Fr Alan McGuckian SJ will be ordained bishop of the diocese of Raphoe on Sunday 6 August in St Eunan’s Cathedral in Letterkenny, Co Donegal. Speaking to Irish Jesuit News just two days before the ceremony he said, “I have been praying for openness to the grace of the sacrament of ordination ever since I received the invitation to go to the Papal Nunciature where I was informed of the appointment.” Even though rumours had been circulating in months previous Alan said he was still completely shocked at the news. “All my life as a Jesuit it was always taken for granted that becoming a bishop was not on the cards.”
The shock was soon followed by nervousness and a sense of trepidation regarding such a complete change in his life. “I’ve been a Jesuit for 45 years,” he said, “and I always had a Provincial who appointed me to whatever tasks I was needed for. That’s a security I will no longer have as I move into this leadership role. But for me it’s a real privilege to be asked to be the centre of unity for a local Church.” During those 45 years Alan was also a member of a number of Jesuit communities. “And I was truly blessed in all of them. Without doubt I will miss that aspect of my life with my fellow Jesuits.”
He is no stranger to parish life however, and for the past number of years he was working on the Living Church project in the Diocese of Down and Conor. It was a listening process, aimed at eliciting the hopes and fears of the priests, religious and lay faithful of the dioceses’ 87 parishes, and it led to the publication of the Living Church Report in 2012. “That was a really enriching experience for me working with priests and laity in a real process of listening,” says Alan, adding, “Now I look forward to meeting and listening to the priests and people of the Raphoe diocese. I know for sure that I will be held close by them for they have already shown great willingness to accept me, and I know they will take me to their hearts.”
The recent rehearsal he had for his ordination has also helped him. “It was in the cathedral itself and we went through some of the stages including the litany of the saints, the putting on of the ring, and the lying prostrate on the ground. What was about to happen to me on Sunday became more real to me at that point. I knew this was a sacrament that I was going to receive and I truly wanted to be open to the grace that it would bring. That’s what St Ignatius always urges us to do – ask God for the grace you need.”
The support of his Jesuit colleagues, including his two brothers Michael and Barney, is also very important. “I know many of my fellow Jesuits are travelling to Letterkenny this weekend to share this special occasion with me,” he says. “Also, during the ordination ceremony two priests hold the book of the Gospel over the ordinand and on Sunday I’ll be privileged to have Michael and Barney do that for me.”
The Donegal Gaeltacht forms a part of the diocese of Raphoe and Alan’s love of, the Irish language will serve him well there. “The ceremony on Sunday will include parts of the Ó’Riada mass and Una Marie O’Donnell will lead a special rendition of psalm 22 as gaeilge, that she composed herself.”
Alan is the first Irish Jesuit to be ordained a bishop in and for Ireland, so his ordination on Sunday will be a historic occasion. The Chief Ordaining Prelate will be Archbishop Eamon Martin, Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, who will be assisted by Bishop Philip Boyce OCD, Bishop Emeritus of Raphoe, and Bishop Noel Treanor, Bishop of Down & Connor. You can view the live broadcast on the St Eunan’s Cathedral website or on the site of MCNMEDIA.tv.
Along with his fellow Jesuits and their colleagues, he will be held in prayer and blessing by his family and friends, at home and abroad.