The ordination of Alan McGuckian SJ as Bishop of Raphoe was both a moving and uplifting event. The cathedral of Saints Eunan and Columba resonated with the sound of trumpet and organ as the 180-strong choir sang the opening hymn of praise at 3pm on Sunday 6 August. The choir members from 33 parishes across the Raphoe diocese had been practising for weeks for this special occasion. The last ordination of a bishop there was over twenty years ago when Carmelite friar Dr Phillip Boyce was installed.
Alan is the first Jesuit bishop ordained in and for Ireland, and many of his fellow Jesuits had made the trip to Donegal to share this day with him. The Irish Jesuit Provincial Leonard Moloney SJ concelebrated the Ordination Mass along with Alan’s two brothers, Bernard McGuckian SJ and Father Michael McGuckian SJ (see photo above). As the litany of saints was chanted, before the anointing with the oil of chrism, his brothers held the book of the Gospel over him. Many bishops from around Ireland also concelebrated, along with the priests of the Diocese of Raphoe and religious clergy located within and without the diocese.
The Chief Ordaining Prelate was Archbishop Eamon Martin, Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland. He was assisted by Bishop Philip Boyce OCD, Bishop Emeritus of Raphoe, and Bishop Noel Treanor, Bishop of Down & Connor. Archbishop Terence Prendergast SJ, Archbishop of Ottawa and friend of the McGuckian family, read the Gospel story of the transfiguration. Archbishop Martin referenced the gospel reading in his homily when he directly addressed Alan saying, “Remember that you are chosen by the Lord to serve. The title of bishop is not one of honour, but one of humble service. Today we reflect on the words of our heavenly Father at the moment of the transfiguration – words which echoed His message at our Lord’s baptism, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved – listen to Him.'” (Click here to read full text of homily).
Speaking to all present, Archbishop Martin quoted St Peter who said in the same gospel reading, ”It is wonderful for us to be here!” Echoing those words of Peter the Archbishop said, “It is wonderful for us to be present at an occasion that only seldom comes around in the lifetime of any diocese the consecration of a new bishop. Today’s ceremony links us back to the time of St Peter and the apostles when they were filled with the Holy Spirit and sent out by the Lord Jesus to make disciples of all the nations. Since then, from generation to generation, Our Lord’s ‘great commission’ has been passed down by the laying on of hands in an unbroken line of succession.”
The Archbishop also thanked Alan’s family and friends saying, “My dear brother Alan, as Ireland prepares to host the World Meeting of the Families this time next year, I am grateful to your family, your late parents, Brian and Pauline, and to the various families of faith which have helped to nurture and sustain your vocation – your extended family; your brothers in the Society of Jesus; the people, religious and priests of the diocese of Down and Connor. Together this family of families has helped you grow in the knowledge and love of God. I trust you will continue to be uplifted, protected and supported – as I have – by the prayers of your people and all those who love you.” Alan echoed this sentiment of gratitude to his family in his own address at the end of the Ordination Mass. He spoke of how inspirational his late sister Pauline was for him in terms of the living out of her faith, particularly in the face of terminal cancer. And he thanked his family for the bishop’s ring that he would wear for the rest of his life and that was a gift from them.
Referencing the fact that Alan’s fluency in Irish will be a great benefit in his service of a diocese that is part of the Gaeltacht the Archbishop expressed the wish that other parishes around the country would make the Mass as gaelige more widely available. “A Ailéin, a Bhráthair, Tá fhios agam go maith an cion atá agat do Dhún na nGall agus a mhuintir, cothaithe ar ndóighe trí do chuairteanna iomadúla ar Rann na Feirste. Táimid ag súil go mór i mbliana le seoladh an Leabhar Aifrinn Ghaeilge. Bhí lámh ag an Easpag Ó Buaigh sa tionscnamh sin. Cuideoidh do eolas agus do urraim don Ghaeilge go mór leis an scéim a chur chun cinn. Chuirfeadh sé áthas mór orm dá dtiocfadh le níos mó paróistí bheith páirteach sa scéim, ní amháin paróistí sa Ghaeltacht, ach paróistí eile bheith réidh adhradh an Domhnaigh a chleachtadh go rialta inár dteanga dhúchais.”
(I know your affection for Donegal and its people has already been nurtured by your many visits to Rann na Feirste. As we look forward to the launch later this year of the new Irish translation of the missal – a project in which Bishop Boyce was intimately involved – your familiarity with, and respect for the Irish language will be invaluable. I would be very pleased if more parishes, not just those in the Gaeltacht, could introduce regular Sunday worship in our native language).
And he urged Alan to be courageous in his role of bishop. “Continue to proclaim the Good News of Christ whether it is welcome or unwelcome; do not be afraid to correct error with unfailing patience and sound teaching. Remember we seek to present in public discourse ‘a coherent ethic of life’ encompassing our precious teaching about the sacredness of all human life and the dignity of the person, about the centrality of the family, about solidarity and the need for a fair distribution of goods in the world.”
For his own part Alan spoke at the end of the Mass of the the threefold obligation of a bishop to teach, govern and sanctify. He noted that even though he had an obligation to teach it didn’t mean he was the brightest or best theologian in the diocese of Raphoe. He drew a laugh when he added, “But it doesn’t mean I’m not the brightest!” In terms of governing he made it clear, both inside the cathedral and later outside speaking to journalists, that he was not coming to Raphoe as some expert with a plan. Rather, he was coming as someone who would first of all listen and learn from the priests and people about the opportunities and challenges facing both him and them.
Outside also, Pat Coyle of Irish Jesuit Communications asked him if he felt he had received the grace he was asking for when she spoke to him about his upcoming ordination the previous Friday for IJN (Irish Jesuit News). He replied by saying that he had been able to really slow down coming up to the ceremony, get into its real meaning, and feel himself open to the Holy Spirit. “I was told today that I was given it (the gift of the Holy Spirit) and I felt I got it. I did.”