This is a sad day for all of us in the Diocese of Elphin as the news has broken of the death of our Bishop Emeritus, Christopher Jones. I offer my personal sympathies and prayers to his sister Eileen and to all his extended family, and also to the priests, sisters and deacons and all who worked closely with him in the Diocese. I also want to express my grateful appreciation to all who cared for Bishop Christy so well during his long illness.
The death of Bishop Christy is like the loss of a grandparent. Up to the time of his retirement in July 2014, he worked tirelessly in the service of God and of the people of God, in this Diocese and further afield. He will be remembered by many for the way in which he put flesh on the Gospel through his care for and friendship with those who were poor and most at risk in our society.
Since his retirement Bishop Christy has been a discrete presence in the Diocese. He accepted courageously the loss of four of his sisters over the past four years and the loss of his own energies through ill health.
In recent months especially, he appreciated very much the short visits from colleagues and friends who kept him up to date on all that was happening in the Diocese and in the nation. May he now experience the friendship of Jesus Christ and of all the saints, especially Saints Eithne and Fidelma, Saint Asicus and all the many holy men and women of our own Diocese who have gone ahead of him.
Ar dheis dé go raibh a anam dílis.
Notes for Editor
Bishop Christopher Jones RIP, 3 March 1936 – 18 May 2018
A Roscommon man but a Sligo priest
A native of Rathcroghan, County Roscommon, Christopher Jones was born on March 3rd 1936, the second youngest of a family of eleven. Four of his sisters entered religious life and one of his brothers was also a priest of the Diocese of Elphin. His primary education was at Rathcroghan National School and it was a source of personal sadness to him when this school closed shortly after his own retirement. Following his second-level education at the College of the Immaculate Conception, Sligo (Summerhill College), the young Christopher Jones went to Saint Patrick’s College, Maynooth, where he completed his formation and was ordained to the priesthood on 21st June, 1962.
Apart from the first three years of his priesthood, which were spent teaching at Saint Muredach’s College, Ballina, Bishop Jones spent his entire priestly ministry in Sligo. Having served for three years on the staff of Saint Muredach’s College, the young Father Jones returned to teach at Summerhill College, Sligo in 1965. In 1971 he spent over a year as Archivist at Saint Mary’s, Sligo, while also serving as Chaplain of Saint Columba’s Hospital, Sligo. He returned to Summerhill College as Spiritual Director from 1973-1979.
Sligo Social Services Council
Having completed a Diploma in Social Administration in UCD, Bishop Jones was appointed first Director of Sligo Social Services, which was established as a co-ordinated faith response to those on the margins of society in the Sligo region. In that capacity he formed life-long friendships with homeless people and with many members of the travelling community. His commitment to the poor is well expressed in his address on the occasion of the opening of the new Summerhill College in 2013, when he commented on the dignity of every human person:
“Tragically a person can be scarred by poverty or violence or alcohol or other drugs but we must always see underneath the poverty and the addiction, the dignity and beauty of each human person made in the image and likeness of God and destined for glory. All of us are called to treasure that dignity and help it surface through our care and kindness.”
Having served for six years as Curate at Rosses Point, Father Jones was appointed Administrator of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Sligo. During his time as Administrator and later as Bishop, he established very warm and fruitful working relationships with the clergy of the various Christian Churches in the Diocese and especially in the Sligo area.
Appointment as Bishop
In 1994 he succeeded Dr Dominic Conway and was ordained bishop on 15 August that year, the Solemnity of the Assumption. He took as his episcopal motto the words of Mary “fiat mihi” (Let it be done to me according to your word – Lk. 1:38). He served as Bishop of Elphin for twenty years.
In his service of education Bishop Jones went far beyond establishing the usual advisory and administrative structures for education in the Diocese. During his time as bishop, pastoral gatherings for teachers, for school principals and for school boards were a regular feature. One of the high points of his ministry as Bishop was the development of a new campus for the College of the Immaculate Conception, Sligo (Summerhill College), where he, himself, had studied in his teens and where he had taught in the 1960’s. On the occasion of the opening of the new College campus, he said:
“There is a temptation today in contemporary Irish discourse to dismiss religious belief as somewhat inherently irrational and divisive and even anti-intellectual. The most important principle underpinning Catholic education is the value placed on this ongoing dialogue between faith and reason. It is this principle which helps to explain the unique value of Catholic schools”.
The Bishop Christopher Jones Learning Centre, a specialised unit catering for students with autism at Summerhill College, was opened, blessed and named in his honour in 2016. Bishop Jones also initiated the discussions which led ultimately to the amalgamation of the two Diocesan Colleges in Athlone (Saint Aloysius College and Saint Joseph’s College, Summerhill) in September 2017. He particularly delighted in the name chosen for the new College, Coláiste Chiaráin, because he was always adamant that Saint Ciaran of Clonmacnoise really belonged to Roscommon and to the Diocese of Elphin.
When the Permanent Diaconate was restored in the Irish Church at the turn of the new millennium, Bishop Jones was one of the first Irish Bishops to recognise its potential. Since the very earliest days of the Church, service to those in need or “on the margins” has always been an integral part of the ministry of deacons. Those who knew Bishop Christy would immediately see the connection, because he was always close to the homeless and the poor and would always have wanted this to be an integral part of the mission of the Diocese. The first six permanent deacons in Elphin were ordained in 2012 and two more were ordained in December 2017.
