Sometime around the year 1900, a young girl from County Westmeath was travelling, by train, to Dublin.  It was a big day in her life but also a sad one.  She was on her way to Philadelphia in the United States.  One of the most vivid memories she brought with her to the United States was the sight of the spire of the College Chapel in Maynooth College.  That memory stayed with her and gave her strength.  It reminded her of the Church in her native parish and the knowledge that her family and neighbours went to Mass there every weekend and prayed for her.  This consoled her greatly.  So much so that she told it over and over again to her daughter and grand-daughter.  They, as a result, became great and generous friends and benefactors of Maynooth College.

That story came back to me as I thought about this Church of the Nativity of Our Lady and its 175th jubilee here in Leixlip.  I saw this beautiful Church, for the first time, 52 years ago.  It was my first year in Maynooth.  This Church would have been the last Church we saw on our way to Maynooth.  Its memory and the memory of people streaming in and out would have inspired me, and, I am sure many other seminarians too.  It inspired us on our paths to priesthood as we saw the people here in Leixlip gathered at the Church and we knew the Church and the priest had an important role in this parish and every parish.

We would not have known its history.  That it was built in the distant days of 1833 within four years of Catholic Emancipation, which  restored the freedom to practise religion.  We may or may not have known that it was dedicated to Mary the Mother of Jesus – in memory of her birth.  But, what we did know was that it stood, here in a prominent place in one of the most picturesque towns in Ireland – nestling as it does between the beautiful Rivers of Rye and Liffey.  We would have concluded that this Church was buiilt here through the generosity of good and faithful people – people for whom the worship of God was important – people for whom the provision of a worthy House of Prayer, in which to give praise and glory to God, was important.  And so, we are here today to conclude the year-long celebrations of the 175th jubilee.

I think it is a great tribute to the whole parish community that you have entered into this celebration so enthusiastically and so whole-heartedly.  It is a sign of a people of strong faith

•    A people who are sensitive to the guidance and inspirations of the Holy Spirit at this time.
•    A people who know they belong to a community that has so many gifts and talents which they place generously at the service of one another.

I learned, with delight, that the celebrations began over a year ago – close to the Feast of the Birth of Our Lady.  Under the leadership of your Parish Priest – Father Michael Hurley and the Organising Committee – a lot has taken place during this past year. 

All of that is aimed at handing on the Good News brought by Jesus Christ – Mary’s son.  It is the Good News of God’s compassionate and healing love for each one of us.  Homes were visited to encourage people and let them know that they are important.  Various initiatives were carried out to build up and sustain the wonderful community spirit which obviously prevails here.

The fact that the opening ceremony took place in the open air near a 250 year old penal chapel tells me that you too remember what helped you, and what helped your ancestors, through the trials and tribulations of the past.  The fact that this same chapel became, in turn, a school and now is used as a Scout Den indicates to me your keen desire to preserve all that is good and best from the past and hand it on to those who come after us. 

The extension from Church to school to Scout Den is interesting.  It reminds me of the priesthood of Jesus Christ.  You and I, we all share in that priesthood which we exercise.  Jesus is our teacher.  Jesus is our priest – the one who prays for us.  He is our guide.

By Baptism we continue his work of teaching in the home and in the school.  We continue his life of prayer in the home and in the Church.  Jesus is also our guide and our shepherd. That work is continued in lots of ways such as youth work and Scouting for example. 

To help me prepare for coming here, Seamus Kelly was kind enough to send me a copy of his very beautiful Walking Tour of Leixlip.  It really is a gem.  It reminds us, most powerfully, that Leixlip has both a vibrant present as well as a most interesting past.  I am quite sure that this Church of Our Lady’s Nativity and the people who worship and pray here punch well above their weight in their contribution to Leixlip’s, past and present.
There is one activity which I would like to note and applaud.  During these days we are remembering the thirtieth anniversary of the visit of Pope John Paul II to Ireland.  In fact, after this Mass, I am going to Drogheda to a Ceremony of Commemoration at the Papal Cross.  When he spoke at Drogheda 30 years ago, the Holy Father pleaded with the warriors to give up the ways of violence.  He asked them to do so for the sake of peace.

