SILVER JUBILEE CELEBRATION
PARISH OF ST JOSEPH, DUNDALK
SUNDAY, 18 FEBRUARY, 2001, 12.30PM
HOMILY BY CARDINAL SEÁN BRADY
“O Israel, Hope in the Lord!
For with the Lord there is steadfast Love
And with Him is plenteous redemption” (Psalm 129.7)
Every anniversary gives an opportunity to look back and see how the Lord always cares for His people with steadfast love. Every anniversary enables us to look forward and renew our hope in the plenteous redemption of the Lord, so clearly professed, lived and preached by the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer.
As we look back at the history of the Church here in Dundalk we realise how fortunate it has been, especially over the last 150 years in attracting religious congregations:
The Sisters of Mercy came in 1847
The Marists in 1861
The Christian Brothers in 1869
The De La Salle Brothers in 1899
Of course the Dominicans came much earlier and the Rosminians, St Louis Sisters, Franciscan Missionary Sisters and Sisters of Our Lady of the Mission came a bit later. The Redemptorists came in 1876. The presence of so many communities, dedicated to the glory of God and to the following of Christ in a special way, is a great blessing for any town. They are an outstanding sign in the Church of the glory which we all hope to enjoy in heaven. They remind us, very powerfully, that we have not here, on earth, a lasting kingdom but we seek one that is to come.
It was on 9 November 1732 that St Alphonsus Ligouri and his companions dedicated themselves to the Most Holy Redeemer. They decided to dedicate their lives to preaching the Gospel to “the most abandoned souls”. This dedication took place in the village of Scala in Italy, near the beautiful City of Naples. So the Redemptorists were “born”.
The Congregation grew rapidly. In 1853 they came to Ireland, a country that was still recovering from the trauma of the Great Famine. Their first foundation was in Limerick. Parish Missions were conducted in Dundalk by the Redemptorists in 1859 and in 1867. At that time the Redemptorists were eager to extend their ministry in Ireland. They were conscious that Dundalk was an important juncture in the country’s train system. They knew that from Dundalk they would have easy access to several parts of the country. They were also well aware that while Dundalk enjoyed much prosperity as a centre of trade and commerce, a lot of poverty existed there. So the Redemptorists, truly guided by God, decided to found a house in this town.
This they did in 1876 in Park St, where Dunnes Stores now stands. Five years later in 1881, under the leadership of Fr Henry Harbison, the community moved to the present monastery in Alphonsus Road, appropriately named after the founder of the Congregation. Father Henry Harbison was ordained for the Archdiocese of Armagh but later felt called, by God, to leave the diocese and join the Redemptorists. One year later in 1882 Archbishop McGettigan opened and blessed this Church of St Joseph. In his dedication homily on that occasion Bishop Healy of Clonfert expressed the hope that the new church would be a worthy successor of the great Abbeys of Mellifont and Monasterboice. We thank the Lord that his prayer was heard and that his hope was not misplaced.
FOUNDATION OF ST JOSEPH’S PARISH
Exactly a century after the foundation of the Redemptorist community in Dundalk, on Sunday, 15 February, 1976, Cardinal Conway came to inaugurate the new Parish of St Joseph and to install Fr Michael Clancy as the first Administrator. The Redemptorists, eager to mark 100 years of their arrival in Dundalk and to answer the call of Vatican II to all Religious Congregations to share their charisms and resources as generously as possible with the People of God and within the diocesan system, had offered to take pastoral responsibility for that portion of East Dundalk in the vicinity of their monastery. This offer Cardinal Conway prudently accepted. In 1976 the new Parish had 600 families. This has now more than doubled to 1,300 families and the Parish continues to grow.
St Joseph’s we could consider as a beautiful and successful marriage between a religious congregation and a parish. This church is renowned in Dundalk and its large hinterland for the traditional Redemptorist devotion to St Gerard Majella and to the Mother of Perpetual Help. None of us can exaggerate the inestimable blessing which the 10 daily sessions of the annual St Gerard Novena, catering for the 12,000 daily participants, bring. St Joseph’s, Dundalk, has been for several generations a great source of grace for the people of the North-East, a spiritual oasis, a place of pilgrimage and spiritual help and consolation, an occasion of confession and sacramental healing. Long may it continue to be so.