The appointment of Bishop Jones in 1994 coincided with the first criminal investigations of clerical child abuse and the dawning awareness of the lasting impact that such abuse has on children and on families. From then, until his retirement twenty years later, Bishop Jones devoted a very significant amount of his time and energy to developing policies and procedures for safeguarding in the Diocese of Elphin. During his years as Bishop, the Diocesan Safeguarding Office was established and well resourced, while parish safeguarding representatives were appointed and trained in each parish. Bishop Jones led the Diocese through the first audit of the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church in Ireland. All of this has contributed to a heightened awareness at every level in the Diocese, that the safeguarding of children is a responsibility that we all share. The result is a Diocese in which children participate actively and safely in the life of every parish community.
Bishop Christy’s work with the Travelling community as a priest and afterwards as a Bishop was of a ground-breaking nature given the times in which it took place. Not only did he campaign for improved Traveller accommodation but he was an avid proponent of increased educational opportunities for the Travelling community. With this background, he sat on many national committees dealing with matters relating to the Travelling People and for many years acted as chairperson of the National Council for the Travelling people and Advisor to the Minister for the Environment.
Long before his appointment as Bishop, while he was still on the teaching staff of Summerhill College, Father Jones took a particular interest in the pastoral care of young people in Sligo. There was a Youth Club building on O’Connell Street in Sligo, which was a former warehouse and in very poor condition. After his appointment as Bishop, with the help of a very dynamic committee, he succeeded in raising funds to construct a very well appointed youth services building at Rockwood Parade, on the Garavogue River. He was also co-founder of Youth Enterprise Sligo, to support the training and employment of young people.
The Apostolate of the Lay Faithful
One of the important legacies that Bishop Jones left to the Diocese of Elphin was his vision of an active lay-apostolate. Speaking at the Marian Shrine in Knock, Co Mayo, in 2010 he said:
“My years as a priest working every day in Sligo Social Services Centre with staff and our many hundreds of volunteers gave me a great insight into the gifts, talents, goodness and competence of lay people. The documents of Vatican II proclaimed the importance for the Church that lay people – men and women, young and old should, because of their baptism, take their rightful role and responsibility in the life of the Church. I believe in my heart that the more lay people participate in the life and ministry of the Church, the more their lives will be enriched and the more energy and dynamism they will bring to the life of the Church generally.”
Bishop Jones valued very highly the significant contribution of religious sisters in the life of the Diocese, not only for their apostolic work, but also for their witness to prayer and simplicity of life. Speaking of the role of religious in education he said:
“They provided Catholic education in all those communities because they believed through education they were promoting every day love of God and love of neighbour and opening people up to a better way of life. I honestly believe we can never thank our Sisters of Mercy enough and indeed all religious who have given their lives out of love for God and his people.” (Homily at Carraroe Holy Well, 2013).
It was in response to his invitation to Saint Teresa of Calcutta that the Contemplative branch of the Missionaries of Charity established their community in Sligo in the Jubilee Year 2000.
Adult Faith Development
Recognising that spiritual growth is a life-long journey, Bishop Jones encouraged various initiatives in Adult Faith Formation, including the study of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Another initiative of his was the appointment of a Diocesan Director of Pastoral Development, whose remit included the formation of the lay faithful for various forms of ministry and service in their parish communities.
As a Diocesan Bishop, Bishop Christy also participated actively in the Councils and Commissions of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference. He chaired various commissions and councils, including the Commission for Pastoral Care and the Council for Social Welfare. He was also a Director of Cura, the crisis pregnancy agency. At the time of his retirement in 2014, he was chairperson of the Episcopal Council for Marriage and the Family and President of Accord, the Catholic Church’s Service for Marriage and the Family. He consistently sought to raise awareness of the dependence of society on a stable family life. In a statement in 2009, Bishop Jones addressed the question of the repossession of family homes, an element of the housing crisis which continues to plague Irish society today. He said:
“If the Government can intervene to support the banking system, which is essential for the proper functioning of society, similarly I am asking the Government to explore – with lenders – ways in which the family can be protected from repossession in these extraordinary times”.
In January 2013, Bishop Jones also represented the Irish Catholic Bishops at the hearings of the Oireachtas Committee for Health and Children, where he was a powerful advocate for the life of the unborn. He said:
“Any suggestion that Ireland is an unsafe place for pregnant mothers because we do not have abortion is a complete distortion of the truth. It is also gravely unjust to the doctors, nurses and midwives in our hospitals who have achieved such internationally celebrated standards of maternity care”.
Irish Emigrants and Western Development
Bishop Jones was very conscious of the uneven nature of economic development in Ireland and the impact that this has had over the years on rural communities. He saw this reflected in the life of every parish in the Diocese. As a founder member of the Council for the West, he was a tireless advocate for the kind of rural development which would help sustain vibrant communities west of the Shannon. In 2012, he was recognised by the Council with an award in recognition of his “outstanding contribution to development in the west of Ireland” and for the “spiritual enrichment” he brought to a variety of community based campaigns. He also travelled regularly to visit associations of emigrants from County Roscommon in various part of the UK.
Bishop Jones retired as Bishop on 13 July 2014, but continued to live in Sligo. Since his retirement he suffered the loss of four of his sisters, Patricia, Pauline, Ann (Nan) and Mary. In the face of these losses and the serious decline in his own health during the same period, he showed great courage and resilience maintaining his interest in everything that was going on in the Diocese and in the wider Church. Though not obliged to do so, he participated in the Ad Limina visit of the Irish Bishops to Pope Francis in January 2017. Bishop Jones is survived by his sister Eileen (Sisters of Jesus and Mary, Enniscrone), by his sister-in-law Pauline and by a host of nieces and nephews.