Thanks be to God and thanks to the peacemakers, that plea has been heeded.  Of course there is still a small, but determined, group who want to continue to fight.  I hope and pray that they too will listen to the Pope’s plea.  I invite you to pray for that intention fervently.

Ending the violence is one important step.  Achieving reconciliation is the next step.  We all have a part to play in that.  To achieve reconciliation we must, first of all, understand ourselves and appreciate our own localities. Then, secure in the knowledge of who we are, and where we come from, we can proceed to reach out to people who are different from us.  We can try to understand them and to appreciate their history and their heritage.

That is why I want to repeat the words of praise to the teachers, parents and pupils of Coláiste Chiaráin, Leixlip, Newbridge Integrated School, Loughbrickland, Co Down, Confey National School and St. Paul’s Bessbrook, They all took part in the North-South Student Exchange Project – Our Town/Your Town away back in 1999/2000.  Naturally I was delighted to see St. Paul’s especially take part as it is in my own diocese. 

Those pupils – from North and South – and others like them – give us great hope for the future.  In fact, if we had enough such North/South projects, I am quite sure our fears about the future would come to an end.

I was intrigued to read of the difference of opinion between the Parish Priest, Father Savage and Archbishop Murray about the dedication and naming of the new Church in 1833.  Father Savage wanted St Charles Borromeo; the Archbishop proposed that it be dedicated to Our Lady- and specifically in memory of her birth. 

The birth of Mary reminds us of Joachim and Ann – her parents.  They were obviously delighted.  Joachim and Ann are not mentioned in the Gospels.  This is rather strange because they are, after all, the grandparents of Jesus.  By opting for the dedication of this Church to the memory of the birth of Our Lady, Archbishop Murray may have been choosing to focus attention on the important role of the family and of grandparents in the life of the community.  If so, then it was an inspired choice.  The same topic is still very relevant today. 

Two weeks ago the National Association of Catholic Grandparents was launched in Knock.  Pope Benedict XVI has composed a universal Prayer for Grandparents where he describes them as a source of enrichment for families, for the Church and for all of society.  The Pope goes on to pray that they may be for their families:

•    Strong pillars of Gospel faith,
•    Guardians of noble domestic ideals,
•    Living treasuries of sound religious traditions.

I would like to pay tribute to the presence and role of another grouping our society.  Today, in this Church, dedicated to the birth of Our Lady and mindful of her parents Joachim and Ann, I want to pay tribute to the tremendous work which members of ACCORD – the Catholic Marriage Care Service – do in support of sacramental marriage and family life.  They do so in many areas but especially in the area of Marriage Preparation and Marriage Enrichment.  They carry out their work through courses, schools programmes and counselling.  I think they contribute immensely to the achievement of happy, fulfilled marriages. 

I am speaking here of marriage in the sense of a man and a woman who establish a life-long partnership founded on love.  This is a partnership – of its very nature – directed to the happiness and well-being of the spouses themselves and also, of course, to the birth and upbringing of children.  ACCORD – Catholic Marriage Care – provides outstanding help in the essential work of preparing for marriage by focussing on the holiness and obligations of the state of marriage.  I know that one of the outstanding items of parish life in Leixlip is the Family Mass. 

For many years Leixlip was, for me, synonymous with the Hannigan family.  The late Mr Tom Hannigan was our neighbour in County Cavan who moved here, at an early age, and was obviously welcomed and who prospered.  He came from a family of strong Christian faith.  His brother, Father Vincent, was one of the heroes of my youth and was a missionary in Africa for over 50 years.  This is another example of the importance of the family.

More recently, Seán Brady, my namesake – also moved from Cavan to live here and he is playing an active role in the life of this parish.

Obviously Leixlip is a welcoming place and not just a place of great natural beauty but a place of good, warm, human, joyful relationships as well.  Long may it remain that that sort of place and I think it will remain like that as long as  the Sunday Eucharist continues to be the high point of the week and Mary, the  Mother, continues to be asked to help as well.

I end with a slightly adapted version of Pope John Paul’s prayer at Drogheda thirty years ago.

Christ, Prince of Peace;
Mary, Mother of Peace,
St Laurence O’Toole, St Ciaran and all the Saints of Ireland,
I, together with all those gathered here,
Invoke you, to watch over Leixlip.
Protect humanity