Ossory Diocesan celebration to mark Pastoral Area Councils

Homily of Bishop Denis Nulty, Saturday 9th July 2022, at the Ossory Diocesan Celebration at St Kieran’s College Kilkenny to mark the transition from Deanery Pastoral Councils to Pastoral Area Councils.

Luke speaks about seventy-two being appointed, the mission was much larger than the twelve could manage. Luke offers us the earliest seeds of what we have come to know today as ‘co-responsibility’. The Diocese of Ossory has a rich and beautiful tradition of a shared responsibility that goes back decades.

The Diocesan Forum was established in 2004. It was born out of a facilitated discussion that took place five years earlier in the late 1990’s. One of the early working groups of the first Diocesan Forum was tasked with looking at parish structures. It led to the establishment of Parish Pastoral Councils.

In 2011 during the second term of the forum there was a major assembly of Parish Pastoral Councils, Deanery Pastoral Councils and the Diocesan Pastoral Council on the theme of ‘Co-responsibility for the life of the Church’. Two hundred gathered that day. We have moved well on from the seventy-two of Luke’s gospel.

Eleven years later the theme of ‘co-responsibility’ is more pertinent than ever. ‘Co-responsibility’ means everyone having an equal place around the table. Luke’s gospel reminds us the seventy two were sent out “in pairs[1]. Even then, solo operators or lone rangers were seen as a nonstarter.

The drafting of the Ossory Diocesan Pastoral Plan in 2015 by Bishop Freeman has offered us a blue print for this co-responsibility. Gemma Mulligan was employed as co-ordinator of the Diocesan Pastoral Plan with a strong focus on Strand 2 of the plan ‘Reimagine Parish Leadership in the Light of Today’s Reality’. The Diocesan Pastoral Plan remains the guiding document for the life of the diocese.

From my earliest meetings as Apostolic Administrator it seemed important that each of the thirteen Pastoral Areas would have a lay coordinator appointed alongside the priest coordinator, a sharing of responsibility, a sharing of leadership. And equally someone charged to promote vocations and someone to communicate the good news coming from every Pastoral Area was also seen as essential.

The thirteen Pastoral Areas, most of them I have managed to visit are not just an option, they are the future structure that is Ossory Diocese – forty two parishes – thirteen resourced Pastoral Areas. The global pandemic did not help the initial bedding down of the Pastoral Areas, but some areas blossomed with local initiatives and outreaches including webcams, foodbanks and shared newsletters.

Transition is never easy. Leaving the familiar can be a cause of pain. Letting go of what we have been used to calls for courage and creativity. I remember a book a friend gave me after the death of my mother. It was titled ‘The Way of Transition’ by William Bridges – embracing life’s most difficult moments. 

The message of Jesus Christ is always one of newness. The last line of Matthews gospel gives us huge reassurance: “And look, I am with you always till the end of time[2]. It is our task to rediscover the newness in every age, aware He is with us. No matter how bleak things may seem, He always walks among us.

I’m just back from the World Meeting of Families in Rome last month. Family is at the heart of Ossory Diocese and at the heart of our forty-two parishes. The invitation now is to work much closer with our first and second cousins in the wider family that is the thirteen Pastoral Areas.

I am very conscious that there is one person here who has done the greater share of the heavy lifting to ensure all voices in the Ossory family are in harmony; Sr. Helen Maher personifies all the work that has led to moments like today.

There will be an opportunity at a later date to thank her more formally, but all things being equal no day better than today, to publicly acknowledge her contribution. Sr. Helen, many thanks.

And to all of you, many thanks for your contribution to the Deanery Pastoral Councils – Northern, Southern and Middle and for your support as all of us put our energies now into the thirteen Pastoral Areas. I thank the Bishops, Priests, Religious and Lay Faithful, women and men, who have been at the heart of Deanery Pastoral Councils. I thank you for your commitment, dedication and love of your townland, your parish, your diocese.

Today we celebrate all that is Ossory and we give thanks for those in the past, some now gone to their eternal reward, who laid the sacred foundations on which from today we build, nurture and grow the thirteen Pastoral Areas.

[1] Lk.10:1

[2] Mt.28:20

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