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Homilies - Bishop Brendan Leahy

Speaking Notes - Contribution of the Orders and Congregations to education, health care, spiritual and social projects-Limerick Chamber, LCCC - 16 June 2015

Speaking Notes of Bishop Brendan Leahy at the

Civic Reception

in honour of the contribution of the Orders and Congregations to education, health care, and many other spiritual and social projects in Limerick

Chamber of the Limerick City and County Council, Dooradoyle, June 16th 2015


Cllr. Kevin Sheahan, Mayor of Limerick City and County, Cllr. Michael Sheahan, Mayor of the Limerick Metropolitan Area, Councillors of the City and County Council,

On my own behalf and, I’m sure, on behalf of all here present, I want to thank you for this generous gesture of holding a civic reception in honour of the women and men members of religious orders and congregations of Limerick. You are doing so in recognition of the significant contribution of the Orders and Congregations to education, health care, and many other spiritual and social projects in Limerick.

The fact that the civic reception is being held during the Year of Consecrated Life proclaimed by Pope Francis makes this occasion more gratifying.

This civic reception honours women and men, motivated by their love of Jesus, who have given their lives in service of others. How might we describe them? I want to suggest a few characteristics.

They are talented women and men. Kate O’Brien in her work, Presentation Sisters, recalls the intelligence and qualities of Presentation sisters and the sisters in Laurel Hill Convent where she was educated. She remembers some of her teaching sisters discussing Latin, the revival of Irish, Irish history and Ireland’s future. Yes, the sisters, brothers and priests of religious orders and congregations have combined intelligence with wisdom, innovation with fidelity, creativity and many other talents, note least a few practical fund-raising abilities!

They are women and men standing on the shoulders of those gone before them. Our recent diocesan publication, The Diocese of Limerick: An Illustrated History by Liam Irwin records the rich heritage that we cannot but remember this evening. In telling the story of the Diocese of Limerick we recall St. Ita of Killeedy, patroness of Limerick, a consecrated woman and founder of a monastery. The Dominicans have been here since 1227 and we know that Pope Innocent X granted a Papal university for Limerick in 1644 linked to the Dominicans. The Franciscan presence is to be seen here in Limerick city, Askeaton and Adare and we know there were Third Oder Francisan houses near Fedamore and near Ballingarry.  Among the martyred members of religious congregations and orders we can name two Franciscans, Bishop Patrick O’Healy, and Father Conn O’Rourke who were martyred in Kilmallock in August 1579 and beatified by Saint John Paul. To this day we see the evidence of the presence of the Trinitarian Canons, as they were called, founded to rescue people taken captive during the Crusades. We still have the beautiful Church of the Holy Trinity in Adare. The first Augustinian male foundation was at Rathkeale sometime in the thirteenth century. The first Irishman to join the Jesuits was a priest of the Diocese of Limerick, Fr. David Wolfe. The Jesuits first came to Limerick in the 1640s and we are grateful for their continuing presence through the Crescent College, third level chaplaincy and the parish priest of Moyross.

Women members of the Orders and Congregations also have a very rich heritage. We know of the canonesses of St. Augustine who had a house in Limerick from 1171 and another near Shanagolden founded in 1240s. But, undoubtedly, it was the nineteenth century that gave us, alongside the arrival of the generous Christian Brothers and the missionary Redemptorists, a great flowering of female orders and congregations. The Presentation sisters were the first of the teaching congregations or religious sisters to come to the Diocese of Limerick in 1837. But other orders and congregations grew in Limerick in the nineteen century: the Sisters of Mercy, the Faithful Companions of Jesus, theSisters of Charity of the Good Shepherd, the sisters of Marie Réparatrice, the Little Company of Mary, the Sisters of Charity of St. Paul the Apostle. When the Sisters of Mercy arrived in 1838 they occupied the former convent of the Poor Clares, on the site of the Medieval Augustinian nunnery. So yes, in honouring the women and men here this evening we are also honouring their noble, generous and often heroically selfless predecessors.

They are women and men who do works that last. Each order or congregations comes to life through what’s called a “charism”, that is a gift of the Holy Spirit that animates their life. The Second Vatican Council, whose fiftieth anniversary we celebrate this year, re-awakened us all to realise that the Church is built up not just by priests and sacraments but also by charisms and the communities that come to life through these gifts. The Diocese of Limerick has been richly endowed by God with communities that have emerged from these charisms. When my precedessor, Bishop Edward O’Dwyer sought to renew St. John’s Hospital he turned to a new congregation established by the Venerable Mary Potter. From 1888 until about twenty years ago the Little Company of Mary ran St. John’s Hospital. The influence of their good presence continues in Milford Care Centre renowned, inter alia, for hospice accompaniment of those reaching the end of life. When Bishop O’Dwyer wanted to establish a third level institute for young women, it was to the Mercy Sisters he turned and today the oldest third level college in the city now not only continues but thrives. The institutional forms of orders and congregations may change but the works endure. So much of their continuing influence can be sensed when we enter schools, hospitals and social projects across Limerick.

