Episcopal Ordination of Paul Connell as the new Bishop of Ardagh and Clonmacnois

18 Jun 2023

  • Ordination Mass today at 3.00pm in Saint Mel’s Cathedral will be livestreamed on Longford Parish website, iCatholic.ie and by Shannonside Radio
  • Homily of Father Michael McGrath CC, Saint Mel’s Parish, Longford
  • Words of the new Bishop of Ardagh and Clonmacnois, Bishop Paul Connell

The Mass for the Episcopal Ordination of Bishop-elect Paul Connell as Bishop of Ardagh and Clonmacnois will take place at 3.00pm today Saint Mel’s Cathedral, Longford, in the Diocese of Diocese of Ardagh and Clonmacnois. The congregation will consist of laity, religious, clergy, family and guests.

Homily of Father Michael McGrath CC to be preached during the Mass
Today, Saint Mel’s Cathedral welcomes her diocesan family and many who have come from Mullingar and all around the Diocese of Meath and indeed from all over Ireland and beyond, to celebrate this special day in the life of Father Paul Connell and all the people of God in the Diocese of Ardagh and Clonmacnois.

Paul, today as the twin spires of the Cathedral of Christ the King diminish in your rear-view mirror, we want to assure you of a hundred thousand welcomes in this sacred place. We hope that you will grow to be happy here in your new home. You will notice on the chair, the cathedra from where you will teach and lead, the words from John’s gospel, uttered first to Peter in a moment of second calling, ‘Feed my sheep.’ Today, through the laying on of hands in a gesture of being called again by the same Lord, hear those words, ‘Feed my sheep.’ Just as He, so you now, Be a Shepherd!

The gospel text that the Church gives us on this 11th Sunday in Ordinary Time reminds us that Jesus’ ministry begins in His heart, or more literally in His guts. His message is of compassion. The word used for ‘compassion’ literally means to be moved in one’s bowels. It is a physical feeling with, suffering with the other. As the Compassion of God, Jesus’ destiny will ultimately be the cross – ‘no greater love than this …’ Echoes here of the day of your priestly ordination when the Rite challenged you to ‘model your life on the mystery of the Lord’s cross.’ That is essentially the call to compassion, that gravity pulling downward to the one who is most in need.

Matthew’s Jesus feels sorry for the lost, the harassed and dejected. Much more than mere pity, His asking for labourers for the harvest is a cry from His heart of compassion, that others in His footsteps might be His compassionate presence and feed the sheep, all the lost and wounded of our divided world.

The dejection of which the gospel speaks is more accurately a sense of being torn asunder, divided. What divides us is demonic. We demonize the one on the other side of the divide – and the Church is not immune here! There are many lines that divide us: lines of ideology, lines of gender and gender identity, lines of race, lines dividing rich from poor and many others. Lines everywhere. Compassion seeks to dissolve the lines and call us back to our common humanity, the reality of who we are in the flesh, the flesh that God saw as good enough to become in Jesus.

Summoned by name, the twelve are sent to the ones Jesus noticed as harassed and dejected, the ones like sheep without a shepherd – the lost sheep of the House of Israel. These twelve would now be living signs of His compassion for the whole of Israel, all her twelve tribes. And His message is what they’ll bring with them: ‘As you go, proclaim that the kingdom of heaven is close at hand.’

Remember, this is exactly how Jesus emerged from the desert to begin His public ministry. Matthew tells us: ‘He began His preaching with the message, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is close at hand.’ Earlier, this had been the exact same message of John the Baptist. There is continuity between John, Jesus and now the twelve. ‘The kingdom of heaven is close at hand.’ Strange though, the apostles’ charge doesn’t include the challenge of repentance. Maybe it is presumed.

Repentance is much more than giving up our oul’ sins. The gospel word for it is metanoia. From the Greek words ‘meta’ meaning ‘beyond’ and ‘nous’ meaning ‘mind’, the challenge of metanoia – which is often translated as conversion – is really to think beyond, change the mind to think big.

