Pope Francis has appointed Father Michael Duignan, a priest of the Diocese of Elphin, as the new Bishop of Clonfert. The announcement was made this morning in Saint Brendan’s Cathedral, Loughrea by the Papal Nuncio to Ireland, Archbishop Jude Thaddeus Okolo, and simultaneously in Rome.
Bishop-elect Duignan, who turned 49 on Monday last, is a native of Bealnamulla, Athlone, Co Roscommon and the eldest of a family of six. He will celebrate the silver jubilee of his ordination to the priesthood tomorrow, Wednesday 17 July.
Speaking after the announcement, Bishop-elect Duignan said, “Today a new chapter opens up in my journey of life. So too a new chapter opens up in the journey of the people of God here in Clonfert.”
He said, “Although, I have lived in Sligo for many years, I come from just outside Athlone not far from Taughmaconnell on the borders between the dioceses of Elphin and Clonfert. I am very conscious that I have come to a diocese with a rich spiritual tradition – the place of St Brendan, Brendan the Navigator, or to quote JRR Tolkien to “where the knell of Cluain-ferta’s bell tolls in the green Galway.” (The Death of St Brendan). I take heart from Brendan’s zeal for the Gospel. With immense courage, he set out in faith on the great sea of life with an abiding sense that no matter what the future might bring God would be in it all.
“As a people of faith, the waters we are called to traverse today are very different from those of the past. They are ever changing and difficult to negotiate in sometimes old and leaky boats. They voyage of the years ahead will require all of us – priests, religious and laity to become, each in our own way, navigators of a new and ever deeper evangelisation. It will require us to work together, shoulder to shoulder, to renew our own hearts in the faith. With hearts renewed, perhaps our greatest challenge will be to show forth in deed and word the value of knowing Christ and the life-changing potential of the Gospel, especially to those who lie hurt and broken, feeling rejected, on the edges of church and society.”
The bishop-elect continued, “Let us rejoice in the realisation that life is better not worse with Christ. To quote Pope Emeritus Benedict – “Do not be afraid of Christ! He takes nothing away, and he gives you everything. When we give ourselves to him, we receive a hundredfold in return. Yes, open, open wide the doors to Christ – and you will find true life.” (Benedict XVI, April 2005) In his recent Apostolic Exhortation Christ is Alive (2019) which is addressed in a special way to young people, Pope Francis echoes these words when he speaks of how the Holy Spirit takes nothing away from you, but instead helps you to find all that you need, and in the best possible way (131).”
Reflecting on leaving his life as a priest in the Diocese of Elphin, Father Duignan said, “Days like today involve a lot of letting go. I am conscious of and want to pay tribute to the wonderful people I have worked with in my home Diocese of Elphin, Bishop Kevin, the late Bishop Christopher my brother priests, deacons and laity, religious of the Diocese of Elphin, the staff and students of Summerhill College, Sligo and the staff of the diocesan office. In particular, I want to applaud the generations of gifted and generous young people whom I have encountered over the years at St Angela’s College, Sligo – along with the College staff. I also thank God for my family and friends and for their continued love and support into the future.”
Bishop-elect Duignan went on to thank Pope Francis for placing his trust in him and to all who were part of the announcement. He also thanked Archbishop Okolo, for his gentle encouragement, patience and support over the last while.
Paying tribute to Bishop Kirby, Bishop-elect Duignan said, “By coincidence Bishop Kirby, is not a stranger to me. We come from the same home parish in Athlone and he was present at my ordination as a priest 25 years ago tomorrow. Since news of my appointment, he has been most welcoming and helpful to me on both a personal and practical level. Thank you Bishop John. I do not think we should let a day like today go by without recording the debt of gratitude the Clonfert Diocese owes to you for your over thirty years of faithful ministry. I would also like to acknowledge your contribution at a national level with Trócaire and the Episcopal Conference. Retirement will not fully come for a little while yet, but when it does finally come, Bishop John, you deserve it. I hope you will forgive me if I interrupt now and again for a bit of advice. I wish you all God’s blessings for a healthy and happy future.”
Concluding his address Father Duignan asked for prayers. He said, “Let us pray for the Diocese of Clonfert, its people, priests, religious and all those men and women of good will who call its environs their home. Pray for me, that in spite of my weakness, God may strengthen me for the task ahead. Pray that we may make good companions on the journey and that our future will be blessed because we, together with Christ, have travelled on the Way.”
Biography of Fr Michael Duignan
Bishop-elect Duignan was born on 15 July 1970 and is a native of Bealnamulla, Athlone, Co Roscommon. He attended Cloonakilla National School, Bealnamulla and St. Aloysius College, Athlone, Co Westmeath.
