Starting at 3pm this Sunday, 11 March, the Ordination Mass of Bishop-elect, Monsignor Dermot Farrel will be livestreamed on www.stmaryscathedral.ie and broadcast on 88.7FM www.communityradiokilkennycity.ie.
The new Bishop-elect for the Diocese of Ossory, Monsignor Dermot Farrell created history last week for his native county, and joined a very small group of distinguished Westmeath priests, most of them from the Penal era, when he became the first Westmeath man to become a Bishop in three hundred years!
Remarkably, Monsignor Farrell’s appointment to the Ossory Diocese creates a fresh link with Kilkenny, which goes back more than three and a half centuries – to the days of the famous Confederation of Kilkenny in the 1640s, when the Guardian in Kilkenny Friary was Anthony McGeoghegan from Castletown Geo., who was appointed Bishop of Clonmacnoise in 1647, on the Papal Nuncio Rinnucini’s recommendation.
Several Irish dioceses, up to five in all, have been expecting a new bishop back as far as 2016, as well as in 2017, and last week, the Vatican announced the first new appointment, with word that the new Bishop of Ossory would be Westmeath’s Monsignor Dermot Farrell, the former President of Maynooth College, and presently the parish priest of Dunboyne and Kilbride in Co. Meath.
A member of a well known farming family, Msgr. Farrell has had a very distinguished priestly and academic career since his ordination on 7 June, 1980.
Son of the late Dermot Farrell and of Mrs. Carmel Farrell, who lives in Castletown-Geoghegan, he was born on 22 November, 1954, and baptised in the Cathedral of Christ the King, Mullingar, a week or so later, receiving the names Dermot Pius.
He has give siblings, his sisters Mary (Foley), Orla Fitzgibbon), Colette (Campbell) and Gemma (Egan) and a brother Fintan, who still lives in their native Garthy.
The residents of the Castletown-Geoghegan area have warmly welcomed the news that one of their own has become a bishop, and it was pointed out to Westmeath Topic that a famous bishop from Meath diocese, who was consecrated 370 years ago, in 1647, as Bishop of Clonmacnoise, had served as a priest in Kilkenny.
“The Castletown-Geoghegan area has links with Kilkenny, which go back to the famous days of the Confederation of Kilkenny and the Papal Nuncio Archbishop Rinnucini,” our informant told us, and his information is correct.
A FAMOUS PREDECESSOR FROM CASTLETOWN?
Dr. Anthony McGeoghegan was a Franciscan friar from the Castletown- Geoghegan area, a member of a very notable Irish family, and as is recorded in a history of Meath Diocese, in 1644, he was appointed Guardian in Kilkenny Franciscan Friary, and when the Papal Nuncio went there in 1645, the Franciscan priest impressed him so much that he ensured his consecration as Bishop of Clonmacnoise two years later, in 1647.
During Cromwell’s infamous campaign against Irish Catholics (1649-1652) Bishop McGeoghegan escaped to the continent, and was transferred to Meath diocese on Archbishop Rinnucini’s recommendation.
Back in Ireland in 1660, he ordained priests and encouraged Catholics and was one of only two active Irish bishops at the time. He died around 1665, and is buried in Clonmacnoise.
Another famous Franciscan Bishop of Meath, and also of Kilmore, before that, was Dr. Patrick Tyrrell, a Secretary General of the Franciscans before being made Bishop of Clogher in 1676, and of Meath in 1689. He died after the Seige and Fall of Limerick in 1691, and his burial place is not known.
Not since the Penal Days, when bishops were hunted down, and priests had to offer Mass in secret, has there been a Westmeath man appointed by Rome.
It was in 1713 that Castlepollard native, Dr. Luke Fagan, who had been educated in Spain before becoming a parish priest in Co. Dublin, was appointed to the See of Meath. In 1715, he secretly ordained twelve candidates to the priesthood.
The amusing story is told that Rome asked the Archbishop of Dublin to investigate a complaint that an Irish bishop had ordained priests. Dr. Fagan was then Dublin’s Archbishop, and he contacted all the other Irish bishops, asking if they had illicitly ordained any priests, and they denied having done so. Dr. Fagan then replied to Rome, saying none of the bishops he questioned had any part in ordinations (saying nothing of his own activities!).
The only other Westmeath born bishop, other than overseas missionaries, like the late Dr. Dunne from Delvin, of St. Patrick’s Society, who served in Kitui, Kenya, was Dr. Thomas Dease, from Turbotstown, Coole, who was Bishop of Meath from 1622 to 1652, in another era of persecution, secretly ordained in Paris in 1622, after Meath diocese had had no bishop for over 60 years.
ORDAINED IN 1980
The former President of Maynooth College, Msgr. Dermot Farrell, was ordained in June, 1980, and is well known in Mullingar, having served from 1981 as a curate in the parish until 1985, when he went to Rome to study for his Doctorate at the Gregorian University.
After attending Castletown-Geoghegan NS and Streamstown NS, his secondary schooling was at St. Finian’s College, Mullingar, when he sat his Leaving Certificate in 1972.
