Opening address of Bishop Fintan for Killaloe Priests annual inservice

Opening Address of Bishop Fintan Monahan – Killaloe Diocesan In-service, Loughrea, Sunday 10th of November 2019

A warm word of welcome to you all as we gather for our third annual Diocesan in-service here in Loughrea. Welcome to yourselves – all the priests gathered. We remember with gratitude the priests, retired and over 75 who have remained at home in order to keep a basic service ticking over in the various parishes.

Judith – Facilitate
Welcome to Judith King who again this year has most kindly agreed to facilitate our gathering. It is great for us to have her back again this year. We remember with gratitude also Eamonn FitzGibbon who joined us last year and the year before.

In-service Committee
Welcome and thanks to the hard working in-service committee Tom O’Halloran, Albert McDonnell, Ger Jones, Damien Nolan, Maureen Kelly and Ger Nash.

The Committee met a total of six times in order to plan and work through some themes, suggestions, ideas and proposals for this gathering.

They met twice in March and once in April, June, July and also for a skype link during the Summer with Judith in Australia who spoke to us at an un-Godly hour of 5 am from down under!

Speakers and Facilitators
Welcome to the Speakers and Facilitators – Ms. Pat Coyle on Monday, Fr. Vincent Sherlock and Ms. Jesse Rogers on Tuesday and the priests ministering among us from other countries, namely Poland and India who will address us on Wednesday morning, with Judith helping us to sum up, also on that day.

Theme of the In-service
The theme of the three days together this year is Making Meaningful and Hopeful Connections with Others.

As you see from your brochure the two-fold purpose of the gathering is:
• Time to be away together.
• Develop a sense of togetherness; build bonds of friendship and shared mission.

Building our capacity to engage in Mission and Minsitry
• Think together about today’s culture and our experiences to it:
• Reflect on points of engagement and connection with people today;
• Explore our identity as priests in the context of a changing culture and Church.

Culture – Pat Coyle
On Monday it is hoped that Ms. Pat Coyle, (who has done some work before in the diocese), director of Jesuit Communications, wife and mother of two will lead us in an exploration of the culture we live in and how we can effectively present the Gospel in that context.

The Western culture in which we live is changing at such an enormous rate and it is becoming harder and harder to preach and live the gospel in this milieu. Being a person of faith in today’s world with such a background with barren soil for the seeds of faith is extremely challengeing. Any help we can get in interpreting and understanding this changing reality is badly needed. Bishop Donal Murray who has been an astute observer and analyst of this issue for many years has in interesting book out lately called “Picking up the Shards” and you might care to explore that if you have not aleady.

Priestly Identity – Vincent Sherlock
On Tuesday, a man who is also no stranger to us – Fr. Vincent Sherlock, a priest of the Achonry Diocese will facilitate an exploration of what our priestly identity is in the middle of this changing and rapidly evolving situation.

The identity of the diocesan priest, in the midst of the chage described above is as rapidly changing as the culture we minister in. For someone like myself whos was ordained less than 30 years ago – this has changed out of face since the early 1990s and I can only imagine what that sea change must be like for many of you who are more senior than that and then for the few younger priests in our midst this is no less a buring issue. For myself, the changed reality and the identity in being a bishop and in being a bishop in a diocese that I am not a native of is something that takes quite an adjustment and any help we can get in reflecting on this area is of great value.

The Priest as Leader – Scriptural Point of view
Later on Tuesday – Dr. Jessie Rogers, again whom we know well will present and lead us in an exploration of the priest as leader from the scriptural point of view.

As a faith leader, and certainly for yourselves as faith leaders at local level it is good every now and then to look at models of faith leadership as portrayed by Jesus in the Scriptures and by the faith leaders that surrounded him and the Jewish tradition from which he came.