St Joseph’s Parish has built upon this rich Redemptorist legacy and has become a most vibrant Christian community. A strong spirit of partnership between priests and parishioners, what we sometimes call collaborative ministry, prevails. An appropriate emphasis on excellence in the liturgy exists with the active participation of the laity. Readers, Ministers of the Eucharist, Collectors, Ushers, Altar Servers, Choirs, junior and senior, and Folk Groups, all play their role to make the liturgy what it should be – a glorious hymn of praise to God, a spiritual encounter between humanity and our Creator, a foretaste of the heavenly banquet. This church has an active ministry to youth – I think of your Growing in Faith Programme, Peer Ministry Programme and Children’s Liturgy Group. You also have a committed Pastoral Council who have worked very hard in preparation for today. You have several pastoral groups and activities – Martha Ministers, Weekly Envelope Collectors, Senior Citizens Group, St Joseph’s Young Priests’ Society, Dues Collectors, St Brigid’s Community Centre, St Vincent de Paul Society – to mention but some.
You have been blessed in your administrators, Fathers Michael Clancy, Brian McGrath and John McAlinden, in your Curates, currently Fathers Cathal Cumiskey and Dan Bray. I also wish to pay tribute to the Superiors and Sacristans, currently Fr Michael Cusack and Br Dermot McDonagh, respectively, and to your parish secretaries, Nuala Begley and Teresa Power, of whom more anon.
SUNDAY AS RED-LETTER DAY
Today, the silver jubilee of the foundation of this parish, is a “red-letter day” in the history of St Joseph’s, Dundalk. Each Sunday, however, is a “red-letter day” for the Christian community. On this day the Church celebrates Christ’s resurrection. It is our weekly Easter. It is the Lord’s day. The Lord’s day is the lord of days. The Psalmist’s cry is rightly applied to Sunday: “This is the day which the Lord has made: let us rejoice and be glad.” (Ps 118:24). It is extremely appropriate that we should give thanks to God for the past 25 years at a Sunday Eucharist.
The Latin for Sunday is “dies Domini”, day of the Lord. The Irish word, Domhnach, derives from this. On this day we celebrate Christ’s victory over sin and death through the power of his resurrection. St Jerome once said: “Sunday is the day of the Resurrection, it is the day of Christians, it is our day”. It is right and proper, therefore, that we should come to Mass each Sunday to celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus. Dying he destroyed our death. We come to praise God, to honour and to thank Him for His majesty and for His outstanding kindness to us. We open our hearts and our lives to Him. We open our time to Him. We commend the week just completed to Him and beg His protection and blessing for the week just beginning.
In the story of creation in the Book of Genesis we are told that God rested on the seventh day. On Sundays we too are invited to rest a little from our daily toils and to re-discover “God’s joyful gaze”.
A beautiful church, an impressive building like this is not enough. St Peter reminds us that we must become a spiritual church, a spiritual house. When St Peter was preparing candidates for baptism he reminded them:
“(Christ) is the living stone ….; set yourselves close to him, so that you too, the holy priesthood that offers the spiritual sacrifice which Jesus Christ has made acceptable to God, may be living stones making a spiritual house. ….You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a consecrated nation, a people set apart to sing the praises of God who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people at all and now you are the People of God.” (1 Peter 2:4-5, 9-10).
It takes much longer to build the living house of God which is the parish itself than it takes to erect the visible church building; it is the work of a lifetime. But the architect, the builder, the artist is God Himself. We must open ourselves to His power at work in our lives. The final result is something of a beauty that far outshines the beauty of this splendid building, a beauty that nothing in this world can ever surpass.
We must work tirelessly in becoming the Body of the Christ which is the Church. Prayer and love will be our main tools as Our Lord tells us in today’s Gospel (Luke 6:27 – 38). We must grow in virtue and diminish in vice. As individuals and as a community here at St Joseph’s we must become visible signs of God’s presence and power at work in our lives.
HYMN OF THANKS
Today we thank God for His loving care for all of His people. We thank God for always raising up in the Church people who will be signs of that love, who are, like the apostles, leaving their fishing nets and boats, prepared to leave all in order to follow Christ more closely and to preach his message in season and out of season, who have the generosity of spirit and the courage to say, ‘Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who treat you badly’. That is often not a popular message but it is the only basis for true peace and happiness.
Thanks be to God for St Joseph’s Parish, Dundalk and for the Redemptorist Community. Thanks be to God for the faith, hope and love of the past twenty-five years and for the hundred years before that. We give glory for the generosity of so many people who have made St Joseph’s Parish, past and present, possible and who have been the channels of His graces and blessings. Long may the people of Dundalk come here to listen to the Word of God and to ponder it, like Mary, in their hearts. We can truly make our own today the Psalm for this Sunday’s Mass:
“My soul, give thanks to the lord,
all my being, bless his holy name.