The idea of the Kingdom requires some big thinking and big living. Kingdom-thinking is to think outside the box, beyond. It is to think in line with the beatitudes, to see beyond the apparent curse and see blessing. To live poverty in spirit and in the knowledge of blessed possession of heaven. To mourn in assured comfort. To hunger and thirst and yet have whetted appetite for justice satisfied. To live and experience mercy. To live purity of heart and see God. To live peace in the midst of trial. The preaching of the Kingdom promises happiness in unexpected places. Repentance might be simply to change the direction in which we look for happiness, the Kingdom.

As you join in succession now to the apostles, help us to think big – big enough to comprehend the reality of God’s reign among us and help us all to walk and work together – for the sake of the message and its credibility if for no other reason. Chances are that if Simon the Zealot had met Matthew the tax-gatherer anywhere else than in the company of Jesus, he would have stuck a dagger in him. It is a tremendous truth that people who don’t exactly pull, as they say, can learn to love each other when they both love Jesus Christ. Too often religion is seen as divisive. It is meant to be, and in the presence of the living Jesus it was, a means of bringing people together.

Without Christ we run the danger of being sundered from each other. Walking together – this is the challenge of Synodality, the way we are called to live and preach the kingdom of God today, how God’s Spirit is calling us to be Church. It is always better when we are together.

We have begun walking that challenging path here in Ardagh and Clonmacnois. For a number of years we have tiptoed along the Synodal Pathway, praying in our Assembly Prayer that we would reflect the face of the Good Shepherd, to bring back the stray, look for the lost and bandage the wounded of our world; that we would build a Church of solidarity with the haunted faces of refugees, the wounded of war, and the voiceless victims of injustice in every land, and that we would be united as a family of lay and religious, young and old, women and men with you our bishop to guide us, and that together we would all reflect God the Father’s dream of a Church as a “Mother Hen” who gathers all under the wings of shelter and protection.

Identifying our pastoral priorities going forward as outreach to young people, families and formation of people for mission, we are like the Twelve of today’s gospel trying to model our lives on Jesus and so like Him reach outward to heal, raise, cleanse, and cast out. Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those of unclean spirit, cast out demons. Jesus gave authority to the Twelve – and empowered them, and in His strength they went out.

Just as there is a line of continuity from John the Baptist to Jesus, to the twelve, the task is ours today, with you Bishop Paul walking with us and leading us. This is what we are about, this is what living our baptism authentically is, this is what the Church is about, what the Diocese of Ardagh and Clonmacnois is about. As it was for Finian and the Twelve Apostles of Ireland who studied under him and among them Saint Ciaran of Clonmacnois, and as it was for Mel and his Church at Ardagh, ours still is the task of bearing witness to our faith by everything we say and do, so enabling the Reign of God break into our broken world today. In being a leaven in the world by our witness we do bring healing to the sick, we do bring life, we do cast out demons, becoming midwives to the awesome Mystery.

Paul, you are most welcome among us as Pastor. Feed us and lead us into friendship with Jesus and keep us reminded that ultimately it is His work we are all about – His kingdom, and that in the end it all depends on Him and on His grace working in all of us, in our homes, our schools, our parishes – all of us working and walking together.

Lead us to see the big picture, the kingdom of God among us and beyond us. And though the task is enormous, and though the labourers are indeed few, we remain grounded but open because in the end it is all down to His grace, as the Romero Prayer suggests:

‘It helps now and then to step back and take a long view. The Kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is beyond our vision. We accomplish in our lifetime only a fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work. Nothing we do is complete, which is another way of saying that the kingdom always lies beyond us. No statement says all that could be said. No prayer fully expresses our faith. No confession brings perfection, no pastoral visit brings wholeness. No program accomplishes the Church’s mission. No set of goals and objectives include everything. This is what we are about. We plant the seeds that one day will grow. We water the seeds already planted knowing that they hold future promise. We lay foundations that will need further development. We provide yeast that produces effects far beyond our capabilities. We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing this. This enables us to do something, and to do it very well. It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest. We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker. We are workers, not master builders, ministers, not messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own.’

Paul, we promise to work with you. Help each one of us find our voice in the chorus that continues to sing: ‘The Kingdom of Heaven is close at hand’.

