- Cathedral of Saint Mary, Kilkenny
It was with enormous surprise that I received Pope Francis’ invitation to serve the priests and people of the Diocese of Ossory as bishop. I am humbled by this call from the Church. I have been a priest for over 37 years; half of that time in parish ministry where I have always been very happy and fulfilled. Of course, this is why I became a priest in the first instance: to work with people, in their service, in the service of the Lord, and of his gospel, of Christ’s good news about God, about us, and about our world.
This request was made to me a few days before Christmas, a time when Mary’s “yes” to God fills the Scripture readings of those final days of Advent. What strikes me is Mary’s courage, and her trust in the word of the angel. She is perplexed, she wonders what this greeting might mean, and yet she trusts in the goodness of God, and in God’s providence. She steps into the unknown.
Like Mary’s decision, and most major decisions in life, being called to be a bishop is also a step into the unknown. If we are honest, to be called to be a bishop in the Ireland of today is even more a step into the unknown. It is also a call to trust in the Lord, and in providence of God. I am glad to accept the call to serve here in Ossory, to be a pastor in this place, and in this community of faith.
Every person lives with mystery. None of us can predict how what happens today will influence and affect our future or the future of others. Part of being people of faith is trusting that, in God’s hands, our lives will bear fruit. It was this way for God’s own Son who on the cross prayed, “into your hands I commend my spirit.” This was the very prayer of Stephen – the Protomartyr or “First Witness” to Jesus and his way. It is for that very reason that the Church celebrates Stephen on the day after Christmas Day. It is Christ who enables us to walk in the mystery of our lives (see John 14:5–6). It is he who is our hope and our peace.
Embracing this new role means that I will have a great deal to learn in the years ahead. It is going to take time. I will need the help and guidance of all the people of Ossory, the people in the parishes, my sisters and brothers in ministry, and our sisters and brothers in the other Christian churches and communities. The service of communion includes recognising or discerning the diverse gifts which the Spirit has given to everyone making it possible for those gifts to be developed and placed at the service of all.
From my time working at Saint Patrick’s College, Maynooth, I had contact with many people from the Diocese. Over the years, I made many trips to this beautiful city and its surrounds. The names of many places were emblazoned in my mind by the commentaries of Mícheál O’Hehir and Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh – places like Ballyhale, Clara, Dunamaggan, Freshford, Glenmore, Tullaroan—linked the names of the great Kilkenny hurlers down the years to their clubs most of which coincide with the names of parishes. In this context, I shouldn’t omit Seir Kieran which has produced its own share of renowned Offaly hurlers.
I am delighted to see Monsignor Michael Ryan and many of the priests of the diocese here this morning. I know from speaking with Monsignor Ryan and from my own experience, how generous you are in your service and I look forward very much to working closely with you.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank Archbishop Jude Okolo, the Papal Nuncio, and Monsignor Piotr Tarnawski, Chargé d’Affaires at the Apostolic Nunciature for their kindness and their advice during these past weeks. I am particularly grateful to Monsignor Michael Ryan for his warm welcome and encouragement. I’m sure that I will be calling on his wisdom and experience in the months ahead.
As you will understand, there is a certain sadness in leaving my own home diocese of Meath, and in particular, the parish of Dunboyne & Kilbride and its people, among whom I have been very fulfilled in my pastoral ministry.
I am very grateful to Bishop Michael Smith, and his predecessor, Bishop John McCormack, for the trust they have placed in me over the years. Especially, I thank Bishop Smith for his support and encouragement over the years.
I would be grateful if you would remember me in your prayer as I begin my ministry as bishop, among you and with you. Echoing the closing prayer of today’s Mass might provide a fruitful direction for us:
May your people, O Lord,
whom you guide and sustain,
know the healing which you alone can give,
that, with the consolation of things that pass away,
we may strive with ever deepening trust for the things that last forever.
May the Lord keep us all in his care. Saint Kieran and Saint Canice, pray for us.
Monsignor Dermot Farrell
Bishop-Elect of Ossory