I wish to offer my prayerful good wishes to Archbishop Michael Neary on his retirement as Archbishop of Tuam. My feelings are mixed, of course, as Archbishop Michael – currently the longest serving member of the Bishops’ Conference – has never hesitated to offer friendship, support and wise counsel to me and to many others. A natural teacher, I will miss Archbishop Michael’s many gifts and helpful insights.
In his homily of last Saturday, as part of a Triduum of prayer to Saint Joseph, Archbishop Michael described the Patron of the Church as “a man of faith, strong, silent, patient and prudent … [who] placed himself at the service of the entire plan of salvation”. This description could easily be ascribed to Archbishop Michael, whose leadership in ministry has been nourished by prayer and a deep devotion to the Gospel, a natural humility, kindness of spirit and decisiveness.
I have fond memories from my time as a seminarian in Saint Patrick’s College, Maynooth, of Archbishop Michael’s lectures on the Old Testament. His expert knowledge and understanding of the Pentateuch, the Wisdom literature and the Prophets added profoundly to his reflections on the Gospels and to his unstinting commitment as a follower of Christ. His love for the Word of God, developed during his time as a professor of Sacred Scripture, also underpinned his support for Catholic education at various levels and his keen interest in priestly formation.
Archbishop Michael’s interventions in the Bishops’ Conference were characterised by a scriptural and theological depth, and were highly valued in his roles as chair of the Council for Doctrine and of the Theological Committee. He was a long-standing member of the Standing Committee and of the Commission for Catholic Education. Archbishop Michael’s ability was recognised by the Holy See through appointments to the Vox Clara and Sapienti committees, advising the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments on English translations of liturgical texts.
I would like to pay tribute to Archbishop Michael’s dedication to our emigrant population abroad. As chair of the Bishops’ Council for Emigrants he travelled to England and met with Irish people living on the margins: the poor, the dispossessed and prisoners. He often highlighted their plight publicly. Regionally, Archbishop Michael worked alongside his brother bishops in the west of Ireland to support the operation of the Developing The West Together, including serving on its board, helping to progress the social and economic development of Sligo, Mayo, Roscommon, and Galway.
Archbishop Michael has always been sensitive to popular devotion and to the fostering of the Irish language and our native traditions of prayer and pilgrimage. In August 2018, as custodian of the national Marian Shrine at Knock, Archbishop Michael hosted Pope Francis during his successful visit to the World Meeting of Families in Ireland. Owing to the commitment of Archbishop Michael, to the delight of pilgrims throughout the country, in March of this year Knock Shrine received official Vatican recognition as an International Eucharistic and Marian Shrine. Equally, in partnership with the local community of Westport and with the civic authorities, Archbishop Michael has secured the popularity and sustainability of the holy mountain of Croagh Patrick for use by pilgrims for generations to come.
Archbishop Michael has been an ardent supporter of the Pioneer and Total Abstinence Association and Patron of the Catholic Grandparents Association. In this latter capacity he was instrumental in highlighting the vital vocation of grandparents in passing on the faith in the family and in parishes. Under his stewardship the first ever papal Prayer for Grandparents was written by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI in 2008. Archbishop Michael also oversaw the annual Grandparents Pilgrimage to Knock Shrine and helped establish the first ever World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly.
I pray that through the intercession of Our Lady of Knock, Saint Patrick, and all the saints of Tuam, his retirement will be a time of good health, blessing and happiness. Míle buíochas as ucht a chuid oibre agus rath Dé air anois agus i gcónaí.
I wish Archbishop-elect Francis Duffy every blessing as he prepares to succeed Archbishop Neary. He brings many pastoral and administrative gifts to this task and will be missed by the people, priests and religious of the Diocese of Ardagh and Clonmacnois where he brought a gentle pastoral presence. He has already made significant contributions to the Bishops’ Conference in the fields of finance and administration, Catholic education, liturgy, pastoral renewal and adult faith development. With the help of God’s grace, and with the support and prayers of the faithful, he will now bring these gifts to the service of the Church in the West of Ireland. I offer my prayers for the success of his future ministry and I know that the people, priests and religious of the Archdiocese of Tuam will warmly welcome him as their new shepherd.
- Archbishop Eamon is Archbishop of Armagh, Primate of All Ireland and President of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference
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