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Episcopal Ordination of Bishop Niall Coll as Bishop of Ossory at the Cathedral of Saint Mary, Kilkenny

Background

Please see below extracts from today’s liturgy for the Episcopal Ordination of the new Bishop of Ossory, Bishop Niall Coll.  This Mass will be celebrated at 3.00pm in the Cathedral of Saint Mary, Kilkenny.  The Chief Ordaining Prelate will be Archbishop Dermot Farrell, Archbishop of Dublin, who will be assisted by Co-Consecrators Bishop Denis Nulty, Bishop of Kildare & Leighlin and outgoing Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Ossory, and Bishop Alan McGuckian SJ, Bishop of Raphoe.  Monsignor Julien Kaboré, Chargé d’Affaires of the Apostolic Nunciature in Ireland, will also attend.  Father Kieran O’Shea of the Diocese of Ossory, will preach the homily.  The Cathedral Choir will provide music for the Mass and Master of Ceremonies will be Father Roderick Whearty of Ossory.

The Ordination Mass will be livestreamed on www.stmaryscathedral.ie and photographs of the ceremony will be available to media by contacting photographer John McElroy on + 353 (87) 241 6985, email  [email protected].  The content below consists of:

  • Homily preached by Father Kieran O’Shea
  • Statement of Bishop Denis Nulty, Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin
  • Words of thanks by Bishop Niall Coll, Bishop of Ossory

Homily preached by Father Kieran O’Shea

Today’s happy occasion brings to mind a childhood memory of my late mother playing the accordion and singing that popular ballad The Homes of Donegal – it was, as we might say, her party piece! Coincidentally, the lyrics of that song were composed in 1955 by a certain Seán Mac Giolla Bhríde (Seán McBride) from The Rosses who was the principal of Saint Baithin’s National School in a place called Saint Johnston in East Donegal and who had the privilege of teaching the father and son here before us today, Bishop-elect Niall and his Dad.

Unlike my mother, unfortunately, I have not been blessed with charisms of a musical kind, so I have no intention of singing the said ballad.  Let us leave that for a different setting or occasion and to those competent in matters of song!

Anyhow, from one of those homes of Donegal, the Holy Father, Pope Francis has sent us a new Bishop in succession to Archbishop Dermot and, of course, to relieve Bishop Denis of his extraterritorial responsibilities which he has carried out with extraordinary dedication and relentless energy during the past two years.  It is with great gratitude that we return him to the people of Kildare & Leighlin – hopefully intact – and it is with immense joy that we greet Bishop-elect Niall, along with his parents, Kathleen and Willie, his sisters, brother, extended family members, Bishop McGuckian and priests of the Diocese of Raphoe, and many friends from near and far – you are all heartily welcome.

Niall, we genuinely hope that the sentiments expressed in the first line of that song long-associated with your native county will not come to pass: ‘I just called in to see you all. I’ll only stay a while’.  On the contrary, we hope that you will remain with us indefinitely, and that before too long the words of The Moon Behind The Hill, The Rose of Mooncoin, Lovely Laois, and The Offaly Rover will flow from your lips as melodiously as the Homes of Donegal.  The second line of that song – ‘I want to see how you’re getting on, I want to see you smile’ – is indeed in keeping with our celebration today.  It expresses sentiments of care and longing to see joy on people’s faces.  A saintly lyricist, of nearly two millennia ago, articulated it in another way in writing to a fledgling community of believers: ‘I want you to be happy, always happy in the Lord; I repeat, what I want is your happiness.’ (Philippians 4:4)

From the homes of Donegal to your new home of Ossory, you have travelled your own pilgrim path.  Welcomed into the family of the Church at Baptism, marinated in the faith by your parents, formed by your local Saint Johnston community, your teachers at Saint Baithin’s and Saint Eunan’s, your formators in Maynooth and Rome, you come among us, soon to be ‘empowered with the governing Spirit to be poured out upon you’ (Rite of Episcopal Ordination: Prayer of Consecration).  Along the pilgrimage of your life as son, brother, student, deacon, priest, educator, theologian and pastor, you have, in a myriad of ways and places, made a home in your heart for the Word of God, knowing full well how essential and necessary it is for those of us called to ministry in the Church to have Christ abide in us, always ready to open the door of our hearts as soon as he comes and knocks (Luke 12: 36), particularly when he knocks disguised as one of our sisters and brothers who will look to you to be a loving father, a courageous and, yet, gentle Shepherd.

