative of the events of those early days is an intriguing account of religious, political and community life of the time. It was interesting also to trace the developments of the community and Church from the inside back page of the beautiful booklet that was prepared for this ceremony, that you may have in your hand just now with all the significant developments and progress during the past half century. I note with interest in the remarks of Father Tom in his foreword to the booklet that Shannon, because the airport is the only parish in the Diocese of Killaloe who had the privilege to have the successor of Saint Peter present, Pope Saint John Paul II, when he touched down in 1979 as part of his then apostolic pilgrimage to Ireland. Who knows, perhaps that might happen again in 2018 on the occasion of the World Meeting of Families! We live in hope!
The People of God – Search for a Place
The people of God from which we are from were always wandering, either to take the word of God to other nations or to search for the presence of God in their own lives or in their own generation. Since the arrival of Saint Patrick on these shores we too have been a restless people searching for God in the mists of the mountains or in places made holy by the prayers of our ancestors. In these days so full of contradictions and confusions, we still search for sense to our suffering and purpose to our pain as well as our joys and happiness’s. We gather today to rejoice as we celebrate the Jubilee of this fifty year old parish as it has been for many a place that gave meaning to much of that search for the past half century.
Church – Holy Ground – Sacred to the memory of People
This parish that we commemorate today, and the churches therein, are holy ground and we tread gently on its earth as we come to give thanks and praise to God of all our searching. We are acutely aware of the struggles of the men and women and children who worshipped here in this parish over the years and who held on to God in days more challenging than our own. We are aware of their struggles to get things off the ground from scratch and create a home and community and Church for themselves. They watched as while many stayed and prospered, so also many of their sons and daughters left the beauty of this place in the west of Ireland to earn a living in a lonely exile. This is a holy place because so many made pilgrimage to God right here to the very end. This is a holy place because of the unnamed people who laid the stones to build this parish and community and because of the sacrifices you yourselves have made to make a dwelling for God here in Shannon.
Down the years, this parish has seen the children of its baptismal font grow in the grace of God, some to stay, some to go abroad, some to continue the family name at home, others to carry the gospel of Christ to the ends of the earth. This parish has seen the promises of marriage honoured in the face of hardship and inevitable grief. This parish has seen its people coming here to bring their pain and their brokenness, their joys and delights and happiness to their God.
Life today is not as stringent as it was fifty years ago, yet in many ways it remains just as difficult to cling to God. There are many strident voices declaring that if Jesus is the way that He claimed, then the path is overgrown and the way perilous, and signposts are few and far between. There are many who hold out to us a shortcut to joy and a bypass to sufficiency in an uncertain age. There are many who follow the Messiah of mayhem who will lead us to believe that a short sighted utilitarian approach is the only gateway to the future. Yet, Jesus Christ still declares to all of us here on this mid-Summer weekend, some 2000 years after He walked the earth, that He is still the way, the truth and the life.
Proud of the Work Done
In the urgency and the bustle of our day, we need time to pause, time to reflect. This parish so lovingly built by all of you and the churches in the parish are such a place to pause, to rest by the wayside on our pilgrim path to God. Its doors will be open to all who would respond to Christ’s gentle invitation to come inside and rest awhile. In the pilgrim setting of the churches of the parish it will welcome the tourist and the traveller, the school bagged child, the hard-pressed parent, the returned exile, the sinner and the saint.
Here they may all experience the warmth, love and hospitality of God. Here they will discover that what God did in the past, He can do now, what God did in the holy land He can do here in Shannon, what God did to others, He can do to us today.
The importance of Place of Origin
A sense of place is extremely important for us as Irish people. If we meet someone whom we have not met before, one of our first questions will be “where are you from?” The answer to that question will give an insight into the person and provides an opportunity for further discussion and relationship. I am delighted to see that so many have turned out and some have come home to celebrate that sense of place marking this parish Jubilee as Church, as community as Pobal Dé, place of faith, hope and light here in Shannon.
Welcome to those Returned Home
Today, I am happy to extend a very warm welcome to those who have recently returned home and to new people to the parish. This parish has made and continues to make a very significant contribution to the West, to the country in general and to places wherever people of Shannon happen to go. They bring with them something of the identity, the character and the vibrancy of this place as they settle in and make contributions towards the places of their adoption. May your participation in this parish re-union provide you with a deeper sense of your own place.
Improvements at Home
We all rejoice in the great improvements which have been taking place in our country in recent years. We witness it in a new confidence, in living standards, in the fact that unlike the past those who are leaving Ireland today are doing so largely out of choice – in the past they had no choice as they left in search of employment and a new future. People from other countries are coming to our shores today just as many of our own had gone in the past to England, America and Australia and we welcome them among us.
Quality of Life in Rural Ireland
It is not uncommon in a society where economics and productivity are seen to be so important to find other values neglected. Here in the West of Ireland and in a special way in a place like Shannon, neighbourliness, faith and family are powerfully sustaining values and have served us well down the years.
I believe that places like Shannon have so much to offer today. There is a quality of life available here that is not available in our over-crowded cities where the infrastructure is lacking.
This parish celebration provides you with an opportunity to acknowledge the great improvements which have taken place in the area since the humble origins and tentative beginnings fifty years ago and more. It is an occasion for taking pride in the place and becoming more aware of your identity. As we remember the past, those who have worked and made sacrifices so that we could enjoy the present, we thank God and as we look to the future we pray that we will remain true to the faith and values we have inherited and that we will be generous in making our contribution so that people will be enabled to enjoy a good quality of life in the Shannon of the future.
Congratulations and best wishes
Finally, may I congratulate your parish clergy, Fathers Tom, Arnold and Canon Brendan, the Religious of the parish, the pastoral council, the organising committee and all who make this celebration and Mass of Thanksgiving possible. I hope you will all have a most enjoyable entertaining and memorable day as you travel down memory lane, renew old acquaintances and give thanks to God for this jubilee day.
- Bishop Fintan Monahan is Bishop of Killaloe. This homily was preached on Sunday 25 June 2017.
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