When his mother pushed him on his childhood swing as she quietly sang to the sun setting over Galway Bay, this boy never thought that at 51 he would be announced as the new Bishop of that same Galway. , a day that marked the beginning of a new chapter for the Catholic Church in the West.
Because Bishop Michael Duignan is not only succeeding Bishop Brendan Kelly as Bishop of Galway; he is the first bishop who will oversee his new and current diocese of Clonfert.
His appointment – although widely expected since Pope Francis announced his decision to unite the two dioceses under one bishop – was confirmed on Friday morning at a special Mass concelebrated in Galway Cathedral, where the outgoing new bishops were joined by the Apostolic Nuncio to Ireland, Bishop Jude Thaddeus Okolo.
The new bishop, who was born on the Roscommon side of Athlone, has been Bishop of Clonfert since taking over from Dr John Kirby two and a half years ago.
Addressing the congregation at Galway Cathedral, he recalled those childhood days.
“As children, we used to beg our mother to push us high in the air and back and forth as long as she had the time and the patience. Often as she pushed she would sing and sometimes we would sing along with her,” he revealed.
“She almost always began with the rapid rhythm of ‘Her eyes shone like diamonds, I considered her the queen of the country, And her hair fell over her shoulders, Tied up by a band of black velvet’.
“We knew when she was coming towards the end. The rhythm was slowing down and she was singing: “If you ever cross the sea to go to Ireland. So maybe at the end of your day. You will sit back and watch the moon rise over Claddagh. And watch the sun go down over Galway Bay.
“At the time, I never imagined that one day I would be standing here, just a stone’s throw from the Claddagh and this famous bay that stretches from Co Galway to Co Clare, after being named by Pope Francis as the next Bishop of Galway, Kilmacduagh and Apostolic Administrator of Kilfenora,” he said.
He also spoke of more recent connections in Galway, with his university life bringing him around NUIG.
“I have always appreciated the drive and creativity of the people of this region and their deep appreciation of the best of our Gaelic traditions in arts, music, sport and learning,” he said.
“I am also aware of your genuine love for the Irish language. Like most people, I studied Irish at school. I then studied abroad for many years and had little opportunity to use the Irish I had learned.
“At this point, my Irish got rusty. It’s not as smooth as I would like. I have a great interest in the language and now have a motive that I didn’t have before to rekindle that interest and improve my Irish.
“I hope to be able to do this especially with the help of the inhabitants of our parishes in the Gaeltacht. I hope you will be patient teachers and look forward to visiting you soon,” he added.
His appointment was widely anticipated since the pope’s decision to combine the two dioceses under the same bishop – at a time when Bishop Brendan Kelly was forced to resign, having reached the age of 75.
But the new bishop said he never harbored any assumptions.
“More than once the question arose as to who would be the new bishop for the two dioceses and how could he handle all the moving parts. Although others may have assumed who it would be, I never did,” he said.
“Last week when Bishop Okolo asked me on behalf of Pope Francis to become Bishop of Galway, Kilmacduagh and Apostolic Administrator of Kilfenora in addition to being Bishop of Clonfert – it was as if I was being asked again to to be a bishop for the first time,” he said.
He paid tribute to the work of Bishop Kelly, also on the occasion of the anniversary of his installation as Bishop of Galway four years earlier to the day.
“I don’t think we should let a day like today pass without registering the debt of gratitude which the Diocese of Galway, Kilmacduagh and Kilfenora and indeed the Diocese of Achonry owe you for your many years of faithful service as as priest and bishop,” he said.
“I would also like to highlight your contribution at the national level within the framework of the Episcopal Conference and in particular your work in the field of Catholic education. Retirement won’t fully come for a while, but when it finally does, Bishop Brendan, you deserve it. I hope you will forgive me if I occasionally interrupt you for advice,” he added.
Bishop Kelly in turn reflected on his time as bishop of the diocese for which I was ordained nearly 51 years ago.
“The call to return here as Bishop of the Diocese of Achonry came as a surprise to say the least. Today I am full of gratitude to God for these short years as Bishop of a people and a place that I love and would always call home,” he said.
He also praised the work and commitment of his successor, whom he has known for many years.
“Having worked with you since my days at Achonry and particularly in the last few years since your appointment at Clonfert, I can assure the population of this diocese of your capacity for diligent and careful work, of your generosity and your ability to listen, and above all, your deep trust in God and your commitment to serve him first,” he said.
Later Friday, Bishop Duignan took the time to visit the convent of the Poor Clares on Île-des-Sœurs to solicit their prayers for him and his two dioceses – followed by a pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of Clonfert during World Sick Day to remember all. those who are sick.
Bishop Michael, born July 15, 1970, is the eldest of six children and attended Cloonakilla National School, Bealnamulla and Saint Aloysius College, Athlone. He studied for the priesthood at St Patrick’s Missionary Society in Kiltegan, Co Wicklow and at the Pontifical Irish College in Rome. He was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Elphin in 1994.
He was installed as Bishop of Clonfert, succeeding Dr John Kirby, at Saint Brendan’s Cathedral, Loughrea on October 13, 2019.
His hugely expanded role sees him assume responsibility for the Diocese of Galway, Kilmacduagh and Kilfenora, which includes parts of Galway, Mayo and Clare, and the Diocese of Clonfert, which includes parts of Galway, Offaly and Roscommon.
This means that in future both dioceses will be pastorally governed by a single bishop. The diocesan structures and institutions of each of the respective dioceses remain unchanged.
Each diocese maintains its identity and manages its own cultural heritage as it sees fit. Each keeps its own staff or can share with other dioceses; priests will not normally be invited to exercise their ministry beyond their own diocese, except by request or special mandate.
Each diocese will manage its financial administration independently and make its own pastoral decisions as before.