Words of the Bishop of Ardagh and Clonmacnois, Bishop Paul Connell
As we come towards the end of this ceremony it is my very pleasant task to express my deep appreciation to all of you who are present here and also to those who join us by webcam. A special welcome to those joining us from abroad, and in particular those of you in the United States, especially in All Saints and Saint Gabriel’s in Florida, and Saint Gregory’s in San Diego.

I want to begin by thanking the new Papal Nuncio, His Excellency Archbishop Luis Mariano Montemayor for his presence here today. We warmly welcome him and wish him well as he takes up his new position here in Ireland as the personal representative of our Holy Father, Pope Francis. I welcome and thank Monsignor Julien Kabore, from the Nunciature in Dublin, who broke the news of my appointment to me so gently. I want to thank sincerely Archbishop Eamon Martin for being principal consecrator and also the two co-consecrators Archbishop Francis Duffy, the former bishop of this diocese, and the bishop of Meath, Tom Deenihan. I am also very grateful for the presence and support of all the bishops who have come here today and that of my two chaplains, my good friends Monsignor Joseph McGuinness and Father Joseph Gallagher. My grateful thanks to Father Michael McGrath for his eloquent and insightful homily today. I extend a very warm welcome and thanks to the Church of Ireland bishop, Ferran Glenfield, and to the representatives of other Christian traditions, for their presence with us and for their prayers and good wishes.

I know that everyone here was welcomed at the beginning of our ceremony and I thank you all for your very supportive presence. To the people of the diocese I want to express my deep gratitude for the very warm welcome that you have given me, and I am looking forward to meeting and working with you across the diocese in the coming years.

This ceremony and indeed the hospitality that will follow would not have been possible without the superb organisation that has been put into place by a very large network of volunteers. I am very grateful to every single one of you. Thank you so much to those who assisted in any way with parking, stewarding, catering and printing. I would like to express my deep gratitude to Fintan Farrelly, the Cathedral choir and soloists for the wonderful music that adorned our liturgy today and lifted up our hearts and spirits. I also deeply appreciate the work of planning and preparation done by Father Turlough Baxter, Master of Ceremonies, and his assistants, and by Father James Mc Kiernan, the priests of the Cathedral and their parish team. I would like to thank the Board of Management of Saint Mel’s College, and the principal, Mr Malachy Flanagan and his staff ,for their hospitality and vital contribution to today’s ceremony.

I know that all you from the diocese would particularly want me to thank on your behalf Archbishop Francis Duffy for his ten years ministering among you as your bishop. There was very genuine regret and sorrow when the news came that he was moving to Tuam as its new archbishop. That says a great deal about his commitment and energy and the very pastoral style of his leadership here among you. Thank you Archbishop Francis.

Of course as we stand in this beautiful Cathedral, reborn from the ashes we are all immensely grateful to the team of people responsible for its restoration. Which of us though can forget seeing Bishop Colm O’ Reilly on the television news on Christmas Day 2009 assuring the people of the diocese, that despite the daunting prospect that was ahead, their Cathedral would be rebuilt. And indeed it was, as we all witness today. As important as that was, it was just one achievement of many during the ministry of Bishop Colm in this diocese for thirty years. I am acutely aware of how he is held in the highest esteem and affection by the people of the diocese. We are all delighted to see him here today and I hope to benefit from his invaluable insight and advice for many years to come.

Father Tom Healy tells me he is a very happy man today! I know he is looking forward to a quieter life, for the moment anyway. We all know of the vital role he played in co-ordinating the restoration of this cathedral. But we must also thank him most sincerely for the manner in which he has led the diocese as its administrator since the departure of Archbishop Duffy. He has not spared his talents or his time in the role and I know that his work has been deeply appreciated by all of you here in the diocese. Thank you Father Tom.

We believe that God calls each of us but He does not provide us with an outline of our lives, an outline of what will happen to us. We do not know as we go through life what faces us, what manner of life we will have, what joys or sorrows, what crosses and pain may come our way. We cannot predict our tomorrow. We all have to make that leap of faith and trust in God that He loves and cares for each one of us and that he knows what is best for us.