He began his seminary formation for the Diocese of Elphin with a Spiritual Year at St Patrick’s Missionary Society in Kiltegan, Co Wicklow. His studies continued at the Pontifical Irish College in Rome where he attended the Pontifical Gregorian University. He graduated with a Baccalaureate in Philosophy in 1990 and a Baccalaureate in Theology in 1993. As a postgraduate student he completed a Licentiate in Dogmatic Theology in 1995.
In 1993, he was ordained a deacon in the Basilica of Santa Prassede, Rome. On the 17 July 1994, he was ordained a priest in the Church of Saints Peter and Paul, Athlone by Most Rev Dominic Conway, Bishop of Elphin.
After completing his Licentiate, he ministered as Curate in the Cathedral Parish of St Mary’s, Sligo and subsequently as Chaplain to the Institute of Technology, Sligo before returning to Rome to complete doctoral studies in contemporary trinitarian theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University with Fr Gerald O’Collins SJ.
Returning to Ireland, he ministered as Curate in the Parish of Ahamlish and Innismurray, Cliffoney, Co Sligo and began teaching Theology, Philosophy and Religious Education at St Angela’s College (A College of NUI, Galway), Cloghereevagh, Co Sligo.
In 2005, he was appointed full-time Lecturer in Religious Education and Chaplain at St Angela’s College. In the same year, he was appointed Assistant Diocesan Secretary for the Diocese of Elphin.
Subsequently he was appointed Director of Religious Education, Theology and Chaplaincy programmes at St Angela’s College teaching primarily in the areas of Fundamental and Systematic Theology, Pastoral Studies and Liturgy.
He was involved in the development and delivery of outreach programmes in Theology, Religious Education and Pastoral Studies in Roscommon, Knock, Carrick-on-Shannon, Athlone, Letterkenny and at NUIG, Galway and the Newman Institute, Ballina
In 2008, he was appointed by Bishop Christopher Jones as Diocesan Director of the Permanent Diaconate and began the process of overseeing the formation of candidates for the Permanent Diaconate and the restoration of the Permanent Diaconate in the Diocese of Elphin.
In 2014, he was appointed by the Irish Episcopal Conference as National Co-ordinator of Formation for the Permanent Diaconate and subsequently took on the position of National Director of the Permanent Diaconate. He is also secretary to the National Training Authority of the Permanent Diaconate in Ireland.
Since 2009, he has served as Chairperson of the Board of Management of The College of the Immaculate Conception, Summerhill, Sligo, the largest post-primary school for boys in Connaught.
In 2014, he was appointed by Bishop Kevin Doran as Chancellor and Diocesan Secretary of the Diocese of Elphin, Episcopal Vicar for Education and Formation and in 2018 as Diocesan Financial Administrator. As Episcopal Vicar for Education, he took a lead role in the establishment of Coláiste Chiaráin, Summerhill, Athlone and St Comán’s Wood Primary School, Roscommon Town.
In 2015, he led the new initiative to recruit and form Diocesan Catechists for ministry in the Diocese of Elphin with the first cohort due to graduate in 2020.
He is a member of the Elphin Diocesan Pastoral Council, Council of Priests, Finance Committee, College of Consultors and the Diocesan Safeguarding Executive. Over the years he has served as secretary of the Council of Priests; member of the Elphin Pastoral Planning Group; member of the Elphin Diocesan Colleges, Principals and Chairpersons forum; member of the Diocesan Vocations Committee, Youth Committee and Liturgy Committee and as Diocesan Master of Ceremonies for Liturgical Celebrations.
He was a member of the Theological Commission of the Archdiocese of Omaha, Nebraska convened for the cause for canonisation of the Servant of God, Father Edward J. Flanagan (a native of the Diocese of Elphin). He has also been involved in training and formation programmes for Parish Pastoral Councils, Liturgy Groups, Eucharistic Ministers and Ministers of the Word.
He served as Spiritual Director to youth faith groups such as Youth 2000 Ireland, Elation Ministries and has worked with organising young adult and student involvement in International World Youth Day celebrations, youth pilgrimages and events.
Fr Duignan is a member of the Knock Shrine Management Advisory Board and the Knock Shrine Faith Renewal Council. He chaired the Liturgy Committee for the visit of Pope Francis to Knock Shrine in 2018. In September 2018, he was elected President of the Oliver Plunkett Union of Past Students of the Pontifical Irish College, Rome.
Along with his doctoral dissertation, he has published various articles and homilies on Theology, the Permanent Diaconate and pastoral issues. Outside of his academic and pastoral work his interests include music, reading, travel, cooking and spending time with family and friends.