SILVER JUBILEE OF THE EPISCOPAL ORDINATION
OF BISHOP FRANCIS MCKIERNAN
CATHEDRAL OF ST. PATRICK & ST FELIM, CAVAN
SUNDAY DECEMBER 14, 1997
HOMILY BY CARDINAL SEÁN BRADY
O give thanks to the Lord for he is good
For his love endures forever.
We come together today to celebrate. To celebrate the silver jubilee of the ordination of Bishop McKiernan’s, as Bishop of Kilmore, on 10 December 1972. We gather to give thanks to the Lord for he is good and has been particularly good to his people here in Kilmore over the last twenty-five years. We come to give praise to the Lord for the favours he has done down through the years in this diocese.
We celebrate this jubilee in the shadow of the Great Jubilee of the year 2000. Then we shall be giving thanks and praise to God for the greatest event the world has ever known – the birth of its Saviour, Jesus Christ.
The custom of jubilees began in the Old Testament. They continue in the history of the Church. The Jubilee year was time dedicated, in a special way, to God. During the Jubilee year the land was not ploughed or cultivated; slaves were set free; and debts were cancelled.
I know that Bishop McKiernan would gladly have cancelled the debt of thanks and praise which we have come to pay here today. In fact when the idea was first suggested to him he remarked: “It will be like having to endure one’s funeral ahead of time”. Well this is certainly no funeral and nothing like a funeral but rather a celebration of life, the life of one particular diocese, and the celebration of God’s love for His people in that diocese.
Bishop McKiernan is well known for his love of history, especially for his love of the history of the diocese of Kilmore. He knows much better than I that this month he joins a small number of bishops who have served the people of this diocese for twenty-five years or more. Earlier this century there was Patrick Finnegan, a native of Corlurgan in this parish, and bishop from 1910 – 1937. The Wexford man, Bishop James Brown was here from 1829 – 1865. Bishop Denis Maguire, a native of Killesher, Co. Fermanagh was bishop from 1770 – 1798. Bishop Eugene MacSweeney came from Donegal and laboured here in tough and troubled times from 1628 – 1669. In his history of the diocese of Kilmore Philip O’Connell lists five others going back to Simon O’Rourke, who died in 1285, Conor McConsnamha who died in 1355 and who was a native of Drumkeeran. There were three others, Nicholas McBrady, probably from Castletara, bishop from 1394 – 1421, Tomas McBrady, also from Castletara, 1480 – 1511 and Richard Brady, a Franciscan, who was bishop from 1580 – 1607.
So today we congratulate you most heartily, Bishop Frank, on joining that small but distinguished club of ten who between you have given 250 years service to the leadership of the Church in Kilmore over the last 700 years.
Even though the times were different and their backgrounds were very varied, nevertheless the task that confronted each one of those remained fundamentally the same; that of carrying on, with the help of the priests, the work of Christ, the eternal pastor. It is the splendid task of being faithful to the teaching of the apostles and of building up the Church as the body of Christ. It is the noble work of sustaining the people of God strongly in their life of faith and love and of leading them confidently and hopefully in the ways of holiness. It means teaching people the Good News about Jesus Christ, and the News brought by Jesus Christ. But it means being, first of all, one who listens to that News oneself and lives it in one’s own life. It means praying for others and for oneself. It means being a witness to the light.
For his work of teaching the new Bishop of Kilmore had, by 1972, served a long and rigorous apprenticeship. I refer to his ten years teaching in St. Patrick’s College, Cavan and ten years in St. Felim’s, Ballinamore. I remember him as our well-prepared, enthusiastic and dedicated teacher of Irish in 1952/53 and again in 1954/55. He knew his pupils well and was interested in our progress, something which is of enormous value in fostering the potential of every pupil in the pursuit of excellence. His love of history was soon apparent. He gave us a sense of our identity – of who we were. I remember his trying to broaden our vision by recommending that we should read books like Daniel Corkery’s ‘Hidden Ireland’ – It was excellent advice of course but me thinks it sometimes fell on deaf ears.