There are moments in all of our lives when everything suddenly changes. Sometimes we can plan for that moment but at other times it comes as a bolt from the blue. My appointment by Pope Francis as bishop of Ardagh and Clonmacnois was such a moment. It was for me completely unexpected. And I was faced with a decision that to say the least was not easy. I knew that saying yes, as I did, would change everything. But I did so because in the end I believe that what makes my life authentic is that I continue to have that same faith and trust in God that set me out on the path of priesthood all those years ago. And while I have met difficulties and challenges along the way, and while I have also a much better appreciation of how weak a vessel of clay I am, I can honestly say I have never had any regrets about my decision to say yes to priesthood.

Placing our faith and trust in God involves above all listening to what he is asking of us. We do this by listening to his Word but also by listening to the Church as well as the world around us. One way in particular 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. The synodal process inaugurated by Pope Francis gives us an opportunity to become a listening Church. In his words, it enables us to “break out of our routine in order to stop and listen, firstly to the Spirit in adoration and prayer, and then to our brothers and sisters, their hopes, the crisis of faith around the world, the need for renewed pastoral life”.

Today we have listened to the words of the gospel: “the harvest is rich but the labourers are few”. What are they saying to us? We know the harvest is rich but certainly at this time very difficult. 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 that some day we will return to God. Its moral compass is imperilled with an increasing stress on the rights of the individual to the detriment of society as a whole. Faith and practice too are affected when people lose touch with community worship.

And so, as we look around we see difficulties for the Church on all sides. The temptation to despair is great. But none of this is new. Sixty years ago, when Pope Paul VI opened the second session of the Second Vatican Council on 29 September 1963, he spoke about the Church building a bridge to the contemporary world. He confessed he was tempted to be frightened and saddened, to condemn and defend in the face of the Iron Curtain of Communism, the spread of atheism, the emptiness and despair in so many human hearts. He refused to despair however. ‘Not now’ he said, while love was flooding the heart of the Church, the servant of mankind. And so we too must have courage. Because in the midst of our difficulty, God is speaking to us.

“The harvest is rich but the labourers are few.” For too long we have seen the labourers as priests and religious. Yes, we need priests and religious and we need now more than ever to pray for vocations and encourage people, young and older, to accept the invitation that Christ is extending to them. I want to acknowledge on your behalf the incredible commitment and service of our priests. This diocese has been so blessed with their ministry. We are however an ageing priesthood and the model of Church we have been living with will not survive what is happening now. And so, we, together, as a listening Church, must try to understand and discern that somehow in the midst of this necessary change, that God is speaking to us.

How shall we change our world? We shall not. God will do it or it will not happen. But He will not do it without us. Through men and women whose dynamism for change is not theirs alone but the power and work of God. God has chosen each of us, He is the source of our life in Christ Jesus. In this time of change we, the laity and clergy of this diocese, guided by the Spirit of holiness, openness and truth, have to discern the future direction of our Church. This is our responsibility as disciples of Christ, listening to each other and also those beyond our comfort zone.

Archbishop Dermot Farrell in a recent homily on the feast of Saint Kevin quoted the words of welcome of Cardinal Aveline of Marseilles for the new Archbishop of Lille. The Cardinal said:
‘The mission of the Church is not to be a religion which succeeds according to the world’s criteria for success – those of control and efficiency. No! The mission of the Church is humbly to cooperate with the Holy Spirit in order to be at the service of that love with which God loves the world. Without counting the cost, give of yourself to this people who await you, this people whom God has entrusted to you, and to whom you have been entrusted by God. I pray that together you may live the wonderful adventure of being disciples of Christ, the wonderful adventure of the mission of the Church. (Installation Bishop Laurent Le Boul’ch as Archbishop of Lille. May 20, 2023).’

As you can imagine, these words have particular resonance for me today. I can only hope that with God’s help, I can repay the trust that all of you are placing in me. Please continue to pray for me, as I will pray every day for you, the people, priests and religious of the diocese of Ardagh and Clonmacnois. Together, may we share what Cardinal Aveline describes as the wonderful adventure of being disciples of Christ, the wonderful adventure of the mission of the Church.
May God bless us all.


