Over the past 27 years of his priesthood, Canon Tom Deenihan has held a variety of appointments that have prepared him well for his new duties as Bishop of the historic Diocese of Meath. He is a man of strong faith, good judgement, very committed to his priestly duties and fully realising that our lives as priests can only be sustained by prayer.
In the early years of his priesthood, he worked in a number of parishes. He enjoyed pastoral life. Canon Tom was very close to people in his parish, fully realising that to be effective pastorally, you have to be involved socially in the lives of the people, always responding to their needs and this was very much appreciated. The people can discern very quickly how much the priest is there for them unless, as Pope Francis says, we hide in our offices and go out in our cars! It is said that the good priest is the priest who knows and loves his people, knows and loves the message that he is trying to impart to them and fully lives that message in his own life. Canon Tom was certainly trying to live up to that ideal.
Of all the appointments that priests can hold nothing brings them closer to young people than that of a school chaplain. Whether formally teaching a class or casually talking with the young people in the schools’ social areas, the priest shares their interests whether in sport or music or the latest school achievement. He shares their happy moments and when some tragedy occurs among the student body, he shares their grief.
The school chaplain also builds up a strong relationship with the teaching staff that goes beyond school hours. He will always be invited to their family wedding or other celebrations, attend their family funerals and socialise with them at retirement or transfer presentations. For him, the ups and downs of his teaching colleague’s family lives become part of his own life, give him an intimate experience of family life that cannot be acquired in other contexts. Not only did Canon Tom zealously fulfil his role as chaplain to a large post-primary school but he also studied at the same time for a Doctorate in Education.
Many years later that personal work ethic was again evident when he occupied two demanding positions at the same time: Diocesan Secretary, and General Secretary of the Catholic Primary Schools Management Association. This association represents over 2000 Catholic primary schools in Ireland. He subsequently and currently serves as Acting Secretary to the Council for Education of the Irish Episcopal Conference while remaining as Diocesan Secretary.
In the area of education, Canon Tom is one of the most experienced and highly qualified priests in the Irish Church. There are few, if any, aspects of the operation and governance of Catholic schools that Canon Tom has not dealt with over the past 27 years whether it was chairing Boards of Management, interviewing prospective teachers and principals, or addressing interpersonal problems between management and staff or conducting discussions with the Department of Education and Skills – Canon Tom has done them all with an enviable sureness of approach. At the same time, he has managed, on most occasions, to preserve his calmness and patience and subtle sense of humour!
As Chairman of one Secondary School Board, he played a key role in the smooth merger of two schools in the same town without acrimony or complaint on the part of parents or teachers – not an easy achievement after decades of local rivalry in academic and sporting achievement.
Perhaps the most influential experience, as a preparation for a future bishop, was his work as Cork and Ross Diocesan Secretary. Not only did this office call for faultless accuracy in record-keeping and familiarity with State legislation but also demanded a sensitive, effective and affective approach in interacting with office personnel and the various Diocesan committees. The post of Bishop’s Secretary demands the greatest tact and prudence. In that role, Canon Tom was a faithful servant and a wise one. He took responsibility for administration which allowed me, as Bishop, to exercise the primary function of a bishop, the pastoral care of the people in the Diocese.
As his Bishop, I am very grateful to him for his knowledgeable and respectful service to me and to the Diocese. I wish Canon Tom every joy, blessing and happiness in his new role as Bishop of Meath.
Bishop of Cork & Ross
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