Building Church from ground up

We should look to the early Church for inspiration

With the appointment of Bishop Donal McKeown to fill the vacant Diocese of Derry, the reform of the Irish hierarchy has taken another step forward. Of the current serving diocesan bishops, 12 were appointed by Blessed Pope John Paul II, 10 by Benedict XVI and four by Pope Francis.

Over the next couple of years the Irish Bishops’ Conference will be changed beyond recognition by a series of high-profile retirements.

Cardinal Seán Brady turns 75 in August and so will submit his retirement to Pope Francis. Bishop Christopher Jones of Elphin, Bishop John Kirby of Clonfert and Archbishop Dermot Clifford in Cashel & Emly are all awaiting the appointment of successors. In Waterford & Lismore, there is a vacancy following the retirement of Bishop William Lee last year. Bishop John Buckley of Cork & Ross and Bishop Philip Boyce will also turn 75 in coming months.


Pope Francis will have the opportunity to make a substantial impact, meaning he will have appointed as many bishops in less than two years as Benedict XVI did in eight years.


Francis, with the advice of Papal Nuncio Archbishop Charles Brown, will look to men who will eschew careerism in favour of a servant model of leadership. They will play a vital role in facilitating and leading the transformation of the Church in Ireland.

There are substantial reasons for hope in the Church in Ireland: around 2million people attend Mass on a weekly basis. Looking at Mass attendance alone is a crude measure of the life of the Church, but it is a sign of vitality. This is a substantial reach. Add to this the fact that the Church is present in virtually every parish and community across the country. There can be a tendency to concentrate on the people who no longer engage with the Church on a regular basis, and this is necessary. After all, Pope Francis has called on Catholics to go out to the margins, meaning the places where people are. We cannot retreat into a narrow form of Catholicism where the ‘true believers’ huddle together for warmth. Nevertheless, it would be a mistake to be overly pessimistic about the life of the Church in Ireland. 


Great things are happening – often in small ways – in parishes. Sometimes these initiatives can seem small, sometimes even unimpressive. But, we should look to the early Church and the Acts of the Apostles for inspiration: here we see a Church built from the ground up. Is it a coincidence that at a time of such need we have a Pope named ‘Francis’ after a saint who heard the call of God: “Francis, go rebuild my Church”?