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Bishop Nulty pays tribute to ‘powerful’ witness of diaconate

By Sarah Mac Donald - 14 October, 2013

Kildare and Leighlin becomes fifth Irish diocese to restore ancient ministry.

Bishop Denis Nulty ordains seven new permanent deacons for Kildare and Leighlin. Pic: John McElroy

Bishop Denis Nulty ordains seven new permanent deacons for Kildare and Leighlin. Pic: John McElroy

There are now twenty-eight permanent deacons ministering in the Irish Church following the ordination of seven married men at Carlow Cathedral on Sunday.

In his homily for the ceremony, Bishop Denis Nulty said the journey towards the reinstatement of the permanent diaconate in Ireland is still “very much in its infancy in Irish dioceses but it will grow.”

Referring to the recent spate of ordinations to the permanent diaconate in a number of Irish dioceses, the Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin said the ministry had continued to gather pace throughout the country and its growth would bring “a huge richness to our Church and to our parishes.”

Last Sunday, the Diocese of Dromore ordained two permanent deacons, while a week earlier the Archdiocese of Armagh ordained five permanent deacons. The Diocese of Elphin ordained six permanent deacons last December, while the Archdiocese of Dublin was the first to ordain permanent deacons with the ordination of eight in June 2012.

A recent study in the US estimates that there are 18,000 permanent deacons serving in the Church there. 

Bishop Nulty told the packed cathedral in Carlow on Sunday that the seven men he was ordaining were coming from “a unique position of being immersed in family life, immersed in their places of work and immersed in all that is so good about parish life today – this triple immersion allows them to witness to Christ in a very complete way,” he said.   

In a society and a culture that weakens that word ‘permanent’ it is so powerful to witness seven men with the love and support of their families about to enter a ministry of permanent service for the good of the Church, Bishop Nulty added.

However, he underlined that the permanent deacon was not a replacement for the priest.

Recalling the first ordination to the priesthood in the diocese in many years last June, Bishop Nulty said the Church in Kildare and Leighlin “must work earnestly to encourage vocations to the priesthood and to convey the joys and challenges of priesthood to the young people of our Diocese.”

“I firmly believe that the Lord is still calling men to the priesthood and that priesthood is a precious ministry that needs to be sustained. I look forward to bringing this conversation into every second level and third level institution in the diocese in the next twelve months,” he said.

Fr Ruairi O’Domhnaill, who oversaw the formation of the seven men over the past four years, told CatholicIreland.net that the ordinations were a “great news story.”

He said some of the seven had been waiting for this ministry to “come on-board in the Irish Church” but added that there were no new candidates for the permanent diaconate coming up next year.

This, he explained, was because the Diocese of Kildare and Leighlin had had to postpone the selection of new candidates until a new bishop was appointed.

“These lads have been training in the absence of a bishop and as a diocese we didn’t feel that we could make a big decision like that. We were waiting for the new bishop before we looked at the question of where are we going with the permanent diaconate,” he said.

He said some of the seven would have thought of priesthood when they were young men but others had only started thinking about this ministry within the last few years as they got involved in ministry in their parishes.

“Some of them came from very devout families, some of them from less devout families. There is a good mix,” Fr O’Domhnaill said.

The seven men ordained as Permanent Deacons on Sunday are:

John Dunleavy, Parish of Clane, Co Kildare, who is married to Rosemary, and has two sons, Eoin and Brian. He is retired from An Garda Síochána.

Gary Moore, Parish of Rhode, Co Offaly, who is married to Dolores, and has six children, Laura, Niamh, Linda, Ellen, Caitlín and Charley. He is actively involved in various ministries.

David O’Flaherty of the Cathedral Parish, Carlow. He is married to Maria, and they have three children, Hazel, Jack and Rory. David is principal of a school in Bagenalstown.

Fergal O’Neill, Parish of Naas, Co Kildare, who is married to Mary, with six children, Michael, Cliodhna, Aoife, Eadaoin, Karl and Sidhbh. Fergal is teaching in Knocklyon.

Joe O’Rourke, Parish of Doonane, Co Laois, who is married to Philomena, and has two daughters, Jessica and Kate. Joe is a full time student of catechetics.

Patrick Roche, Parish of Leighlin, Co Carlow, and is married to Mairead, with three children, Tessa, Lucy and Patrick. Patrick works in the area of financial services.

Jim Stowe, Parish of Newbridge, Co Kildare, who is married to Carmel, two children, Philip and Emma. Jim works in the area of IT in a school in Edenderry.

Patrick Roche turned 49 the day before his ordination. He is currently working as a business manager for Boland’s car dealers in Carlow and is married to Mairead with three children. He spent four years studying for the priesthood in the 1980s at All Hallows College in Dublin.  

“I was studying for the Archdiocese of Miami and I spent time out there. The Church in the US brought in the permanent diaconate in the late 1960s, so I knew all about permanent deacons. When I left the seminary, I was very conscious that this ministry was there in the background and that it would probably come in here at some stage,” the Leighlinbridge local said.

He is convinced that the many sacrifices this ministry as a permanent deacon will entail are worth it because being a deacon “completes two aspects of my life. It brings my life now as a husband and father together with the aspirations or call I had to ministry” thirty years ago.

Of the rich life experiences which the seven bring to their role as deacons he told CatholicIreland.net, “We will bring a certain amount of life experience to the ministry. We have experienced the cut and thrust of paying a mortgage and raising a family etc. I wouldn’t say that in any way to diminish what a priest brings to the table because sometimes when you are in the forest it is very hard to see the woods for the trees and oftentimes the perspective of a priest is very valuable because while they may not directly experiencing the minutiae of that type of life. They can bring an awful lot of wisdom and insight from observing from the outside.”  

Asked if the introduction of the permanent diaconate is changing the Church in Ireland he responded, “I would like to think that at this stage it would have a positive influence on the Church in Ireland. I think it hasn’t massively changed the Church since its introduction post Vatican II  and there are several reasons for that. After Vatican II, a lot of men went into it thinking it was the first step to married priesthood, so 40 years later they have found out – no it actually isn’t!”

“I think in Ireland we started with a blank canvas. As a permanent diaconate we set out not to repeat the mistakes that had been made in countries that had introduced it much earlier – so we have taken a whole new approach. So we do think in Ireland it can have a massive effect on the Church – it can bring about change and it can be a force for positivity.”

David O’Flaherty (50) also studied for the priesthood for five years at St Pat’s seminary in Carlow from 1983 to 1988. “I wanted to serve Jesus and in the 1980s the only way I could see to do that was through priesthood.”

The seminary was a positive experience for him but he opted to leave over the celibacy requirement.

A  school principal now in Bagnelstown, he is married to Maria, who is principal of a local primary school. They have three children, Jack is 19, Hazel is 17 and Ruairi is 12.

He relates how the possibility came up to put himself forward for consideration five years ago through a notice in the newsletter.

“Before we got married, I had spoken to Maria and said that if an opportunity ever came for me to serve – I would do it. I was doing it anyway. I have been involved in voluntary housing organisations, as a church reader etc. I asked Maria how she would feel about it and she said it would make sense for me.”

“I believe in Jesus Christ, that is why I went in to the seminary but I came out because I couldn’t be true to what I was being asked to do [the vow of celibacy]. Now I have been gifted with a second opportunity to say yes,” he explained.  

“I am so much better equipped now to be a deacon than I was to be a priest. I have matured and have a structure of support through my family. I hope to God I can embrace this and be a better Christian,” he concluded.

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