A fruitful time together
The committee after much exploration and discussion felt these would be rich themes and be helpful to us as a presbyterate at this juncture. I look forward very much to this vaulable, useful and fruitful time together. I am so glad to be here this evening, to be in the privileged postion of sharing these few days with you and for the past three and a half years my admiration for your work, your living the Gospel as disciples of Jesus has been impressive and I am idebted to you all for the ongoing friendship, trust, loyalty and support that you show to working as a team in the presbyterate that is Killaloe diocese. In general there is a lovely working atmosphere among the priests and in my experience this has been a constant of the years that I have been here.

Where are we at right now?
So where we are at the present moment in time as priests and with our diocesan planning for Killaloe diocese?

Vision 2018
This time last year we were just in the aftermath of fairly big changes with Vision 2018. A brief summary of that so called “Vision 2018” include the following:
• A larger than usual number of Diocesan Appointments
• Slight changes in geography, from 12 clusters to 15 pastoral areas
• A Move from being PP’s to being Co-PP’s
• Shared Ministry
• Rotation of Pulpits
• Working in a synodal way
• Weekly meetings to plan and pray
• Development of identity, beyond parish as Pastoral Areas.

We have slowly ‘tipped away’, letting that vision become embedded and it is gradually settling in. More than ever, almost 18 months down the line I am utterly convinced that, despite the challenges in relation to this way of doing things, it is the right thing to do and the way to go. I commend you all for sticking with it, despite for some it being a major challenge and personal inconvenience.

Sharing Vision 2018 with other dioceses
It is heartening to see that several other dioceses have contacted the diocese to seek advice on what we have done, how it is going and we as a diocese have given presentations in many locations around the country. The point I am making here is not that this way of doing things contains all the answers, but at this present time there seems to be no better plan out there.

Pastoral Area Gatherings Autumn 2020
At this juncture we are almost finished our 15 pastoral area gatherings. 13 of the 15 pastoral areas have had very positive and interesting meetings in which we gave people an opportunity to explore where we might be going and offer a plan for the next phase of pastoral planning.

15 Pastoral Plans at Local Level
As you are aware it is intended that the next diocesan plan will be done separately in 15 local areas, corresponding to each of the pastoral areas to build on the tradition of and bring us beyond Builders of Hope and Vision 2018. The solid idea behind this, is working in a synodal way to empower the people from the ground up to work out their own local tailor made plan that will address the needs and challenges of their own local area. I look forward to seeing the result of this next phase of planning with the help if The Institute of Cultural affairs.

A few items have emerged from the 13 gatherings that we have had to date, with two more to come!

It is taking a while for this new system to embed and this time last year we were very aware that that would be the case!

At the gatherings in some locations some of the details needed to be explained or teased out a little. In one or two locations it needed to be explained that in the case of parishes that had no priest they weren’t just becoming by default the responsibility of the neighbouring parish but jointly of each of the priests and parish of the pastoral area, which would evenly divide out the labour and work and make the system workable. This needs a bit more explaining and time for the wisdom of the new system to take root.

The other item that has come up and it is most understandable and I totally get it (as the phrase goes) that Parish Identity is paramount. I know and realise this and I hope that will never be diminished, but the reality is that one third of the parishes don’t have a resident priest and in a few years time that will be half and very soon the fraction will be much higher indeed! Unless we function and work and have the vision to see things on a much larger scale we simply won’t be able to manage as a diocese. When a diocesan priest is ordained it is not so much for service in a parish but for service to whatever the needs of the diocese are. I am totally dependent on yourselves to buy into this vision an simply cannot to this without your ongoing commitment and dedication to this vision.

You are no doubt aware that compared to other diocese our needs in this area are very acute. Several times colleagues in the Episcopal Conference are aghast when they hear that we have a total of one third of the parishes with no resident priest under 75. Most others have less than a handful, but other dioceses are very mindful and alert to the fact that they are rapidly going in our direction in the near future.