Notes for Editors

Ordination ceremony
The principal consecrator for the Mass will be Archbishop Eamon Martin, Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, and he will be assisted by co-consecrators Archbishop Francis Duffy, Archbishop of Tuam, and by Bishop Tom Deenihan, Bishop of Meath. The new Apostolic Nuncio to Ireland, His Excellency Archbishop Luis Mariano Montemayor, will preside at this Mass. In addition to the consecrators, the Mass will be concelebrated by Cardinal Seán Brady, Archbishop Emeritus of Armagh, members of the Irish Bishops’ Conference, both serving and retired and other clergy present. Father Michael McGrath CC of Saint Mel’s Parish, Longford, will preach the homily and Saint Mel’s Cathedral Choir will perform the music throughout the liturgy under the direction of Mr Fintan Farrelly. The organists will be Dr John O’Keeffe and Mr Gerard Lillis. The Master of Ceremonies will be Father Turlough Baxter.

Media arrangements
At 2.00pm Martin Long of the Catholic Communications Office will be available to brief journalists at the dedicated media centre located at the back of the Cathedral. The media centre will be open until after the Mass and will offer internet access and refreshments. Hard copies of the homily and other addresses from the Mass, the ordination booklet (which contains details of the Liturgy and the biography of Bishop-elect Connell) and related information on the Diocese of Ardagh and Clonmacnois will be available here.

Media representatives will have an opportunity for photographs and brief interviews with Bishop Connell after the Ordination Mass.

Photographs from the ceremony for publication purposes will be available to media by contacting photographer Brian Farrell on +353 (0) 87 982 8412 and by email on [email protected].

The Ordination Mass will be livestreamed on longfordparish.com and broadcast by iCatholic.ie and on Shannonside Radio

Life and Ministry of Bishop Paul Connell
Bishop Paul Connell, a native of Mullingar, Co Westmeath, was born on 27 January 1958, the second of four children to Thomas and Philomena Connell. He began his primary education with Mrs Katherine Mullaly before attending Saint Mary’s CBS primary school in Mullingar. In 1970, he commenced his secondary education in Saint Finian’s College, Mullingar, sitting his Leaving Certificate in 1975. From Saint Finian’s he entered Saint Patrick’s College, Maynooth, where he completed his seminary training in 1982. He was awarded a BA in 1978, followed by a BD in the Pontifical University in 1981. The following year he was recipient of the Gilmartin prize in Ecclesiastical History from the Pontifical University.

Bishop Connell was ordained to the priesthood in the Cathedral of Christ the King, Mullingar, on 20 June 1982. Following ordination, he was briefly attached to Rochfortbridge parish before being appointed to the staff of Saint Finian’s College, completing his Higher Diploma in Education in 1983. He became Vice-President of the College in 1989 and succeeded as President and Principal in 1998. From 1992 to 1994 he completed an evening Masters in Local History in NUI Maynooth, and was awarded a doctorate in history by the university in 2002. Subsequently, Bishop-elect Connell spent a number of years lecturing part-time in Ecclesiastical History at the Milltown Institute of Theology, Dublin, and has published a number of works in the area of local history.

Bishop Connell remained as President and Principal of Saint Finian’s College until 2019. Under his direction the college became a co-educational secondary school in 2003, and its boarding school closed in 2007. In addition, he was President of the national support body for secondary schools, the Secretariat for Secondary Schools, from 2013 to 2018. In January 2019, he resigned his position as Principal of Saint Finian’s, whilst remaining as its President. This following his appointment as Executive Secretary of the Council for Education of the Irish Episcopal Conference, based in Columba Centre of Saint Patrick’s College, Maynooth. In 2020, he was appointed by Bishop Tom Deenihan, Bishop of Meath, as Chancellor of the Diocese of Meath.

Since his appointment to Saint Finian’s in 1982, Bishop Connell has held the position of chaplain in Saint Mary’s Hospital, Mullingar (Cluain Lir). For many years during the summer months he has worked in the parishes of All Saints and Saint Gabriel’s in the Archdiocese of Miami, USA, and more recently in the parish of Saint Gregory, in the diocese of San Diego. In August 2021 he was appointed Administrator of the Parish of Multyfarnham, Co Westmeath.