Bishop Dermot Farrell
A Westmeath man, the outgoing parish priest from Dunboyne in the neighbouring county of Meath, is this week saying farewell to former parishioners and preparing for his new role as Bishop of one of Ireland's most ancient diocese - that of Ossory.
"I was genuinely surprised when Pope Francis asked me to take charge of a diocese. It's just that it's not something you look for, something you prepare for, but we as priests make a commitment, we sign up and we answer the call," said Monsignor Farrell, who at the start of January was present when the announcement was made in St Mary's - from Rome - that he was the new bishop.
Next Sunday he will be ordained Bishop of Ossory. He will be the 95th man to hold the post, but it has taken an unusual amount of time for the ordination to take place - since Bishop Seamus Freeman stepped down from the position in 2016. Vicar General Monsignor Michael Ryan has been the top member of the clergy in Ossory since then.
The announcement in January was greeted very positively in the diocese, and the entire Ossory community which covers most of Kilkenny, six parishes in Laois and the parish of Seir Kieran in Offaly will be represented next Sunday in St Mary's Cathedral to witness this historic event.
Monsignor Farrell is looking forward to coming to Kilkenny, and as a man who is very interested in heritage and history, he feels he will certainly fit in.
A native of Castetown/Georghan, a village in Westmeath where hurling is the number one sport, Monsignor Farrell recalls a previous parishioner who came to Kilkenny, a friar called Anthony McGeoghegan back in 1665 who met Bishop Rinuccini during the Confederation years in Kilkenny. Anthony was subsequently made the Bishop of Clonmacnoise in the diocese of Meath. So Dermot Farrell is now the second bishop, in four hundred years to come from the Westmeath village.
“We can learn from history, not just about facts but how issues were dealt with, how we react in times of crisis.”
As far as Monsignor Farrell is concerned, the biggest challenge to the church is dealing with the apathy out there. "That obviously affects everything in the church - attendance, faith, prayer and then on to vocations. We need to be more involved in a life of prayer, we need people living in faith.
“We know there are no vocations, it's not a problem just confined to Ossory, or Ireland, but a European one in particular. Considering marriage among priests, that;s not going to solve the problem. It's about a renewal of commitment, and it is complex.”
Bishop Farrell will be managing a diocese where the average age of priest is in the high 60s.
“We need to make the situation as best we can, but there will be implications for parishes, and changes in the numbers of priests in areas. When I grew up in our parish there were three priests, now there's one.”
And with that level of interest in his heritage, Monsignor Farrell is certainly impressed at the work done on St Mary 's Cathedral. “I've always liked Kilkenny, it's a very historic county, and the people are proud of their area, and preserve it., Indeed it's a business for Kilkenny. And I'm extremely impressed with the work done on the Cathedral and the chapter rooms.”
Monsignor Farrell has been parish priest of Dunboyne in Meath for over ten years. And he cites this as a strong advantage in taking up the Bishops role here in Ossory - “I will have come from a pastoral role, a role I really enjoyed. It’s a strength I'd have in that I enjoy meeting people, I love talking to people and gaining a greater understanding of their lives. Of course running a diocese requires you to have experience in administration, and I gained that during my time as President of St Patrick's College in Maynooth."It's obvious he wants to hit the ground running. Last weekend, a tour of the diocese taking in significant sites from Seir kieran to the Cathedral fell victim to Storm Emma, but the new bishop is eagerly awaiting starting his new role, attending confirmation throughout the diocese and meeting his new community.
“The diary is filling up fast, and I'm looking forward to getting out and about, particularly over the Easter period.”
Bishop-elect Farrell will be ordained next Sunday, March 11, 3pm at St Mary's Cathedral in Kilkenny.