The appointment of Bishop Michael Duignan to head the Diocese of Clonfert is “hugely significant” as a vote of confidence by Pope Francis in the future of the diocese, worshippers at the new bishop’s ordination Mass have been told.
Preaching in St Brendan’s Cathedral, Loughrea, Msgr Cathal Geraghty noted how the initial announcement of Bishop Duignan’s appointment had been publicly met by then-Bishop John Kirby with the words: “The good news is that, despite the prognostications of some, the diocese will continue to have its own identity and its own bishop. Moladh go deo le Dia.”
There has been extensive speculation around the sustainability into the future of Ireland’s four smallest dioceses – Clonfert, Achonry, Kilalla and Dromore – and so Msgr Geraghty stressed the importance of 49-year-old Dr Duignan’s appointment.
“It is hugely significant for a small diocese like Clonfert that the Holy Father has sent us a new bishop; we appreciate it because we are proud of our faith tradition in this diocese and conscious that talk of our demise was coming from without not from within,” he said.
“We have a rich heritage on which to build and we have a great closeness to our bishop,” the diocesan chancellor continued. “The Clonfert family may be small but we are mightily proud of our identity, our history and our tradition. We look forward to building on that tradition, making new history, encouraging vocations, building up the family of God, enriching the community, deepening the Faith and continuing to express our identity under the leadership of our new bishop, Michael Duignan.”
Msgr Geraghty also noted how Dr Duignan had asked to be ordained as bishop by his predecessor, Bishop Emeritus John Kirby, until Dr Duignan’s appointment the oldest bishop in the world to still be presiding over his diocese.
Speaking after the ordination, Dr Duignan repeated several times his predecessor’s cry “Moladh go deo le Dia”, noting that Clonfert is a diocese “with a rich spiritual tradition dating back to St Brendan the Navigator and that great era of the early Irish saints” and expressing the hope that he and the priests and people of Clonfert will together be able to do “something beautiful for God”.
Jesus Christ is alive and present as much today as he was on the day he encountered those 10 lepers…”
Dr Duignan thanked his family, the priests and people of his former Diocese of Elphin, those involved in the ceremony, all those who have made him welcome in Clonfert, and especially the ordaining bishops Archbishop Jude Thaddeus Okolo, Archbishop Michael Neary of Tuam and Bishop Emeritus John Kirby. He singled out Dr Kirby, “who in acting as Principal Celebrant has shown forth in a powerful way the continuity of faith and tradition being handed on from one generation to the next”.
Describing how he had felt shock on being ordained Bishop of Clonfert, and how he is acutely aware of his own limitations, he nonetheless recalled Clonfert’s most famous saint.
“Thinking of St Brendan the Navigator the words of that Fisherman’s Prayer came to mind: ‘Dear God be good to me for the sea is so wide and my boat is so small’,” he said, adding that no matter what negativity he hears or reads, he knows that God is real and that Christ makes our lives better.
“Jesus Christ is not just a historical figure from the past on the same level as any other historical figure,” he said. “Jesus Christ is alive and present as much today as he was on the day he encountered those 10 lepers we heard of in the Gospel. Far from imposing himself on us, Jesus gently invites us to embark on a journey of friendship with him. In the process we transform our lives and our world for the better.”