Pope taps Jesuit as new bishop

Pope taps Jesuit as new bishop Bishop Alan McGuckian SJ

The new Bishop of Raphoe has been described as a man of “dynamic service”. The Vatican announced on Friday that Pope Francis has appointed Fr Alan McGuckian SJ to succeed Bishop Philip Byoce OCD in Raphoe. He will be the first Jesuit bishop in Ireland in over 200 years.

“Fr McGuckian’s background in education and communications, as well as his recent immersion in pastoral planning and development with the Diocese of Down and Conor, indicate just some of the rich experiences and gifts that he will bring to his new ministry,” said Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh, Primate of All Ireland.

Bishop-elect McGuckian, 64, was born in Cloughmills, Co. Antrim, to the late Brian and Pauline McGuickian and as the youngest of six children. Two of his brothers, Frs Bernard and Michael, are also Jesuit priests. His other brother, John B. McGuckian, lives in Cloughmills while his sister, Mary Dynan, lives in Newry. His other sister, Paula Haughey, died in 2013.

He holds a love for the Irish language and studies various languages. He received a BA in Latin and Spanish from University College Dublin and an MA in Irish Translation from Queen’s University College, Belfast.


His training for the priesthood involved Philosophy in the Milltown Institute in Dublin and Theology in the Toronto School of Theology. After being ordained into priesthood in 1984, he then worked in secondary education for four years at Clongowes Wood College.

After his work at Clongowes, he took a six-month period of spiritual renewal in southern Indian and experienced serving in a shanty town in Quezon City in the Philippines.

In the 1990s, he ran the Jesuit Communication Centre in Dublin. During this time, he helped in setting up websites like www.sacredspace.ie and www.catholicireland.net. He also worked with Tony Bolger to set up Church Resources and Church Services TV. At the same time, he served as the editor for An Timire and Foilseacháin Ábhair Spioradálta for ten years.

His involvement in language continued when he translated the autobiography of St Ignatius Loyola from the Spanish original into the Irish language under the title Scéal an Oilithrigh (Foilseacháin Ábhair Spioradálta).

While in Belfast, he served as chaplain to many of the Gaeolscoileanna in the Diocese of Down and Conor. For a few years, he was the Chaplain in the University of Ulster at Jordanstown and Belfast.

For the last six years he has worked with the Diocese of Down and Connor on the ‘Living Church’ project. In 2011, a Listening Process aimed to hear the hopes and fears of the priests, religious and the lay faithful in all 87 parishes. This led to the Living Church Report, which evolved into the Living Church Office. Their goal has been to make concrete the hopes and aspirations expressed in the report and then in the Diocesan Pastoral Plan which was commissioned by Bishop Noel Treanor.

Bishop Treanor noted his work experience with Fr McGuckian, saying he was “deeply impressed by his grounded faith and his pastoral sensitivity”.

“The clergy and faithful of the Diocese of Raphoe, in this appointment, have been graced with a man and a priest of outstanding experience and indeed with the historic appointment of the first Jesuit bishop in Ireland,” he said.

In recent years, Fr McGuckian and his team have worked with clergy and laity in the establishment of Pastoral Communities all across the Diocese of Down and Connor. A major part of their work is ‘Facilitative and Discerning Leadership’ training which aims to foster a culture of co-responsibility for the mission of the Church between clergy and laity.


“[Fr] Alan brought a spirit of dynamic service and generous commitment to the various Jesuit Apostolates in which he ministered. I have no doubt he will now bring these same gifts to his new office in pastoral care of the priest and people of the Diocese of Raphoe,” said Jesuit Provincial Fr Leonard Moloney SJ.

Bishop-elect McGuckian will succeed Bishop Boyce who has held the position for nearly 22 years. His resignation was formally accepted ‘now for later’ in January 2015. He joined the noviciate of the Discalced Carmelites in Loughrea, Co. Galway, making his first profession in 1959. After completing his philosophical studies in Dublin, he went to the Teresianum in Rome to study theology. This is also where he was ordained on April 17, 1966.

His Episcopal motto ‘In the Service of Mother Church’ sums up the mission he sees entrusted to him in the episcopal ministry: one of service to the people of God in the Diocese of Raphoe and to the whole family of the Church.

Archbishop Eamon Martin described Bishop Boyce as “a prayerful and caring companion, especially when I was taking up my own episcopal responsibilities. I have always sensed his Carmelite charisms of service, contemplations and fraternity.”


The Jesuit bishops 
who almost were…
  • Ireland has twice almost had Jesuit bishops in the past.

Born in 1727, John Butler was ordained as a priest of the Society of Jesus in 1758. In 1773 the Jesuits were suppressed as an order by Pope Clement XIV – they would not be restored until 1814 –  and Fr Butler moved to England where he served as a priest in Hereford. To his surprise, and possibly due to his being related to Cashel’s Archbishop James Butler, he was appointed bishop-elect of Limerick in April 1778.

However, by January the following year he had resigned his appointment, and so was never actually ordained to the episcopate, with Bishop Denis Conway being ordained to head the Diocese of Limerick the following month. Fr Butler returned to England where he died in 1786.

Laurence Arthur Nihel, born in 1726, was a ‘scholastic’ or student with the Jesuits, but although he is believed to have been ordained in 1773, the year of the papal suppression, he appears not to have been ordained as a priest of the order.

Ten years later he was appointed Bishop of Kilfenora and Apostolic Administrator of Kilmacduagh, being ordained Bishop of Kilfenora in 1784.

He died in 1795.