SUNDAY, 15th JULY 2007

I shall try to be brief, something I rarely succeeded in being during my active ministry!

On 16th July 1967 I was ordained Bishop of Ardagh and Clonmacnois in St. Mel’s Cathedral, Longford. The liturgy of ordination of a Bishop at that time was called “consecration”. A little niece of mine announced proudly in school that, next Sunday, she was going to Longford for the “consternation” of her uncle Cahal! I was age 50 and had in the previous year celebrated 25 years of priesthood. My predecessor, Bishop James Joseph McNamee had been ordained Bishop at aged 50 and had served 40 years as Bishop until his death at age 90. It is time for me to pack my bags, as Pope John XXIII said near the end of his life. (Someone who wrote to me since my 40th anniversary informed me that Cardinal Logue had been 45 years a bishop when he died!)

In 1967 the Church was re-living its youth, with the Vatican Council still fresh in our memories and its programme of renewal challenging us in every aspect of the Church’s life. To adopt lines of the poet Wordsworth: “Bliss was it in those days to be alive, but to be young was very heaven”.

After fifteen very happy years in Longford, I had a heart attack, in February 1982. Before my convalescence was completed, I was asked to leave Ardagh and to go as Bishop to Down and Connor. Belfast in those years was experiencing the horrors and the torment of what we have come to call the Troubles. However, it was my native diocese, where I had lived a quarter-century of my priesthood, and I had the advantage of knowing its priests and its people. It was in Down and Connor that I felt I would be spending whatever time on earth was left to me. In the event, I spent eight years in Down and Connor.

Then, with shock and suddenness, came the sad news of the death during the diocesan pilgrimage to Lourdes, of Cardinal Tómas O’Fiaich, which occurred on 8th May, 1990. The news shocked the Archdiocese and indeed the whole nation. On the date in question I was in Glasgow, attending a meeting between the bishops in Belfast, Glasgow and Liverpool. It was there that I received the sad news by telephone.

The Cardinal’s Requiem Mass was celebrated on 15th May in this Cathedral. I had the privilege of being Chief Celebrant and preacher at this Mass. I still remember the sense of awe and the nervousness that I felt as I looked down at the packed congregation in this great Cathedral, gathered in sorrow at the death of their beloved Cardinal and in prayer for his eternal rest; nervousness also at the presence of so many distinguished public figures come to pay their tribute to the great Churchman and great Irishman who was Cardinal O’Fiaich.

The vacancy in the See of Armagh lasted for six months. There was naturally much speculation about the Cardinal’s successor. A Synod of Bishops was scheduled for the month of October 1990. I was present in Rome at the Synod.

On Sunday, 21st October that year, the Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation of Bishops invited me to concelebrate Mass with him in his private oratory. It was Mission Sunday. Dr. Sean Brady, then Rector of the Irish College, drove me to Cardinal Gantin’s residence. After Mass, the Cardinal told me privately that the Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, had appointed me Archbishop of Armagh, though this would not be announced until 6th November 1990, Feast of All Saints of Ireland. As Dr Sean Brady drove me back to the College, I confided my secret to him, knowing that my secret would be safely kept to himself; so our present Archbishop was the first to know of my appointment. I spent the rest of that day in the College Chapel, praying as best I could after the shell-shock of the morning, praying for God’s grace for the next period of my life.

Two days after the announcement, I went to Armagh and met with the Archdiocesan Chapter. I shall never forget the warmth of the welcome I received from the late Dean MacLarnon – a long-time and dear friend of mine – and the rest of the Chapter.

My six years in Armagh were very happy for me and I formed a bond with the clergy and people of Armagh which remains as strong with me to this day as it was when I lived in Ara Coeli. The Troubles raged on apace in those years, but those working for peace and justice and reconciliation, those who believed in justice by the ways of peace, prevailed in the end. All those who prayed for peace throughout those bitter years have seen their prayers answered. We thank God for that. There is still a long way to go before the wounds of that time are healed and the bitternesses of those years are overcome, but what has already been accomplished offers good hope for the future.
Among those who worked tirelessly for peace and justice all through those years was my good friend the late Monsignor Denis Faul. May he rest in God’s eternal peace. As for my Armagh friends and classmates of seminary days, three of them had died before I came to Armagh: Father Owen Quinn, Father Andy McNally, and Father Malachy Coyle; a fourth died later, namely Canon Des Campbell. May they rest in peace after their labours in the Lord’s service. Father Michael Ward, of the same 1941 Ordination Class, is still happily with us.

High on the list of my many blessings in Armagh is the appointment in 1995 of Dr. Sean Brady as Coadjutor and his later installation as my successor. I have watched with pride and much satisfaction the progress of the Archdiocese in so many fields under his gentle guidance and wise leadership. The Archdiocese which we all love is in good hands. Above all it is in the hands of our good Lord himself. May God bless Archbishop Sean’s work, together with that of my, and now his, faithful and devoted Assistant Bishop, Bishop Gerry Clifford.

Last week I was trying to put finishing touches to a book which I have been writing on the Eucharist. Although many pages before the end of the book still remain to be written, I have composed the concluding page of the unfinished book. I want to end my words today with the last paragraphs of that coming book.

These are difficult days in the life of the Church. Remember the words which the great English mystic, Mother Julian of Norwich said were spoken to her by Our Lord in what she called her “Showings of Divine Love”:
“All shall be well,
and all shall be well,
and you will see for yourself,
that all manner of things shall be well.”

The Eucharist is God’s everlasting guarantee to us,