Address by Bishop-elect Paul Connell on his appointment by Pope Francis as Bishop of Ardagh and Clonmacnois

05 Apr 2023

Saint Mel’s Cathedral, Longford, Diocese of Ardagh and Clonmacnois

As we gather this morning on Spy Wednesday in the midst of the holiest of weeks in the Church calendar, there is no one more surprised to be here than I am.  When I was asked early last week by Monsignor Julien to come to see him at the Nunciature in Dublin, I was rather hoping it was for the purpose of briefing him on an educational issue.  Given my presence here today you can see that the Lord had something else in mind!  Monsignor Julien was most gentle and kind in relaying the news to me that the Holy Father, Pope Francis, wished to appoint me as the new Bishop of Ardagh and Clonmacnois in succession to Archbishop Francis Duffy.

Since my ordination, I have always tried to say yes to any task requested of me but accepting this appointment obviously was not an easy decision or one that I took lightly.  The responsibilities that come with the office of bishop are daunting, indeed frightening.  I have also spent forty-one very happy and fulfilling years working as a priest in the diocese of Meath. We often say that God works and speaks with us in mysterious ways.  One way that He does speak to us is in, and through, the people that surround us, our families, neighbours, friends, acquaintances, those whom we live with, meet with and work with.  We depend on their wisdom as we go through life, a wisdom that is of God.

We place our trust in the Lord that he loves and cares for each of us and knows what is best for us.  It is in the spirit of that trust that I accept this responsibility as your new bishop, and I will depend immensely on your prayers and support.  I am deeply humbled by the Holy Father’s decision and I can only hope that I will be able to carry out my duties in a manner that befits his trust in me.  Of this I am certain, I cannot and will not be able to do this alone.  With the Lord’s help, together we will do this work.  I am greatly encouraged that this diocese continues to be richly blessed by the dedicated and generous service of its priests and I look forward to getting to know you in the coming months and working closely with you in the future.

I am also deeply honoured to be appointed bishop of this historic diocese at the heart of Ireland whose Christian life is deeply rooted in the tradition of Saint Ciaran and Saint Mel.  And at its centre, this beautiful Cathedral, risen from the ashes, a true expression of the resilience, faith and loyalty of the people of this diocese.  A diocese blessed with a most varied and beautiful landscape.  I look forward to visiting and getting to know all its parish communities. Of course, I too have strong roots in this diocese.  All my mother’s people, Bigleys, Browns, Butlers, Dunnings, Feeneys, and Gleesons come from the Cornamaddy area of Athlone, Athlone town and Hodson Bay in the Elphin diocese.  I have many very happy childhood memories of visits to Athlone and Cornamaddy.

As a Church we live in interesting times, facing many challenges.  Our society is in danger of losing the sense of the sacred, above all the truth that we come from God and will some day return to God.  As we look around we see difficulties for the Church on all sides.  The temptation to despair is great but we must rather take courage, place our trust in the Lord and move together along the synodal path that we are at present exploring.  Only in this way can we fulfil our mission to preserve the faith and hand it on to future generations. 

It has been a unique privilege for me to have spent a great part of my ministry working with young people.  It gives me great delight to see young people here this morning. In the words of Pope Francis, to follow Christ is to love, care and respect each other but also to love, care and respect the world around us, to protect our common home.  It is a message that clearly resonates with young people.

I am very grateful to Archbishop Francis Duffy and Bishop Colm O’Reilly for their presence here this morning.  I hope and trust that I can adequately follow in their footsteps, as I know that their service to this diocese is remembered here with great fondness and gratitude.  I am equally grateful to Bishop Tom Deenihan and Bishop Michael Smith for their presence.  I deeply appreciate Bishop Tom’s friendship and support.  I have enjoyed greatly working with him over the last five years and certainly have gained some insight from him into the task ahead.  In particular his dedication and commitment to Catholic education is remarkable.

Bishop Michael was my bishop for thirty four years, a model of faith, commitment and dedication, the epitome of kindness itself.  I have learned a great deal from his guidance and wisdom.

I would like to thank sincerely Monsignor Julien Kaboré, Chargé d’Affaires of the Apostolic Nunciature in Ireland, for his kindness and assistance over the last few days.  I am most grateful to the Administrator of the diocese, Father Tom Healy, for his gracious warm welcome and encouragement.  Over the past fifteen months he has served this diocese with great commitment and generosity.  My grateful thanks to Father James McKiernan and his team here in Saint Mel’s Cathedral for their help and support and in particular the organisation of today’s event.  I am acutely aware that I have added greatly to their burden on this the busiest of weeks.  Finally thank you all for coming here this morning.

To Him who is able to do so much more that we can ever think or imagine, through His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the Church and Christ Jesus. Amen.  (Ephesians 3:20).      

Please pray for me.


Notes for Editors

  • The news of this Episcopal appointment will be made public this morning at 11.00am (12.00pm in the Vatican) by Monsignor Julien Kaboré, Chargé d’Affaires of the Apostolic Nunciature in Ireland, in Saint Mel’s Cathedral, Longford, Diocese of Ardagh and Clonmacnois.  Following this announcement, Mass will be celebrated by Archbishop Francis Duffy, Archbishop of Tuam and Bishop Emeritus of the Diocese of Ardagh and Clonmacnois; Bishop Tom Deenihan, Bishop of Meath; Bishop-elect Paul Connell; Monsignor Julien Kaboré; Father Tom Healy, Diocesan Administrator of Ardagh and Clonmacnois, and clergy of the diocese.  Photographers and journalists are invited to attend at Saint Mel’s Cathedral for 11.00am.  To obtain photographs for publication purposes, please contact Brian Farrell from 12.00pm on +353 (0) 87 982 8412.

For media contact: Catholic Communications Office Maynooth: Martin Long +353 (0) 86 172 7678