T.S. Eliot wrote that ‘Home is where one starts from’ (Four Quartets “East Coker” pt. 5 (1940)).  The Gospel passage from Matthew (Mt. 4:12-23) of this Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, more recently designated by Pope Francis as Sunday of the Word of God, tells us that, after hearing the traumatic news that John had been arrested, Jesus went back home for a while. You could be forgiven for missing the reference to that homecoming. It is mentioned in passing, almost reluctantly as a throwaway remark with embarrassed tones: ‘Jesus went back to Galilee, and leaving Nazareth he went and settled in Capernaum’. (Mt. 4:12) We should never underestimate the influence of Nazareth on Jesus. His Nazareth experience, along with his testing time spent in the Desert and his Baptism in the River Jordan, form a trilogy of seminal experiences which prepared him for his mission of proclaiming the Reign of God. With solid assurance, he would start from home, and no better place for the divine to encounter humanity. It was there he was carried in Mary’s arms, there he went with her to bring water from the well, there he played, went to school, learned the Psalms and was brought to the Synagogue; there he learned from Joseph the value of work and mingled with his neighbours, sharing their daily struggles, their joys, hopes and aspirations. Nazareth was far from being a centre of power or wealth or a place that would make the front cover of the holiday brochures of the time. It was what we might call a melting pot, part of the Galilee region never considered a locus of religious purity. How can we forget the insulting remark of Nathaniel – ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’ (John 1:46)

Obscure and mundane Nazareth, once described by Saint Charles de Foucauld as ‘the lowest place’, was not only the hometown of the Son of God, the Son of Mary and Joseph, it was the place that gave him his earthly identity. He was, and is, Jesus of Nazareth, ‘Christ in Eternity and Time’. (Rev. Dr Niall Coll: Four Courts Press 2001) Nazareth is everywhere, it is every marketplace, city, town and village, every hospital and nursing home, every school, college and workplace; it is every parish and every diocese, it is wherever Jesus makes his home and walks into the lives of people and laughs and cries with them, anointing them with love and compassion; it is where he takes the lowest place, and bends down to raise up sinners and writes with his finger “God does not condemn you” on their dusty hearts. Nazareth is where the ordinariness of everyday life is sanctified.

Niall, in a few moments you will resolve to sustain and guide the People of God with the priests and deacons who share your ministry and to pray for them without ceasing.  You will resolve to show kindness and compassion to the poor and to strangers and all in need.  You will resolve to seek out the sheep who stray and gather them into the fold (Rite of Episcopal Ordination: Examination of the Candidate).  So, let Ossory, our Nazareth, be your home and your starting point.  As priests and bishops, it is when we walk with our sisters and brothers, encouraging them to persevere amidst the signs of the times, when we enter the places they call home, when we carry the Cross with them and rejoice with them as at harvest time (Is 9:3), we unveil the Reign of God that is already at hand.

As we acknowledge the formative role played by Nazareth in the life of Jesus, we must also come face to face with the darker side of the story: his rejection by the place he called home, the brow of the hill of that town foreshadowing the Hill of Calvary.  Today, as in Jesus’ time, there is always the spectre of rejection.  There are many challenges to be faced.  For centuries, Ireland was a land that embraced the Gospel enthusiastically and, indeed, the mission of the Church.  Your part of the country, and ours, once overflowed with saints like Adomnán (Eunan) and Baithin, Colmcille and Canice, Feargal and Fiacre, Kieran and Killian, and more recently, Blessed Edmund Rice, and this overflow spilled onto the shores of other lands.  It is not so straightforward now.  The light that shone so brightly in the Zebulun’s and Naphtali’s of Ireland has been flickering dimly for some time, and buffeted by the winds of change, has altered profoundly the relationship between God’s people and their priests and bishops.  There are many well-rehearsed reasons for this – some we have inflicted on ourselves – and for which we can only ask forgiveness and proactively repent; some as a result of secularism and the erosion of values that accompany the growth of materialism.  Today’s Second Reading from Paul to the Corinthians reminds us that this situation is not unique; the Church has always encountered difficulties and, from time to time, has been a landscape blighted by bitter disagreements.  Sometimes Christ has been parcelled out (1 Corinthians 1:10-13,17) and when this happens, there is a vacuum which we tend to fill with the good news about ourselves which never really works out too well.

