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Diocese of Cashel, Ferns and Ossory

Bishop’s Monthly Letter – September 2019

Áras an Uachtarán Cóisir


I begin with words of affectionate and grateful tribute to two of our retired priests who died since the last issue of this magazine and both of whose funerals took place in Cashel Cathedral.


Canon George Knowd came to ordained ministry relatively late in life but such were his zeal and practical enthusiasm for the task that thereafter he never really wished to retire at all. His incumbency in Clonmel will long be remembered for steady pastoral care, determination to address the challenges of historic fabric, sincere preaching and great respect in the wider community. He retired in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution of the Church of Ireland at the age of 75 in the very same week that I became bishop in the summer of 2006 but continued to serve the diocese liturgically for many more years as well as to relish his role as a member of the congregation in Cashel Union.  Like many others I greatly valued the warmth and wisdom of his company and my heart goes out to Gwen and to the whole family circle as they both mourn yet give thanks for a long life, well lived.

Dean Philip Knowles was laid to rest after a Eucharist in the cathedral which he had served with such devotion and after a long illness which he had faced with what can only be termed remarkable positivity.  Various friends and colleagues spoke lovingly of him at the liturgical occasions which followed his death, both in Kildare and Tipperary. The insightful words of Dean Tom Gordon at the Cashel Eucharist concerning the many layers of giftedness and vulnerability which made up Philip’s rich character will long be recalled by those who heard them.  Philip was a scholar priest and a considerable musician but he was above all a relentless pastor longing to do his best in every task to which he was called.  Into the midst of the human predicament he brought godliness, kindness, fun, hospitality and the benefits of a very well-stocked mind concerning which he was always modest.  I am one of a vast number of people who will miss him hugely; truly his death is one of those end of an era moments in the diocese.


On a different note, many will be aware that in these days the Church of Ireland is marking the 150th anniversary of its Disestablishment – to this matter I have alluded in these columns before. The Act bringing about Disestablishment became law in July 1869 and actually came into effect in January 1871.  Thus, in the period between July 2019 and January 2021, many events are taking place across Ireland marking the moment. I have been reflecting on how I personally might contribute to appropriate commemoration in our part of the country.

What follows is the outline of what I dare to call a little brainwave which I have already shared with the Diocesan Council. It is 150 years since Disestablishment and, when school and hospital chapels are included, I oversee 150 church buildings. What if those associated with each such building were to hold some small event in order to raise €150 – surely not too much to ask? Such efforts would result in making available at least €22,500 euro for a charitable purpose appropriate to ‘the times that are in it’. I would suggest that such a sum be used, as we did on a previous occasion, for two development projects funded via Bishops’ Appeal which would focus on the gift of literacy. Such a theme clearly caught the imagination of the diocese before and it is the gift of education and literacy which, more than any other thing, empowers people in poorer countries to take control of their own futures.  Appropriately, in 1869, the Church of Ireland was freed from State control and empowered to take control of its own future.

In order to encourage local communities and parishes in their support of this project I propose over a period of days next spring /early summer to visit all 150 churches on another whistle stop tour. (A detailed timetable for this will of course appear in due course). During my short visit to each place I will have a chance not only to meet many people but also in each of the 150 venues to talk (very briefly!) about one specific event from each of the 150 years since 1871, the significance of which deserves to be recalled in the corporate memory of the Church of Ireland.  I’m not quite sure yet what sort of prize I might offer to the noble person who attends the greatest number of these little talks, which I assure you will be light in the touch!


One final aspect to this. On the evening of Sunday June 21st next year there will be a service for the whole diocese in St Canice’s at which we will recall the events of 1869-71, consider our commitment and priorities for the years that lie ahead and also present to the Bishops’ Appeal the gifts which have been raised from all our 150 churches and chapels.  I hope this will be a great and memorable occasion at which every parish will be represented and I am delighted that the former President of Ireland Mary McAleese has agreed to preach at the service and to address the theme of ‘The futures of Irish Christianity’ – the word ‘futures’ being deliberately plural.  After the service I would hope to entertain the whole congregation to some modest refreshments in the grounds of the Bishop’s House. So, all in all, emerging dates for your diaries and I hope an idea that can unite us in confidence and joy!