When he was appointed Principal of the new St. Felim’s College, Ballinamore in 1962 he was responsible, along with the Principals of the Vocational School and of Meanscoil Fatima for a revolutionary idea of pooling the resources of three small schools in order to provide a full, comprehensive range of education for the children of the Ballinamore catchment area. It was not only a revolutionary idea but a visionary one. The vision was translated into reality to the advantage of all concerned and especially of the pupils who profited immensely from the development.
After his ordination as Bishop in 1972 he retained his interest in education and became a member of the Bishops Commission for Education and was, for many years, its spokesperson. This was at a time when the Government was taking more responsibility in the field of education, Bishop McKiernan played a very important role in negotiations which reconciled the parts of Church and State in education, especially in the post-primary sector. Painstaking negotiations, great diplomatic skills and sensitivity and deep convictions were required to ensure that the rapidly developing post-primary sector preserved a religious ethos. This was hard, demanding work, requiring understanding and common sense, patience and sensitivity and above all the clear conviction of the necessity and the value of integrating the old and the new. It was work that went without publicity but work that will endure.
In 1979 when Pope John Paul decided to visit Ireland Bishop McKiernan was appointed Chairman of the Organising Committee. It involved a huge amount of work, with a relatively small staff, in a short space of time. Bishop McKiernan carried it out with great tact and efficiency. He delegated others and trusted those whom he delegated, but carried the responsibility for the whole effort with modesty, without any desire for publicity or recognition and with considerable success.
I have mentioned these episodes as some of the highlights of a long and distinguished career but they are the easier ones to identify and describe. His more valuable and lasting contribution is something different and very precious. Jesus said: “I am the good shepherd, I know my sheep and they know me”. Bishop McKiernan certainly knows the people of his diocese, the lay faithful, the religious and the priests. He has acquired that knowledge through years of patient parish visitation, hospital visitation and school visitation. That intimate knowledge of the diocese, of its people and of its history and its traditions is a great driving force in his life of loving dedication and commitment to their well-being and progress. He is well aware of the high honour and heavy responsibility of being bishop of the ancient See of the Ui Briuin. Keenly conscious of how much we, of the present day, owe to the past, he has always devoted his time and energy and talents to increasing his own knowledge of our rich inheritance of faith that he might the more effectively live up to that heritage and hand it on to future generations and inspire others to devote their lives to this noble task.
We Christians believe that we have been put on this earth for a purpose, to share in God’s life. We believe that we achieve that purpose by giving rather than by receiving. By giving ourselves to God and to our neighbour in loving service. This is only possible if we meet God, a God who comes to us, who comes in search of us in His Son, Jesus Christ. We believe that the spirit of the Risen Christ is the eternal source of every gift that comes from God and that the Holy Spirit acts within the Church in the sacraments and in the variety works and gifts which are inspired for the good of the Church.
Today we thank God for the work of Bishop McKiernan over the last twenty-five years. We thank God for his strong faith, a faith nurtured on the word of God, nourished by prayer and the sacraments and enriched by a tender devotion to Mary the mother of God. We thank God for his wisdom and understanding, wisdom developed through study and reflection. We thank God for his courage and vision manifested in his leadership and decision-making. We thank God for his piety and his reverence which have inspired and edified many.
The Spirit produces love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, humility and self-control. Many of us will have our own particular memories of those fruits so evident in the life of our Jubilarian. I am not going to embarrass him by reciting them in public. Many have experienced his kindness and goodness, especially in times of trouble or sickness, and have noted his humility and faithfulness.
In his apostolic letter for the millennium Pope John Paul says that: ‘in the Christian view of things every jubilee is a particular year of favour for the individual concerned’. A jubilee is a measurement of time and every one of these measurements of time is marked with the presence of God and his saving activity. So as we rejoice to celebrate this well deserved tribute we pray that this year will be one of particular grace not only for Bishop Frank but also for his Co-adjutor, Bishop Leo, and for their loyal and generous co-workers, the priests and religious of the diocese. But not only for those. Let it be a time when the presence and saving love of Christ may be really strong in every parish and in every home, and in every heart, from Kilmainhamwood to Kinlough, to the glory of God forever and ever