Coming face to face with these inherent frailties let us not be overwhelmed or disheartened.  Let Christ Jesus be our Hope.

Jesus’ experience of rejection did not inhibit or deter him from carrying out the mission entrusted to him by the Father.  Rather, his previously mentioned days in the desert, his Baptism, his Nazareth years became the springboard from which he launched Project Repentance in the Galilee region and from where he called Apostles to accompany him and to share in his mission.  Jesus’ mission was not to be carried out alone: the Cross was not to be carried alone, the road to Calvary or the foot of the Cross were not devoid of at least a few offering comfort and consolation.  Niall, you must never walk alone.  I hope that we, the Baptised People of God, through our various vocations, will live up to our call to support you, to encourage you and carry you in your ministry. We hope that you will sustain us, with the gifts you have received from the Lord who has called you.  Together, let us journey in Communion with Christ and one another, participating together in the life of the Church of Ossory, renewing our commitment to be people of Mission who go out to share the Joy of the Gospel with everyone we meet (The theme of the Synod – For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, and Mission).  May the Apostles and Saints, whom we will invoke shortly, accompany you and all of us as we embark on this new voyage.

Let me return to repentance and the Apostles for a moment.  Today, this man whom God has chosen to provide for the needs of the Church of Ossory, has become one of the youngest brothers of Peter, Andrew, James and John who, despite their obvious human weaknesses, said ‘yes’ to the Lord’s invitation to follow him.  Their ‘yes’ to the ‘call’ would enable Jesus to begin work on one of the great makeover jobs in history.  Their ‘yes to the call’ was an enormous and significant act of repentance.

John the Baptist’s message was clearly about the kind of repentance that washed away sin.  Jesus, on the other hand, gave a little added value to how we understand repentance.  When He called Peter, Andrew, James and John and subsequently, the other Apostles, it meant changing direction for them and setting out on a new adventure, embracing God’s dream, leaving behind the security of family and friends, living the simplicity of Nazareth, falling short and being loved into getting back up again, trusting and hoping.  And so we can say that true repentance means ‘not waiting until we are perfect to bear witness, but saying ‘yes’ now by witnessing to the beauty of the love that has looked upon us and lifted us up’ (Pope Francis Wednesday Audience 11.01.2023).  When we abandon ourselves to him with a feeble yes, he will provide us with the necessary makeover and mould us into who he calls us to be.

Dear friends, please don’t go out of this Cathedral this evening and announce that the fellow who was preaching said that the new Bishop requires a makeover and needs to repent!! – I could come to the same end as our friend John the Baptist!  By saying yes, willingly and consistently throughout his life, and now to being an Apostle, our soon-to-be new Bishop has already embarked on a pilgrimage of trust and hope and we pray earnestly that God, who has begun the good work in him, will bring it to fulfilment (Rite of Episcopal Ordination: Examination of the Candidate).

The final part of today’s Gospel indicates that Jesus’ proclamation of the Reign of God involved teaching and proclaiming which were always accompanied by signs of God’s love.  Niall, in the forty-two parishes of this Diocese, in the People of God gathered here today, in the People of God gathered in Croke Park today from Ballyhale and further afield, in the People of God from the peripheries to the centre, you will find signs that the Reign of God is present.  Wherever faith is lived and handed on, wherever hope is shared and wherever the price of love is paid, you will find signs of God’s Reign.  Wherever people’s faith has weakened, and yet the pilot light of faith has not been totally extinguished, God still ReignsYou will find other signs in the energy and giftedness of young people and in their searching for truth.  They especially will need your encouragement to make a commitment, to take a chance on Jesus of Nazareth who can do wonderful makeovers and shape them into a new generation of witnesses for him.