New Ministries
One of the off-shoots of the on-going diligent pastoral planning being done by diocese has been the introduction of the new ministries. Huge work, with dozens of meetings and courageous planning along with financial investment has been put into formulating a robust third level course that will give accreditation to 25 people from the diocese who have been studying hard in the area of Pastoral Care and Catechesis over the past two years. I look forward to seeing the work that they will do in the future as it is an area that has such wonderful potential. Great credit for this work goes to Eamonn FitzGibbon, Maranna Quinlivan, Maureen Kelly and Ger Nash. God bless their great energy, enthusiasm and huge persistence in getting this course over the line in the battle for accreditation for something so practical and worth while.

Many thanks to the various priests and lay people in the pastoral areas who have been involved with the trainees for New Ministries in the areas of supervision and working out meaningful engagement and projects for them as they train.

The key to the success for this project will be giving this group scope to exercise their ministry in a collaborative, partnership model and I believe it has enormous potential into the future and am so happy to see it well underway.

Future Initiatives
How we develop new initiatives in the future will be important. We are all part of one Diocese and our development of new ways of involving people will have maximum credibility if we are seen to be moving forward together.

So, I would see that initiatives in parishes and in pastoral areas would be discussed at Diocesan level before being implemented. They could be brought to this discussion through the Council of Priests, direct contact with me or through the Diocesan Pastoral Council when it is re-established. The Pastoral Planning Team of the Diocese is also a conduit for beginning the discussion on new initiatives. All new ways of working require us to invest in training and also in discussion on how a new initiative will impact on our colleagues in the Pastoral area and in the wider diocese.

Example of the Exploration of Funeral Ministry
Some parishes have begun to explore the area of Funeral Ministry which undoubtedly will be one of the key ministries in our parishes in the years ahead as priests get scarcer. I would propose that we hold a discussion on a Diocesan wide scale in the near future to examine the way in which this ministry can be established across the Diocese with a common approach. It would also be good to draw on the experience of other Dioceses who have begun this ministry and to avoid any pitfalls they may have experienced. It would also allow us to put a proper training course in place which will ensure that lay people who take it on will have the best possible support and confidence in their task.

On-going care of Priests
New Council of Priests
The on-going care of priests is always a lively issue for us as we gather, especially in the challenging times we live. I wish the new council of priests who have been recently formed every success and blessing as they meet regularly to address our many challenges.

Special thanks and every blessing to Pat Larkin who has agreed to take on the role of chairperson for the three year term of the council.

Priestly Supervision and Support Groups
I commend the work of David Carroll, Tony Casey and Pat Malone who are working away in the background on this area. David Carroll will have the opportunity to speak to us on this issue during the few days. Ger will briefly introduce the Diocesan Employee Assistance Programme with VHI which we have joined. This programmed has been flagged a number of times to the last council of priests.

Employment of a diocesan Nurse
The employment of Suzanne as diocesan nurse has been a significant plus in the care of priests. She has done great work since her appointment, in the outstanding way she has in dealing in such a caring way with any of our colleagues who need her assistance. She has been assisted in this role by Ger Nash, Tony Casey and Pat Larkin who meet regularly to review the various issues that arise. I would hope in the coming weeks to get someone from the eastern part of the diocese to join the team, in this advisory and caring role. The role is mainly being an ear to the ground for issues that arise amongst colleagues who might need the care and assistance of Suzanne. The care that Suzanne offers is completely confidential and it is totally voluntary if any priest wishes to avail of her assistance.

Individual Meetings with Priests
I hope to if at all possible to meet priests again individually after Christmas. I found it a valuable and important thing to do, giving priests time to meet and talk about important things that might be on their mind, should they wish to do so.

It would be intended to hold a meeting of the appointments board before Christmas to do a little planning for the diocesan appointments for 2020.
January meeting with Priests
I would hope if at all possible to hold the one to one meetings in January. However this year with the diocesan safeguarding review being the week of January 6th and the first diocesan retreat with Seamus O’Connell being on the week of the 20th – it will challenging to get the hours in. Confirmation as you know beginning on January 31st this year. If only there were more hours in the day – life would be much easier!!!

