Nenagh Thanks & Farewell – Christian Brothers

Homily to mark the departure of the Christian Brothers from Nenagh, Sunday 25th of February 2024, St. Mary’s Church, Nenagh

Why Church?

The late great theologian and interpreter of our faith for the contemporary world Joseph Ratzinger, who later became Pope Benedict, (God rest him) often pointed out that the reason the Church exists is to: Worship God, to Serve the Poor and to Evangelise or spread the faith.

It is no wonder then down through the centuries and Millenia that to do this the Church engaged in the setting up and building of: Churches, Hospitals and Schools.

Monasteries, religious orders, congregations and dioceses,  then sprung up over the past 2,000 years to put a structure in place to be able to bring all this about.

Vision and Charisma of Rice

From the early 1800’s Edmund Ignatius Rice (a Kilkenny man, but we won’t hold that against him in the heart of hurling territory here!) had a clear vision this and with his great pastoral sense, love of God and zeal for souls set up a structure that became the Congregation of Christian Brothers.   Their main apostolate to live the life of prayer, spreading the faith and education of the poor.  The legacy of the brothers since that has been immense, not only in Ireland but also throughout the world.

Nenagh – since 1862

Today we gather to mark the fruit of that vision and pastoral outreach here in Nenagh for the past 162 years, since January 20th, 1862.

This great work has been carried out at both primary and secondary level here in Nenagh from Sarsfield Street, John’s Lane, Idrone Cottage on Dromin Road and in recent times and most significantly Summerhill since 1969.

Investment of Resources

I quote from the historical research of Dr. Conor Reidy that “by 1890, they were offering primary and secondary education to their pupils.  They funded this education from their own coffers as there was no support from government.”  An interesting little historical insight of the time.

Enduring Legacy

The main legacy of Christian Brothers in the town as it has been in so many locations is in the areas of: Teaching the Faith, education of all, rich and poor alike, the promotion of Irish culture, music, Gaelic games, and the Irish language, An Ghaeilge – with Gramadach na mbráithre Chríostaí being a great reference point for so many enthusiasts and otherwise of the Irish language for many decades!

Transfiguration and Transformation

The Gospel of the 2nd Sunday of Lent is always the great message of Hope, the Transfiguration of Jesus on Mount Tabor, Jesus giving the disciples a preview or glimpse of the glory of heaven as an encouragement for the challenging journey that lay ahead.

The journey of Christian faith, embodied by Edmund Rice and his many followers in the Brothers and our own individual quest is one of Transfiguration and Transformation.  Transfiguration to become more and more Christlike in all we say and do.  The brothers in Nenagh have worked diligently to bring about this transformation and transfiguration in so many pastoral ways and for that we give thanks to God for all they have achieved.

Casting a shadow to impede the light

The shadow side of some aspects of religious life and the negative impact of some in terms of an over emphasis on discipline and also in the area of safeguarding issues has been well documented in recent years.  Overall, however, despite that cloud of darkness and very much on balance – history will look favourably on the many positives that came from the legacy of the presence of the Congregation in so many places, not least here in Nenagh.

Sadness in Farewell

There is sadness in their departure from the town as they were very much part of the fabric here for so long.  It is regrettable that the brothers, genuine men of God are no longer that visible and tangible presence here.   However their legacy will remain in the excellent schools established and that work being continued with the Rice Trust that ensure the ethos will continue for well into the future, under the patronage of Blessed Edmund, beatified by JPII in 1996.

Symbolic Gift to the Diocese

When the remaining brothers were finally departing the house where I live in Ennis I was gifted with a colourful pictorial map in a most gorgeous frame of the diocese of Killaloe that used to adorn the walls of the monastery.  It is now hung in Westbourne, a fitting and symbolic reminder of the presence of the congregation and that gift is valued and treasured, an appropriate memento.

Gratitude Expressed

Today is an occasion of thanksgiving and recognition of the great work done over 16 decades.  We give thanks to God for the work of transfiguration and transformation done in the name of being Christian and in a fraternal manner.

Facere et docere – To Do and to Teach, the great motto embraced by the Congregation.

Thank God for all that has been done and the many lessons taught.  All for the greater glory of God, on this Transfiguration Sunday!