The challenges and opportunities which lie ahead of you are formidable and exciting.  Encounter Jesus of Nazareth each day in your prayer, in the Eucharist and in his Body, this local Church.

Listen carefully to his Word and to the voices of all the people, all the priests and all religious of your new home and, with the help of the Holy Spirit, discern the way forward.

I conclude with words spoken about a fellow county man of yours, called to follow Christ and to grow the reign of God many, many centuries ago – another one from the homes of Donegal – Colmcille.  May they say of you as they said of him:

‘During his life….. he could not let even one hour pass that was not given to prayer or reading or writing or some other good work.  Night and day he so unwearyingly gave himself to fasts and vigils that the burden of each single work seemed beyond the strength of man.  Yet through all, he was loving to everyone, his holy face was always cheerful, and in his inmost heart he was happy with the joy of the Holy Spirit’ (Office of Readings for the Feast of Saint Colmcille: From the Life of Columba, by Adomnán).

Niall, as you begin your service as Bishop of Ossory, may your heart be like the mountains in the homes of Donegal!

Statement of Bishop Denis Nulty, Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin on the occasion of the Ordination of Bishop Niall Coll as Bishop of Ossory

Today the people, priests and religious of Ossory give thanks for the Ordination of Bishop Niall Coll, the 96th Bishop of Ossory.  Having known Bishop Niall from our student days together in Maynooth, I am keenly aware of his immense capabilities, his deep faith and his great energy for all aspects of ministry.  As a theologian his love of learning and his great appreciation of God revealed to us will ensure that he continues to guide the faithful of Ossory ever closer to the Lord.  In assuming this responsibility Bishop Niall makes the move from his home in Donegal to his new home the south east of Ireland in this wonderful Diocese, following in many ways the path once travelled by Saint Canice.  May he too energise and continue to encourage a people of great faith in this wonderful Diocese.  

Ours is a time of great change in the Church; the faith that we know remains the same but its expression must now find new forms and new structures.  In accepting the responsibility to lead Ossory in this, Bishop Niall can be assured that the good Lord, who called him to this ministry, will also support him as he undertakes it.

Having served as Apostolic Administrator of Ossory since February 2021, I have seen at first hand the wonderful life of this Diocese, the commitment of the lay faithful, religious and priests here to following in the footsteps of the Lord.  The Church in Ossory is alive with the faith.  Bishop Niall is sure to find here a great welcome and all the supports necessary to continue to lead the mission of the Church in Ossory.  I look forward to accompanying him on that now synodal journey as a neighbouring Bishop and friend.  

May Saint Canice support him, may Saint Kieran guide him and may Saint Fergal bring him the assurance of God’s presence and blessing in his new ministry as shepherd of Ossory. 

Words of thanks by Bishop Niall Coll, Bishop of Ossory

At the end of this beautiful ordination liturgy, I am afforded an opportunity to offer some words of thanks and a thought, a word of encouragement to all gathered here this afternoon … especially the people, religious and priests of the diocese of Ossory representing our 42 parishes and 13 pastoral areas.  I also salute people of goodwill everywhere, not least those who are joining with us through the webcam in Ossory, Donegal and elsewhere.

Let me begin by thanking all present, most particularly my mother and father, my brother, sisters, brother-in-law and wider family of aunts, uncles, cousins.  Also my friends, seminary classmates and contemporaries, former colleagues especially from my Belfast days, and priests and people from Raphoe diocese and everywhere, especially parishioners from Tawnawilly and Drumholm parishes.  A particular warm welcome to  the new Church of Ireland bishop here, Adrian Wilkinson.  Similarly, a warm welcome to the representatives of the other Christian traditions and other faiths here present … So many have travelled a great distance to be here.  Thank you.