Priests being alert to the sensitivities and differences of other priests in relation to the new team ministry
One item that came up at the Pastoral Area Gatherings was the issue of what we do as priests and how we do it, especially in the area of liturgy and I have already alluded to his in the point about planning thinks collectively. As it arose, it was pointed out this has implications and a knock on effect on other priests, if things are done differently. This issue was not too obvious or did not impinge as much when it was one priest – one parish. Now, however that we are working in a more co-ordinated team sort of approach – it would be good if we could be sensitive to this issue. It doesn’t mean that we need to have sense of total uniformity, but at least that we should be sensitive to doing things in a way that would not upset others too much.

Consultation on Sacraments
Following suggestions from a number of people and the example of a number of other diocese it would be intended to do a consultation with priests, teacher, clergy and parents, perhaps in the Spring time to address some of the important issues of the main Sacraments of Initiation, Baptism, First Holy Communion and Confirmation.

What is envisaged here is an exploration of how we do things, when and where. Who is attending, not attending. Are they having a meaningful, lasting effect, if at all or are they just social occasions. It would be good to have an open and honest discussion around this important area, seeing that so much time, work and effort goes into preparing for such sacred occasions.

Youth Ministry
I am so pleased to see the ongoing work in relation to Youth Ministry, being co-ordinated by Joanne O’Brien. She is doing some important work in the setting up of structures to train young third level students who will hopefully continue the good work that is already being done by school and John Paul II awards and various other projects. Well done to Ger Jones and his team for the great work in this area. I look forward to the award ceremony next week, with special guest, Marty Morrisey.

Well done to Joanne O’Brien and Donagh O’Meara for the recent Youth Ministry Course in Carrigoran and also the ongoing Redemptorist Course in Nenagh.

Outstanding things are being achieved in leading to people to learn how to pray and deepen their faith with the various pilgrimage groups to Taizé and Lourdes, thanks to Gerry Carey, Tom Ryan, Michael Geraghty, Ger Jones, Miko Sheedy, Brendan Quinlivan and many more.

Assisted Pilgrims in Lourdes
As we are on the issue of Lourdes, which is an enormous grace and benefit in so many ways in the diocese – there was a meeting of the organising group on Friday last and they asked to let you know that there is capacity on the Summer Pilgrimage to Lourdes to take on more assisted pilgrims. Many people consider going, but are reluctant to go, thinking because of their sickness, infirmity, disability of old age that they would be burden on the group. However, there are plenty of helpers available and they will receive the best of care. So the message is to please encourage as many as possible to sign up.

Diocesan Pastoral Council
Along with the old COP, the DPC has now run its current course and a new one will soon be put in place. It is hoped, following ongoing discernment and exploration that they new council would work in a thematic or project way rather that deal with everything and anything as it arose. Their first project will be to begin a consultation on effective ways of celebrating Holy week and Easter and I look forward to hearing much more in relation to this in the Spring time.

Safeguarding Review
As you are aware the second phase of the safeguarding review for the diocese by the National Board for Safeguarding Children is due on the week of January 6th. The emphasis in this review is more on parish practice than focusing mainly on the maintenance of files and policies at diocesan level. I thank you for your diligent work in this area extremely important area.

In the areas of Finance and Data Protection or GDPR we have been progressing well and various inputs in these areas were well attended and thanks to Michelle, Cathy, Mary, Claire for the guidance in these areas.

Review of Diocesan Land
The whole area of buildings, especially diocesan property is being looked at closely by the Killaloe Diocesan Trust in recent times. In the context of the proposed sale of a portion of land from the grounds of St. Flannan’s it has given rise to discussion and debate on the use of St. Flannan’s College again and we would hope to explore this further in the context of diocesan needs and planning for venues and facilities for the future for ongoing training and meetings. No decisions have been made in this area, but it is hoped to have some discussion, exploration and consultation in the near future.

