Most Rev Gerard Clifford, Auxiliary Bishop of Armagh
1 March 2007

‘How lovely on the mountain are the feet of one who brings Good News, who heralds peace, brings happiness, proclaims salvation’. The words of the Prophet Isaiah (Ch.52:7-10) capture vividly the coming together of the Catechetical and Pastoral Centre here in Mount Oliver at the place where Mother Kevin fulfilled a dream and founded a Missionary Community here to train Sisters for missionary work in Africa. The words of the Prophet capture the hopes and aspirations of the Franciscan Missionaries to Africa and those of the new Catechetical and Pastoral Centre opened here by Cardinal William Conway on 29th September, 1969. In his opening address the Cardinal quoted one of the key documents from the Second Vatican Council ‘Lumen Gentium’ – Christ the Light of the World. He said; ‘the foundation of the new Centre ‘would help to make the light shine more clearly, more brightly, more intensely in God’s vineyard’. That was the hope and aspiration of those responsible for setting up the Centre. It remains the inspiration and the challenge of the Diocesan Pastoral Centre to this day.

The Centre was the brain child of the Diocesan Advisors for Religious in The Northern Province. Under the inspiration of Fr.Bobby McKenna and Fr. Peter McConville, Dromore and the direction of Bishops from the Northern Province the Centre was opened here in 1969 under the direction of Fr. McKenna and a core group of catechists and lecturers. Fr. Tom Hamill, whose expertise in Biblical scholarship was well recognised, would take care of Scriptural formation, Fr. Enda Lyons, Tuam would take responsibility for theological formation, Sr Rose Devlin would look after Primary School catechesis, Sr Nano Brennan Post Primary Catechetics.

At that time Sr. Benedict was Superior General of the Franciscan Missionaries for Africa. She welcomed the new team, the new project and kindly released Sr. Gervaise Woods to look after the library and the cataloguing of documentation and she appointed Sr. Theresa Daly as secretary, receptionist and liaison person with the Franciscan community. It was a formidable team. It began a relationship between the Northern dioceses and the Franciscan community that would last some forty years under the various directors of the Catechetical Centre; Fr. Bobby McKenna, Bro Albert Traynor, Fr. Ray Brady and Fr. Tom Hamill.

Later the same happy relationship was maintained when the Centre was set up as a Diocesan Pastoral Centre under the direction of Fr. Colum Curry(now Dean Curry) and later still under Sr. Rhoda Curran, the present director.

The Catechetical Centre welcomed students from all over Ireland, from England, Scotland, Wales, from America, Canada, and Australia. It was the epicentre of a new revolution in catechetics that would reverberate throughout the English speaking world. Today its past pupils continue to bring the Good News ‘ that heralds, peace, brings happiness, and proclaims salvation’. (Is. 52 v10).

At the end of the nineteen eighties the Institute, as it came to be known, was beginning to find it difficult to sustain numbers. Other catechetical and pastoral centres were being set up throughout Ireland. The Mount Oliver Institute had done its work and so, under the leadership of Cardinal Cahal Daly, the Diocesan Pastoral Centre was set up in 1993 with Fr. Colum Curry, (now Dean Curry) as its new Director. Very quickly the Centre became the hub of renewal within the Archdiocese with outreach to those looking for renewal and formation at local level. It was a local initiative and it worked extremely well. In time Fr. Curry moved to new challenges and Sr. Rhoda Curran, Mercy Convent, Dundalk took over the challenge of leadership with the same enthusiasm and success. That work continues with various outreaches through the Rainbows programmes, the Beginning experience, counselling in grief and other counselling services. Under the auspices of FAS the Centre has been the base for projects at local level.

One of the pioneering new initiatives at he Centre was the establishment of the Family Ministry programmes for the diocese under the direction of Fr. Andy McNally, and Ms. Debra Snoddy with Milanda Kelly as part of the support team. Their work continues to have a beneficial and rewarding impact throughout the diocese.

Over the years the Centre became the base for many other projects including the regular meetings of the Irish Inter-Church Meeting (Ballymascanlon Conference). The work of the Conference goes back to the nineteen sixties when under the direction of the Irish Bishops’ Conference and the Irish Council of Churches (presently 16 churches and denominations as members). The work of the Inter-Church meeting is the flagship for official ecumenical contact between the Catholic and Protestant Churches in Ireland.

The various initiatives at the new Centre will include Fr. Tom Hamill’s Armagh Diocesan Biblical Initiative and his ministry of care to the sick; the National Vocations Commission under Fr. Patrick Rushe and other youth projects in the Diocese. . The new Diocesan Pastoral Centre at St. Patrick’s Hall Dundalk will be available to the Parish of Dundalk as a centre of prayer and renewal. It will take on the challenge of bringing the Good News to a wider audience at the same time as it addresses the growing challenges of our time.

Earlier this week I represented the Bishops’ Conference at the inauguration of a dialogue between the Irish Government and the Churches, philosophical bodies and non-confessional organisations in Ireland held in Dublin Castle. The Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, spelled out the challenges facing all of us in a new and distinctively secular society where people are searching for answers to the deep questioning and insecurity of our time. He spoke of the new secularism that would attempt to confine religion and religious beliefs to the purely private and personal parts of life. He was insistent that one cannot ignore the importance of the spiritual element in life. He was eloquent in his praise for the work done by Irish religious, priests and lay people as missionaries at home and abroad who worked unstintingly to educate and care for others and to bring the message of faith to a waiting world.

The words of the Gospel of St John (17:18-21), sum up that continuing challenge for all of us in a new world context;

‘That they may be one
May they all be one.
Father may they be one in us
As you are in me and I am in you
So that the world may believe
It was you who sent me.’

We are challenged to be one in our commitment to the truth, to the affirmation of the uniqueness of the human person, to respect for each other, to respect for life from its beginnings to the end; for respect for the environment, for the marginalised, the poor, and the underprivileged in society, for those of other traditions, for those who believe and for those who do not share our worship of the God.

The new base for the Pastoral Centre in Dundalk will hopefully provide opportunities for discussion and for sharing on all of these topics. It is a great challenge. The words of the letter of St. Paul to the Romans capture that challenge;

‘They will not ask for help unless they believe in him
And they will not believe in him
Unless they have heard of him,
And they will not hear of him
Unless they get a preacher
And they will never have a preacher
Unless one is sent’.

That is the challenge; that is the programmes for all of us. It is a life’s work.

On behalf of Cardinal Brady I thank all who have been involved in the Mount Oliver Pastoral Centre. It has been a fruitful endeavour between the Centre and the Franciscan Community here in Mount Oliver. I thank Sr. Miriam Duggan, Provincial of the Franciscan Community, Sr. Mary Ryan and the Franciscan Council for their sharing of a vision with us. I thank Sr. Genevieve, leader of the Community here in Mount Oliver, for the support, encouragement and commitment given to the Centre. It has been a happy collaboration. I am reminded of the words of St Paul: ‘the footsteps of those who bring Good News is a welcome sound’. I pray that sound may continue to reverberate through the corridors of Mount Oliver as you undertake your own work of refurbishing and renewal.

Finally, I hope that the move to Dundalk will prove rewarding for all of us. In particular I wish Sr. Rhoda and her team every blessing in the challenges that lie ahead. Guim beannacht De oraibh agus ar bhur saothar.