He went to Maynooth College in that year and gained a B.Sc degree in 1976, and a Bachelor of Divinity degree in 1979, and then a licientiate in Theology in 1981. He had been ordained the previous year, on 7 June, 1980, and was first appointed a curate in Mullingar parish, where he remained until 1985.
While studying for his Doctorate in Rome, he served from 1987 as Director of Formation at the Irish College, Rome, and his thesis was titled, ‘The Dogmatic Foundations of Bernard Haring’s Thought on Christian Morality’in 1988, after gaining his Doctorate, he became a curate in Tullamore and a lecturer in Moral Theology at Maynooth.
While continuing to do so, he was appointed executive assistant to the Maynooth College President and became the College Vice President in 1993, and then President in 1996, and retained that position until 2007. During his time as Maynooth President, he made a very considerable contribution and showed his skills as an administrator and guide, and is credited with having greatly improved the situation there for both the Pontifical University and National University during his eleven years in charge. He was in charge of a major reconstruction and renovation programme there, involving all its heritage buildings, and also in reshaping its formation programmes.
In 2007, he was appointed an Honorary Prelate by Pope Benedict and returned to Meath diocese as PP in Dunboyne and Kilbride. Nine years ago, he became Vicar General to Meath Diocese.
The new Bishop comes from a very historic area of Westmeath, the ancient townland of Garthy, Castletown-Geoghegan, which is mentioned in the famous great battle described in the most famous ancient Irish epic, the tale of the Táin Bó Cuailgne, which is described as occurring in the Castletown-Ballymore area of Westmeath, when Cuchulainn rested on the Hill of Sciath.
TRIBUTE BY BISHOP TO BISHOP ELECT FARRELL
Dr. Michael Smith, Bishop of Meath, was one of the first to congratulate the new bishop and he paid tribute to the great dedication shown by the Meath Vicar General, Monsignor Farrell and PP in Dnboyne/KIlbride since 2007, in welcoming the announcement of his appointment as Bishop-elect of Ossory diocese.
Bishop Smith said that Monsignor Farrell’s contribution to the Church in Ireland, as well as to the Meath diocese, had prepared him well for his role as Bishop in the Diocese of Ossory. During his two decades of involvement with Maynooth College, he said, first as a leccturer in Moral Theology and then as Vice President and President in the College, he had shown great competence and balanced judgement in a period when many challenging decisions had to be made.
He had no doubt about the fact that the Ossory Diocese and the Episcopal conference would benefit from his wisdom and insights, and his pastoral and administrative experience.
Dr. Smith also praised his great work in one of the largest and fastest growing parishes in Meath Diocese, Dunboyne and Kilbride, and spoke about his new pastoral programmes and renewal work on parish churches and schools. As Vicar General, he had been a great support to him as bishop and was well respected amongst all the priests.
Other priests to whom Topic spoke also expressed their pleasure at his appointment, and praised his contribution to the diocese.
Welcoming the appointment, Archbishop Eamon Martin, Archbishop of Armagh and President of the Irish Episcopal Conference, said, “I warmly welcome the appointment by Pope Francis of Monsignor Dermot Farrell as Bishop of Ossory. Today marks a significant new step in his vocational journey and he will be encouraged by the prayerful support of his family, friends and faithful, especially in the diocese of Ossory and in his home diocese of Meath.
“Bishop-elect Farrell has already shown great commitment to his priestly calling in a variety of pastoral settings. He has developed gifts and skills which, with the help of God’s grace, will enrich his service to the people, priests and religious in his new diocese.”
Bishop Alphonsus Cullinan congratulated Monsignor Farrell on his appointment saying, “Monsignor Dermot is a very fine scholar and is blessed with a very keen intellect. I am sure he will lead his diocese wisely and with great pastoral care. I have no doubt that the people of Ossory will be delighted with their new Bishop.”
Speaking at the Cathedral of Saint Mary, in Kilkenny, Monsignor Farrell said, “It was with enormous surprise that I received Pope Francis’ invitation to serve the priests and people of the Diocese of Ossory as bishop. I am humbled by this call from the Church. I have been a priest for over 37 years; half of that time in parish ministry where I have always been very happy and fulfilled. Of course, this is why I became a priest in the first instance: to work with people, in their service, in the service of the Lord, and of his gospel, of Christ’s good news about God, about us, and about our world.
“This request was made to me a few days before Christmas, a time when Mary’s “yes” to God fills the Scripture readings of those final days of Advent. What strikes me is Mary’s courage, and her trust in the word of the angel. She is perplexed, she wonders what this greeting might mean, and yet she trusts in the goodness of God, and in God’s providence. She steps into the unknown.
“Like Mary’s decision, and most major decisions in life, being called to be a bishop is also a step into the unknown. If we are honest, to be called to be a bishop in the Ireland of today is even more a step into the unknown. It is also a call to trust in the Lord, and in the providence of God. I am glad to accept the call to serve here in Ossory, to be a pastor in this place, and in this community of faith,” he said.
Bishop-elect Farrell told the local media in Kilkenny that he was very grateful for the warm welcome he had been given, and was looking forward to working closely with the people of the Ossory diocese over the coming years.