I would like to thank so many of the people of the diocese for the warm welcome they have extended to me already, the 96th bishop of Ossory and the first Ulsterman – a diocesan historian has reliably informed me – to serve in that office.  Thankfully, that great Ulsterman, Saint Canice, from Limavady, Co Derry, not far from my native heath in Donegal, never the bishop here however, indisputably blazed a trail in the diocese.  The lasting legacy of a cathedral, many churches and schools under his patronage demonstrate that fact.  My northern footprint here will be smaller, but I come too, whatever my own limitations and with so much to learn, with a great heart for the people and terrain of Ossory!

I would like to welcome Archbishop Dermot Farrell back to Ossory and to thank him for being principal consecrator today.  Thanks too to the two co-consecrators, my Maynooth classmate, Bishop Denis Nulty and the Bishop of Raphoe, Alan McGuckian.  A word of gratitude to all the other bishops present.  Thanks to all who made this act of worship today so magnificent: the Ordination Organising Committee and the Diocesan Office staff who worked so hard behind the scenes.  Thanks too to the musicians and singers, the sacristans and altar servers, the young people here present from local primary and secondary schools, the stewards and greeters, those who designed today’s Mass booklet, and the many others who assist in the Cathedral.  A special word of thanks is due to Sister Helen Maher Forum Coordinator and Ms Gemma Mulligan our Diocesan Pastoral Coordinator, for the wonderful occasion of prayer as we gathered here on Friday evening and to our homilist today, Father Kieran O’Shea, the Cathedral Administrator, Fr Richard Scriven and today’s Master of Ceremonies, Fr Roderick Whearty.

So much has already been said at this Liturgy, so much more could be said, but to keep things within bounds I will confine my comments now to introducing you to my new crest, my Coat of Arms as Bishop of Ossory.  You can find it just now on the back page of your Mass booklet.

A word to set the context.  There is a long tradition in the Church that each new bishop picks a motto, normally chosen from Scripture, which seeks to encapsulate his thoughts, prayers and priorities as he begins his new ministry.

The motto I have chosen – ‘Christ Jesus our hope’, ‘Críost Íosa ár ndóchas’, ‘Christus Jesus Spes Nostra’ – is emblazoned on the crest.  It is taken from the opening salutation of the First Letter of Saint Paul to Timothy.

In the heraldic tradition of the Catholic Church, the bishop’s motto is further expressed through the use of symbols on the crest.  You know well the expression: ‘a picture paints a thousand words …!’  The symbols I have chosen: To begin, both the transcendent and imminent dimensions of life, heaven and earth, are acknowledged, following the ancient practice of Christian iconography, by the presence of the colours blue and red respectively.  And these two realms are seen to be united by the presence and action of the Holy Spirit, represented on the crest in the form of a dove.

Interestingly, if you turn your eyes upwards now and glance at the sanctuary ceiling of this cathedral, you may be able to see the striking depiction of the Holy Spirit as a dove.  And it is this dove which is represented on the crest.  Note, too, that on the crest the dove is seen to hover over an image of the County Kilkenny ninth-century Killamery High Cross, a National Monument.  It is used here to represent the Christian faith and its deep roots planted in the soil, and by extension in the hearts of the people of Ossory across some fifteen centuries.  Of course, the same can be said with similar gratitude of my own native Raphoe diocese in the hills of Donegal.

The symbol of the dove is intended to remind us that it is by the power of the Holy Spirit that we are united to Christ, to His death and resurrection and that that same Spirit continues to pour out grace and blessings upon us.  So, we are empowered as God’s holy people, a pilgrim people, to walk in the footsteps of Jesus, called to build his Kingdom in the Church and in the world.

Also found on the crest is an image of the sun, at the centre of which is the symbol ☧ (an ancient sign for Christ), which is also designed to direct our attentions to Jesus Christ, the Light of the World (Jn 8:12).  It seeks to remind us that the light of Christ accompanies us and illuminates our path on the journey of life.  Truly, we, as members of Christ’s body the Church, are called to reflect this light by loving both God and neighbour, especially the poor and marginalised.  But we can’t do this on our own steam, we need to be strengthened, empowered by the Word of God (represented on the crest by the open Holy Bible).  We must ponder it in our hearts, allow it to fire our imaginations and live it by means of both the sacramental and social justice dimensions of faith and life.  After all, faith is communicated by the people who live it as a dynamic in their lives …