New School Boarads of Management
Well done to you all in securing nominees for the new boards of management for primary schools. I understand how challenging it is to get good and suitable candidates to volunteer for this important work and your efforts in this and every other area are appreciated. The work of religious education is greatly enhanced by the team in St. Senans and the ongoing guidance of Gerry Kenny, Sr. Essie, Joe Searson, Deirdre Ní Dhorchaí and Luke O’Connor.

The work of promotion of vocations to Priesthood, Religious Life and various lay roles in the diocoese continues to be to the fore in our minds. The vocations committee met recently and have plans to visit the schools in the near future along with doing a series of vocations videos with priests, religious, laity and some of the new people in the new ministries. Vocations Prayer Cards have been produced again by the vocations director, Iggy McCormack and they are available for distribution these days in pastoral areas and parish allotments. We rely on the assistance of prayers in this area and there is a strong link with Prayer for Vocations and Eucharistic Devotion in the diocese and please God this will continue to bear fruitful results.

Eucharistic Adoration
At this point almost every parish has Eucharistic Adoration up and running for some period of time each week. Please contact Jimmy Morris in Shannon if you need any assistance in this area. He and his diocesan committee are more than welcome to help by way of speaking of Mass or in the logistics of setting up rotas or lists of adorers and people to pray.

Work of Devotional and Small Faith Groups

If I could finish by reflecting briefly on one final issue. I had a visit recently from some very good people from the Association of Papal Knights. Among other things the discussion got round to faith and some of the reasons for the decline in faith. In their view one of the reasons was not so much inadequate faith formation of young people but a lock of ongoing faith formation for adults. I can see much wisdom in what they had to say. So many adults, even those who continue to practice their faith are not being facilitated in deepening or expanding their faith. Very few, because of their busy schedules take it upon themselves to read, to attend courses, retreats, development days, like they might otherwise do in their professional lives.

It just strikes me that some of the ways that some people are living and developing their faith is by means of the smaller devotional faith groups and perhaps not in the bigger settings of mass movements or large gatherings.

Just to give one little example that I am fairly familiar with in Ennis – the Neo-Catechumenal Way. The small group of people involved meet during the week to study the scriptures, to reflect on the word of God, to deepen their Catechesis and at the weekend they have a vibrant, intense and joyful celebration of the Eucharist.

Just last week – the Ennis group teamed up with their equivalent from Dublin. They came to Ennis for the day and went door to door to invite people to engage with their faith. The were missionaries for the day.

They are only a small group, I know, but they are a group that are growing and deepening in their understanding and living of the faith. I am more and more convinced that it is small vibrant, engaged groups like that who give people an experience and feel for faith and encourage them to explore and develop it that will be the way to go for the future. I had the privilege of addressing a national movement called Parish Cells who meet in peoples homes every week to do something similar. Groups like Opus Dei, Legion of Mary, Divine Mercy, Medjugorje prayer groups, Faith and Light, Focolare, Lectio Divina, Communion and Liberation, strive to do elements of this and so worth assisting or engaging with in whatever way we might be able to support them. Just an idea as a parting shot!

Going back to my teaching days, I’m not going to check the homework before we begin, but I certainly found the 3 Furrow articles distributed during the week very good, the work of Michael Conway, Ned Prendergast and Martin Delaney. They certainly throw out a lot of food for thought to set us on our way for the coming days.

I hope the few days are real, honest, enjoyable, informative, useful, engaging and above all that we genuinely savour and appreciate the company of each other in a relaxed, yet hard-working and of course non threatening, open and happy environment. Co-workers, united in the name of Jesus Christ, united in furthering the Kingdom of God in the diocese of Killaloe and further afield.

Many thanks and God bless.