While speaking of the Bishops’ Appeal, I would want to commend the continuing work of Gillian Purser and Valerie Power as our diocesan representatives and encouragers for this most worthy of causes. For many years Mr William Kingston of Tipperary also served as one of our diocesan reps and his contribution to Bishops’ Appeal also involved membership of the central BA advisory committee which meets regularly in Dublin; indeed, he was the Honorary Treasurer of that body.  Recently Mr Kingston stepped down from membership of the central committee after many years. As a former all-Ireland Chair of Bishops’ Appeal I have some knowledge of the extraordinary commitment of Bill Kingston to World Development and the combating of global poverty. His expertise in regard to projects and partner agencies was legendary, and his commitment to the cause sprang entirely from years of living out the Gospel imperative to bring Good News to the poor.  At our own Councils and Synods, Bill was very often a voice not only of justice but also of conscience in relation to our attentiveness to the cry of the poor. I cannot begin to pay adequate tribute to Bill’s integrity and generosity in the service of the Bishops’ Appeal.


Elsewhere in this magazine you will read of the special Diocesan Synod on June 29 which set in train a process of timely strategic planning for the diocese, and appointed a Commission to advance matters and to report regularly. I would like to thank members of the synod for the positivity and expectancy which they brought to their deliberations and it was heartening to see how many people were willing to offer their time and skills as possible members of the Commission. I wish all those who have been appointed well in their demanding work, and especially I thank Dorcas Collier-Hannon of Killeshin Union who in the midst of a very busy professional life has kindly accepted my invitation to chair this process.  Dorcas brings an ideal skill set as well as a freshness of approach to the task – her background in a caring profession, her experience in managing organisational change and her constant loyal participation in the life of her own parish will serve her, and indeed all of us, well.


All good wishes to each of our parishes and schools for the autumnal hectic resumption of many activities, and especially (amongst several newly appointed teachers) to Ms Alannah Nichol beginning her work as Principal teacher in Lismore. In Kilkenny College Mr Alex Morahan is beginning his new ministry as full- time chaplain, moving from the context of healthcare back towards the realm of education. In Fiddown Union the Reverend Victoria Lynch will be in the midst of her first weekend in ministry amongst us as these notes appear, following her arrival from Limerick and her Introduction service on August 30th.  Our thoughts, too, to our many farmers at the season of harvest and we do ask those visiting ‘the Ploughing’ this month to make a special effort to visit and enjoy our Diocesan Stand. Meanwhile, on the first four Sundays in September I will follow my seasonal custom of spending a few Sundays ‘in residence’ in one of our cathedrals and this year it is the turn of Cashel.  In that context we wish Dean Field every blessing in his continuing recovery from recent major heart surgery.


Also, during September, as has been mentioned before, we observe – along with the whole Church of Ireland – Vocations Sunday on September 15 and think not only about our needs in terms of ordained ministry but how ministry in its various forms is indeed a calling for all. The previous Friday (13th) at 8 p.m. in Old Leighlin Cathedral it will be a joy to ordain to the diaconate our first candidate for Ordained Local Ministry, Janet Finlay; the preacher on the occasion will be the Revd David Bayne.  Janet is a woman of many talents, with interests ranging from Biblical Studies to equine matters. As a deacon she will serve in her own parish of Killeshin Union, and also in Portlaoise, The Rock and Ballyfin which is very familiar territory to her owing to her previous and fruitful lay ministry in prison chaplaincy in Portlaoise.  Later in September I will be visiting the Isle of Man and our companion diocese of Sodor and Man to preach at their deacons’ ordination in Peel Cathedral at Michaelmas.


Finally, our thoughts and prayers are very much with Castlecomer Union and with the Reverend Patrick Burke and his family, following his personal decision to step down from ministry there later this year.  I will say more of Patrick in a later issue and all readers will be aware of his singular service to the whole diocese as a former editor of this magazine.  It has been a sensitive and demanding time for Patrick and for his parishioners and at this point I simply want to acknowledge the many spiritual gifts and blessings which Patrick has given to Castlecomer over the years, also the remarkable lay leadership which has not only sustained but empowered the parish during months when their rector has been off duty. All concerned deserve our appreciation and our gentle understanding.

I realize this has been a very long letter – I suppose it’s that time of year!

Michael Cashel Ferns and Ossory