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Diocese of Cashel, Ferns and Ossory

Bishop’s February 2021 Letter


Dear Friends

It is becoming more and more difficult to know what to write in these letters! Even the tentative use of the future tense has become problematical. As I re-read my January letter, written in the second week of December, I realise that virtually everything that I dared to hope would happen in January such as the two ordinations did not happen.

The Reverend Purser moves to full time ministry
One thing that happily did happen in January, although without any public ‘marking’ at this stage, was the move on the part of the Reverend Alec Purser from part time service to full time stipendiary ministry. We congratulate him on his completion of the necessary additional training at our Theological Institute, and thank him for undertaking, with the assistance of the Reverend Janet Finlay and under the oversight of the bishop, the pastoral care for the coming years of Portlaoise/Ballyfin in addition to the parish of Stradbally. He and his family will continue to live in Stradbally Rectory. I often remind Alec that the very first thing I did after my consecration as bishop in July 2006 (within minutes of it in the chapter house of Christ Church Cathedral Dublin!) was to sign his permission to officiate as a Reader. In the fifteen years since then it has been a particular joy to travel with him through the various stages of his vocational journey and to see the growing and deepening of his pastoral role. The parishes which will now share in his ministry are blessed to have a priest and pastor of such commitment and diligence, and behind his gentle approach to the care of individuals lies great inner strength and in particular a determination that the church should always be a place committed to social justice and care of those on the edges of our society.
The Reverend Alex Morahan to be licensed as priest in this diocese
Another priest who is completing a course of training at the Theological Institute is the Reverend Alex Morahan, chaplain to Kilkenny College. Alex has already been full time chaplain at the college for some time now, and his capacity to connect with people, the breadth of his conversation and his distinctive yet gently expressed spirituality have made their mark on the whole college community. His capacity to ‘gossip the Gospel’, often in the most unlikely ways, is remarkable – he is one of those individuals whom people, sometimes in spite of themselves, cannot but find interesting and this is a true gift in a school chaplain! Alex was in the past a priest in the Roman Catholic context and, having made his home in Anglicanism for quite some time now, has followed our process to re-enter priestly ministry within the Church of Ireland through a programme of further reflection and training. I had hoped to license him as a priest of the diocese during January but, whenever this event does take place, I know this additional dimension to his ministry will much enrich his contribution to the life of the college.
The Reverend O’Dowd Smyth to transfer to full time ministry
Meanwhile the Reverend Dr Christine O’Dowd Smyth continues her own study programme at the Theological Institute for transfer, like Alec Purser, to fulltime ministry in the fairly near future and we wish her well.

Institution of the Reverend Trevor Sargent via Zoom

History will be made at 8 p.m. on Friday February 5th when, online and using Zoom, the Reverend Trevor Sargent will be instituted to Bunclody Union – an event in which we hope many parishioners and friends will join virtually.

By the time most people read these words the service will probably have taken place, but we wish Trevor great joy in his first incumbency back in Co Wexford and we hope he and Áine will find Bunclody Rectory a home of great happiness and horticultural fruitfulness too.

It is very hard settling into a new parish in these times when ‘normal’ human contacts cannot be made and we are unsure when public worship can resume, but I know the people of his new parish will find appropriate and imaginative ways to make him welcome. Trevor’s many gifts and vast knowledge will be much missed in Waterford Cathedral and Union but it is excellent that he is staying in the diocese for the longer term! We thank him too for his chairing in recent times of the school Board of Management at Christ Church NS, a role in which he will be succeeded by Ms Carmel Banville, to whom we are most grateful. I always say that those who undertake the huge voluntary task of chairing our many school boards simply cannot be thanked enough.
Death of the Very Reverend Victor Stacey
On a sad note, the diocese lost a distinguished son in recent weeks with the death of the Very Reverend Victor Stacey, formerly dean of St Patrick’s Cathedral Dublin. Victor had touched for good the lives of many through his long and varied ministry in several parts of Ireland, concluding as dean of the National Cathedral, but he was always proud to be a son of Bunclody and a former pupil of Kilkenny College.
€13,000 raised by 150 Disestablishment Tour so far
My profound thanks go out to parishes and individuals who, in very challenging times, generously sponsored me as I engaged in my Disestablishment 150 virtual tour of the diocese during November and December. I expect some further contributions will still arrive during the month of January, but at the time of writing I have received almost 13000 euro which will be used by Bishops’ Appeal to support literacy projects in Ethiopia and Burkina Faso partnered with Mothers’ Union and Feed the Minds. Your gifts will make a huge difference to the quality of life experienced by many women and their families, and I am deeply grateful for this encouragement and solidarity. I was of course sorry that it was not possible to travel about and meet people face to face all over the diocese but be assured that a few years on from now I hope to identify a theme and a cause that will again facilitate peregrinations in a more traditional form!
With thanks
I’m also grateful to the central Bishops’ Appeal committee, and in particular their education adviser Lydia Monds for encouraging me to proceed with this endeavour and providing much guidance. Our own Gillian Purser is a member of this committee and serves alongside Valerie Power as Bishops’ Appeal Diocesan representatives in this diocese. And, of course, the practical support given by our own Communications Officer Margaret Hawkins in making the whole virtual tour come to pass online was quite superb.
An Post stamp to mark the anniversary of Disestablishment

Finally. It was at the beginning of 1871, 150 years ago, that the Disestablishment Act came into effect and the Church of Ireland was, as it were, empowered to chart its own future. To mark the anniversary, An Post has issued a delightful stamp that can be used for letters sent within Ireland. It depicts part of a stained glass window in St Fin Barre’s Cathedral Cork, a place with special associations for me as I was ordained there and also served as its dean. St Fin Barre’s, one of the Church of Ireland’s most iconic buildings, was consecrated just before Disestablishment took effect and became something of a symbol of the Church’s determination to survive, thrive and contribute to the spiritual life of Ireland as a whole.

Sometimes local post offices do not always have supplies of commemorative stamps but it is worth enquiring, particularly at the bigger post offices, whether the stamp is readily available. If not, sheets of 16 stamps per sheet can be ordered directly online from An Post at the GPO in Dublin (delivery free of course!). One of the few upsides of Covid has been witnessing how the postal services has again very much come into its own, especially as a means of contact with the isolated and the vulnerable. Postmen and postwomen perform a mighty work of care in checking on people and ensuring that their practical needs are met. Given our gratitude to such workers, and our appreciation that An Post has recognised this special year for the Church of Ireland with a lovely stamp, I intend to make sure to use these stamps on my own correspondence in the coming months as much as possible!

Michael Cashel Ferns and Ossory