In an era marked by strong currents of secularisation, materialism and individualism, when many people have pushed God to the margins of life, if they haven’t forgotten about Him entirely, Christians can be tempted to lose hope and retreat into a holy huddle.  And this is exacerbated for many by the concrete problems of life today as we try to recover from the restrictions on life visited by the Covid-19 pandemic. Then there’s the current war in Ukraine and civil conflicts raging elsewhere in such places as Ethiopia, Congo, Yemen which rarely get reported in the West.  And there are economic difficulties, especially for young people, rising prices, climate change and social unrest especially in relation to the family.  In the midst of such rapid change, some may be tempted to lose heart.

But to despair would be a response that would fly in the face of the Gospel.  Christian hope speaks into these difficult contexts.  Christ, as the crest also reminds us, drawing on the Letter to the Hebrews, is our beginning and our end, the Alpha (A) and the Omega (Ω) in whom we place our joys and sorrows, our fears and hopes.

Because we know and love Christ, because we serve Him our Lord and Saviour, we are called – to put it in a nutshell – to be people in the world characterised by faith, hope and love.  Returning in particular to the emphasis on hope that is highlighted in my motto, might it be enough to say now that by hope is meant faith as we go forward into the future.  Hope is the looking forward in faith to the future in God that Christ makes possible.  Hope clings to that future, assured of God’s faithfulness.  Thus, Pope Francis has spoken of Jesus as ‘the wellspring of our hope’.

We, the followers of Jesus, are a community of faith who believe in the continual and ongoing presence of the God of Jesus Christ in our lives.  Those lines from the Psalm sung in this Mass encapsulate this succinctly when they entreat us to ‘Hope in Him, hold firm and take heart/Hope in the Lord.’

The importance of hope, hope in our hearts for ourselves and our families, hope for the Church at this time of great challenge and change, a painful time of pruning and renewal, especially in light of the abuse crisis, is urgently needed.  Pope Benedict had a deep understanding of Europe and the West today and the intensity of the challenge which people of faith face.  He poignantly encouraged us to know that people ‘who live by hope live differently’ because they have ‘been granted the gift of a New Life’.

It is in Christ Jesus our hope that we find this new life and the courage to persevere on our pilgrim journey of faith.  It is in this hope that I, with my own share of qualities and weaknesses, can summon up courage in the Lord, in his grace and mercy, and come among you as bishop.

I would like to take this opportunity at the beginning of Catholic Schools Week 2023 to ask God’s blessing on our schools and their good work of sharing that hope and meaning with our young people.  And I hope my Antrim friends here present aren’t too discommoded if the hurlers of Ballyhale were held in our prayers this day as they battled with Dunloy!

Finally, I would like to thank Mgr Julien Kabore, Chargé d’Affaires at the Apostolic Nunciature in Dublin, for his help and kindness before and since my appointment as bishop.  And Bishop Nulty, too, for his kind and unflinching attention to the diocese of Ossory during his time as Apostolic Administrator and for his care and support for me personally.  I look forward to working with the priests, people and religious of the Diocese of Ossory to enhance the work already underway here to develop a sustaining theological and pastoral vision, one able to invite, inform and enthuse a new generation of Christian witnesses.

Truth be told, committed Irish Catholics already know full well that we need to build up from the ground a new way of being Church, one which will seek to blend the old faith and, where possible, the new ground of contemporary Irish society in a new organic synthesis.  That is the work of the process of Synodality, of journeying together as disciples, so precious to the heart of Pope Francis, and I would like to commend the discussions, reflections and actions which are already underway in Ossory as part of the beginnings of this process of renewal in the life of the diocese.

As we look to the future, we know that we will face many challenges together.  We find courage for the work that lies ahead because Christ Jesus is truly the way, the truth and the life.  He is our hope.  Amen.

Téimis ar aghaidh le chéile agus muid lán le muinín. A Mhuire, a Mháthair na hEaglaise, guigh orainne.

A Chiarán, a Cheannach, a Adhamhnain, a Bhríd, a Cholmcille, guigí orainn.

ENDS

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