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Interview with an Irish Jesuit bishop

Alan McGuckian SJ has been appointed as Bishop of Raphoe by Pope Francis. For the last number of years he has been working as part of the Jesuit’s Northern Ministry. Pat Coyle of Irish Jesuit Communications interviewed him last year in the Jesuit Community house in Brookvale Avenue in North Belfast.

Their conversation was wide-ranging. Alan spoke about his family background and why he chose to become a Jesuit. He recalled the impact his study of philosophy and theology had on his faith, and how his studies left him with the strong conviction that faith does not contradict reason.

His Jesuit path took him into a variety of ministries including training to become a radio producer, and working in the Jesuit Communication Centre, in Dublin. There in the late 90’s he founded the popular online prayer website Sacred Space.

Moving to Belfast, he quickly became involved in cross-community projects including the training of protestant and catholic ‘prayer guides’ in the Ignatian tradition of prayer.

During the last six years Alan has been working with the Diocese of Down and Conor in the ‘Living Church’ project. This began in 2011 with a listening process, aimed at hearing the hopes and fears of the priests, religious, and the lay faithful in all 87 parishes. This process led to the publication of a document he wrote –  the Living Church Report – published in 2012. On foot of this report Bishop Treanor of Down and Conor asked Alan to set up and lead the Living Church Office whose goal has been to make concrete the hopes and aspirations expressed first of all in the Living Church Report and then in the Diocesan Pastoral Plan which the bishop commissioned.

A great passion in his life is the Irish language. He has even translated a biography of St Ignatius, founder of the Jesuits, into Irish, as well as editing the Irish language equivalent of The Sacred Heart Messenger– An Timire.  He has also greatly enjoyed his role as chaplain in various Gaelscoileanna in the Diocese of Down and Connor. He was also Chaplain in the University of Ulster at Jordanstown and Belfast for a few years.

At the end of this interview Alan speaks about his future, saying he doesn’t know where he’ll be heading next but he’ll go where he’s told as befits a Jesuit, knowing that “God is good”. On Friday 9 June, Pope Francis announced the appointment of Alan to the diocese of Raphoe. The area covers a large part of the Donegal Gaeltacht where his love of the Irish language was nurtured. He will surely feel at home in his new calling.