My soul, give thanks to the Lord
And never forget all his blessings.” (Ps. 102)
In the spirit of today’s Gospel may all associated with this church and this parish be rewarded both in this life and the next – “a full measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over, will be poured into (their) lap”. For dear friends, the amount we measure out is indeed the amount we will be given back.
I pray that under the patronage of St Joseph, chaste spouse of the Blessed Virgin and loving foster-father of Our Lord, this community of St Joseph’s, Dundalk, may add and increase in the love and presence of God.
The Holy Father was last year informed of the Silver Jubilee of St Joseph’s Parish, to be marked today. Pope John Paul II deemed it appropriate that someone closely associated with St Joseph’s should be honoured in celebration of the occasion. Very prudently the Pope has decided that Teresa Power, faithful secretary of this parish over the past twenty-five years, be awarded the Benemerenti Medal. Benemerenti translates from the Latin as well-deserved and no one of us today can dispute that Teresa is not deserving of this singular honour.
Teresa Power, daughter of the late Lawrence and Mary Ellen Power, was born in Ballycotton, Co Cork. Her father worked as a lighthouse keeper. Like many others in public service he was transferred a number of times, so that the Power family lived in various coastal locations over the years. Very fortuitously the Power family moved to Dundalk and it was in Dundalk that Teresa spent most of her youth and settled permanently. Her working career began in the Accounts Department of Hallidays’ Shoe Factory and she retained that post when Clark’s took over that company. During those years at Clark’s Teresa became increasingly involved in the various activities and organisations connected with St. Joseph’s Church. 25 years ago, when St. Joseph’s Parish was first established, Father Michael Clancy, the first Administrator of the new parish, wisely employed Teresa as a full-time Parish Secretary. Teresa has retained that post to this day!
As parish Secretary, Teresa has been very much a part of the overall development of the parish. She has served under three Administrators – Fathers Michael Clancy, Brian McGrath and, now John McAlinden. She has served them well and has left them greatly in her debt.
She has served the whole parish with remarkable dedication. A truly selfless worker, Teresa has made a lasting impression on us all by her constant and untiring efficiency and her remarkable grasp of detail. In addition to her work as Parish Secretary, Teresa has been Receptionist for the local Redemptorist Community. Redemptorists have come and gone over the years, as priests do. Teresa has stayed, however, and has been an anchor, a very useful and necessary link with the past on whom the Administrator and Superior have always so heavily depended.
The parish of St. Joseph’s is profoundly grateful to you, Teresa, for the past 25 years you have given to this parish and to its people. The Priests of the parish, past and present, join with the parishioners in rejoicing at the great honour being bestowed on you by the Holy Father, Pope John Paul II.
HISTORY OF MEDAL
In 1925, the concept of awarding the Benemerenti as a mark of recognition to persons in service of the Church, both civil and military, lay and clergy alike, gained currency. The medal has since been conferred on people who have given extraordinary service to the Church.
The medal which will be conferred on Teresa today portrays the image of Christ on a gold Greek cross. It represents Jesus Christ, who is the same today as he was yesterday, as he will be forever. The Saviour, depicted in radiant splendour, has his hand raised in blessing. The last visible action of Christ on earth which he bestowed on his Church is his blessing. A blessing is a gift from God which touches our lives. It is a gift expressed in words and our prayer today is that the Lord may continue to bless Teresa abundantly.
On the left of the transverse arm of the Cross is a modern depiction of the tiara and crossed keys, symbol of the papacy. On the right, the shield of John Paul II and his motto, Totus Tuus, Totally Yours. On the reverse of the Medal is the word, Benemerenti. The insignia is suspended from a ribbon of the papal colours, yellow and white.
The citation of the diploma which Teresa receives translates from the Latin as follows:
“Pope John Paul II, Supreme Pontiff, has deigned to bestow this gold medal on Miss Teresa Power for singular merit in the Christian state and declares her worthy of being decorated with this insignia. Given at Rome, 21st December, 2000.”
CONFERRAL OF MEDAL
Teresa Power, I now ask you to come forward to receive this award:
Brothers and Sisters, we gather here this afternoon to acknowledge and honour our friend, Teresa, for her outstanding service to the Church. St Paul reminds us that all good gifts come from God who distributes them as he wills to build up the Body of Christ.
Eternal God, source of very gift and talent, through your Son, Jesus Christ, you grant us your blessings that the Church might be nourished and strengthened.
Bless Teresa and confer upon her the gifts of your Spirit that she may remain humble in heart as she serves your household, the Church.
Bring us all into the peace of your Kingdom where all honour and glory are yours, Lord our God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Congratulations, Teresa! Well done, good and faithful servant…..