This very week the Redemptorists continue with a Novena that attracts 10.000 daily for prayerful reflection and renewal in order to serve society better. The Mercy charism continues to have its positive impact not only through the schools, hospitals and social works they have been running for many, many years but also in new creative ways – we think of the Sisters of Mercy Children’s Grief project, a support service for school-aged children and young people affected by loss through death, separation or divorce. We think too of the Bedford Row family project established by the Franciscans and Mercy Orders to support families of prisoners. We think of other initiatives involving religious such as the Doras Luimní, working to support and promote the rights of all migrants living in Limerick. We can mention the Limerick Youth Service established by the late Sr. Joan Bowles that continues to work with young people to aid and enhance their personal and social development, a work described by Walter Forde in his publication, Joan’s People; Limerick Youth Service 1973 – 2003. And I am mindful of the creative Blue Box creative learning centre with its innovative Arts Therapy programmes established by Sr. Mary Carmel O’Donoghue of the Salesian sisters.

They are missionary women and men. These are people with fire in their belly! One of the sisters said to me recently that at one of their chapters they took as a motto “mission to the end”. And we see that in them. Not only in Limerick but throughout the world. In his work, Ardpatrick Remembered, Bishop John Fleming documents the contribution of some seventy consecrated women and men, priests and religious who served others both at home and abroad during the immediate past. This is a remarkable contribution from a small rural parish but it is replicated all over parishes in Limerick. In the recent publication, Echoes of Abbeyfeale, a project spearheaded by Sr. Delia Curtin, there’s a list of well over 100 consecrated women and men from that parish who have served all over the world. In our own day we’ve also seen the arrival of new missionaries among us. I’m thinking of the Franciscan Friars of Renewal who do great work in Moyross.

They are women and men who build up networks of community and social cohesion. How often people have turned to these women and men in times of need and they have been helped in ways we probably will never know about. This is true from the Holy Family parish in Southill to St. Nicholas’ parish in Westbury, from Banogue to Kilfinane, from the Holy Rosary parish to Newcastle West and Dromcollogher and many more places. The women and men honoured this evening have been important points of community-building all over Limerick. I am particularly pleased this evening to greet Sr. Eileen Lenihan of the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Sacred Heart who I have recently appointed Vicar for Consecrated Life in the Diocese of Limerick. She will be accepting the scroll on behalf of the consecrated women and men of religious orders and congregations.

They are women and men of prayer. It’s easy to forget the powerhouses of prayer that we have in this city and county. Prayers are offered up daily and several times daily by these consecrated women and men of the various orders and congregations for the needs of individuals, for their local communities and for civic society. I’ve already mentioned many of the orders and congregations but there are many other powerhouses of prayer such as the Sisters of Charity of St. Paul the Apostle, the Brothers of Charity, the Infant Jesus Sisters, the Poor Servants of the Mother of God, the Sisters of Bons Secours de Troyes; the Sisters of Charity of Our Lady Mother of Mercy; the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Sacred Heart, the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary, and the newly arrived Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest.

They are women and men who “wake the world up”, as Pope Francis puts it, by a different way of doing things, a different way of living. I was delighted to meet a group of jubiliarians of the Josephite order last week in Newcastle West. Though celebrating their golden and diamond jubilees of religious life, there was a buzz, energy and enthusiasm for life that was contagious. We can learn much from the industriousness and zeal of these women and men. We think of the Salesian women and men here in Limerick who do great work with young people, university chaplaincy, retreat work, prayer groups. The Salesians were my first contact with Limerick in Pallaskenry when I was 10 years of age. They offered me my first induction course to Limerick!

They are women and men who are both prophets and sinners. On the one hand, the women and men we are honouring this evening have opened up pathways of the future for many people in Limerick. They showed us glimpses of the new world that Jesus came to build up. They have pointed us to God. It is true as Pope Francis puts it, “in life it is difficult for everything to be clear, precise and outlined neatly. Life is complicated; it consists of grace and sin. The one who does not sin is not human. We all make mistakes and need to recognise our weaknesses. A religious who recognises he or she is weak and a sinner does not deny the witness he or she is called to give”. We know the women and men here this evening recognise their limits and failures but we are grateful to them for their faithful and persevering witness.

So, Mayor, these are just some of the characteristics of the women and men we are honouring this evening. Thank you for this wonderful occasion when we can pay tribute, at least a little, to them, some of whom now in mature years but whose heart is ever young and full gratitude, not least on an occasion like this evening when they remember those before them and hope and dream dreams for the great things God has in store for Limerick, the Limerick they serve, in the Lord, in so many ways with love and passion.

Bishop Brendan Leahy