by Michael Duignan, Bishop of Clonfert
Last October, I was ordained Bishop of Clonfert. Back then none of us had even heard of the Coronavirus or Covid-19. None of us would have predicted that, come the spring, our world would be gripped by the tragedy of a Pandemic and that life as we had known it would have been turned on its head. As the saying goes “we are where we are” and no matter how surreal it is – these days are ours to live through.
For me moving house from Sligo to Loughrea was in fact moving closer to home. I was born in Athlone. The eldest of a family of six, my home parish bordered the parish of Taughmaconnell which is in the Diocese of Clonfert. I have many relatives and friends living there. Ballinasloe, with Portiuncula Hospital, was familiar territory too.
I went to Cloonakilla National School in Bealnamulla and then to St Aloysius College in Athlone. After that I studied for the priesthood in Kitegan in County Wicklow and then at the Pontifical Irish College in Rome. In 1994, I was ordained a Priest in Saints Peter and Paul’s church in Athlone, Except for some time pursuing post-graduate studies in Rome, I have ministered for most of my life in County Sligo. My last appointment was lecturing in Theology and Religious Education at St Angela’s College. A hardworking staff and fantastic students made it a most enriching experience. I also had responsibilities with the Diocese of Elphin, working in the area of education and the formation of Permanent Deacons and Catechists for ministry in the Church.
One of the good things about studying theology is that you study the history of the Church. It gives you a good insight into the changes that have occurred down through the centuries. Soon you realise that the Church has always faced difficulties and challenges. Some of those challenges make the challenges that we have today seem small indeed. However, we do face challenges and the next few years will bring significant changes to our church communities. Falling numbers participating in the life of our parishes coupled with a lack of finances and resources along with a lack of clergy will not be without consequences. I take solace from a belief that God never abandons his people. On the flip side of every challenge there lies an opportunity. With the help of the Holy Spirit, my hope would be that we, the laity, priests and bishop, together can work out new structures and new ways of doing things that will be more suitable to the situation we find ourselves in. Please God this will allow us to move from spending a lot of our time propping up things that are eventually going to fall down to a situation where the Church, although reduced in number, can better live and share the joy of Christian faith - especially with our young people and those on the margins of the Church and society.
I am conscious of the enormous amount of work done at parish level by so many volunteers. This has become so obvious recently with the massive effort put into safely reopening our churches for public worship. I am also conscious of the leadership of our Priests who are often now carrying an even greater workload than in the past. Such cooperation between priests and people for the common good of our Christian community bodes well for the future. This concerted effort at parish level has also been mirrored in our schools and colleges. We owe a debt of gratitude to their Boards of Management, Principals, Teachers and the whole school community for all the work they have done to get our schools open in a way that keeps all involved safe.
Sadly the virus has not gone away. However, we do know that our actions can make a difference. Following the public health advice is essential if we are to protect everyone especially those most vulnerable. In these days – keep safe and keep each other safe! Beannachtaí!
Michael Duignan, Bishop of Clonfert
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