When I first saw this beautiful Tyrone countryside around Ballygawley I was on a mission.  I was on a mission to places like Eglish, Donaghmore, Brackaville and Ardboe.  I am talking about thirty years ago – and I was a teacher then – a Secondary school teacher.  But I was also Manager of the football team.  That was the reason for the mission – out of the school – to take on the mighty young men of South Derry.  We usually chose a neutral venue and it usually was somewhere in Tyrone.

Years later I was to come again to Tyrone and specifically to St Ciaran’s College.  It was Prize-Giving Night and the Head Boy was one Emlyn McGinn, now Father Emlyn McGinn, a priest of this diocese and Chaplain to Dundalk Institute of Technology and doing excellent work there as well as working in a parish at the weekends.

Today I come back again to St. Ciaran’s College to discover more about this school and about all the excellent education that takes place here.  I am delighted to discover the missionary flavour of this Mass.  It reflects the outstanding Missionary Outreach which is truly placed here under the leadership of Pascal, Claire, Divina and Chris. 

Of course they would be the first to acknowledge that this could not take place without the help of many, many other people – the help of the Principal, staff and parents – but above all, the help of the entire student body which is so very important.  Today we pray that God may continue to bless your great generosity – especially the goodness and generosity of all who actually went to Zambia.

The motto of this school is Fortis in Fide – it is usually translated as Strong in Faith.  But Fortis also implies ‘strong’ in the sense of being brave and courageous in standing up for your faith, to defend it.  Today the greatest courage is, in some places, needed to actually practise the faith, and to pray; to go to Mass and to go to Confession.  For let us face it – that is the source of the energy that enables people to grow strong in faith.  The human body will not grow strong without the nourishment of good food and drink.  In the same way, we will not grow strong in faith and we will not stay strong in faith without nourishing that faith.

Recently a prominent person in this county stated publicly that he no longer believed – in other words that he had lost his faith.  An Irish bishop met him and asked how could this happen to someone who was brought up in a family that believed, worshipped in a parish that believed, was educated in a  school where the practices of the faith was strong.  “Bishop” he said in reply “you have lived a different life to me.  You never stopped praying.  I did, and that is what makes the difference”.

I loved your Opening Procession – the map of Africa reminded us all of our call to help the poorest of the poor.  I am delighted to hear of your commitment to help Father P J Gormley and the SMAs in Mulenga. 
One of the last times I met Father P J. Gormley he was pulling on his Tyrone shirt in Dromantine and setting out to help the Tyrone Captain carry the Sam Maguire Cup across the border at Aughnacloy. 

On Sunday afternoon – the Kerry Captain proudly proclaimed “Ta Sam ag dul Abhaile” – “Sam is going home” and it is a proud honour to carry that much coveted trophy into one’s native county but it is an honour that is reserved for the few whereas the honour of carrying the faith and love of God to others is open and available.  But, of course, to do that we ourselves must have that love and faith in ourselves.  No-one can give to others what they do not possess themselves.

Yesterday I was in Dromantine and I was thinking about that Gospel which we heard just now.  It gives us the last words spoken by Jesus here on Earth.  “All power on heaven and Earth has been given to me.  Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations”. 

Just try and imagine.  Jesus has received all power in Heaven and on Earth and what does he do with it?  He shares it.  He delegates his apostles to extend His kingdom to the ends of the Earth.  He promises to stay with them and to give them the power to do what he was asking them to. 

As I wandered around the corridors of Dromantine I saw the lovely plaque to the founder of the SMAs – Melchior de Marion Bresillae.  Early in life he made three resolutions:

1.    To be a missionary with all his heart;
2.    To neglect no means of advancing God’s word; and
3.    To seize every opportunity to preach the Gospel.
When he founded the SMAs in 1858 they took on their first principle:  to bring the Good News of Jesus Christ to the most abandoned people and they are still at it as you know well and the presence of Father O’Kane here, and of Father P J Gormley and his colleagues and their cousins, the Sisters of Our Lady of the Apostles, in so many places, prove they are still at it despite the many setbacks

The first group of SMAs went in 1852 to Sierra Leone. They all got Yellow Fever and died, including the Founder.  But the Spirit and the ideal did not die.  The torch had been passed to others and they said: ‘Although we have lost our Father and Elder Brother, we are confident we have in Heaven an Advocate who will plead our cause all the more successfully from being near to God’. 

That is why the torch was so appropriate in the Opening Procession.  It represents the Light of Christ – the hope of the world.  That light has been passed from generation to generation and now the torch – the baton – has arrived with the present generation and each one of us is called to reflect this light in the kind of life we live – in the kind of people we are and in the way we treat other people.  That is the way the torch is passed on, to become a source of light to those who find themselves in darkness and despair.

The last item in the Procession was a school blazer.  It represents each and every student and where they are now in their lives.  Each and every one of us is on a journey – from birth to death and through death to everlasting life.  On that journey we meet many others whoa re making the journey with us – some help us – some hinder us.  We have to negotiate the various stages and overcome the different challenges – like when we first went to school, or when we left Primary School and came here.  It is important to remember those times and to recall who and what actually helped you most at those times.

We have many helpers to assist us:
•    Our family and our friends
•    Our school and our teachers
•    Our parish and its priests
•    Our grannies.
Our mission is not restricted to helping those who live in Africa.

I mentioned Confirmation at the beginning of this sermon.  You have all received Baptism, Holy Communion, Confirmation and Confession.  Baptism and Confirmation cannot be repeated but Holy Communion and Confession can, and should, be received often. 

I think it was the Tyrone Manager who said that ‘when you are knocked down on the field of play – that is not what is important, what is most important is how long it takes you to get on’.

We are all knocked down on the journey of life – when we yield to temptation.  Confession was given to us by a loving Saviour as a means of picking ourselves up and getting on with the journey – forgive us our trespasses.  I am aware that I am over-using the football metaphors today but I think you will understand the reason. 

A last thought – if you don’t attend the training sessions – you cannot reasonably expect a place on the team.  In the same way – God who created us without our help, will not save us without our help.

One great pillar of strength and source of consolation is Mary the Mother of Jesus and our mother too.  Jesus gave her to us as he was about to die.  I hope that we never think that we can do without her help.           



I am very grateful to be invited here to St Ciaran’s College today.  It gives me the opportunity to meet again those whom I met on their Confirmation day and to meet again some people whom I met on previous visits here to this great school.

Today we come to offer Holy Mass together.  That is one of the great privileges of our lives as Followers of Jesus Christ –

•    To be able to be present to hear the Word of God,
•    To praise His name, and
•    To get a share in that power which He gave to his disciples.

Today we celebrate the opening of another School Year.  May it be a happy and successful one.  We call down God’s blessing on all who come here. 

We give thanks for the Missionary Outreach of St Ciaran’s to Zambia.  We pray for all missionaries – especially the SMA Fathers and, in particular, Father P J Gormley in Mulenga Township.  I welcome his colleague, Father O’Kane and all the other priests who are concelebrating here today.