Pope Francis appoints Bishop Alan McGuckian SJ as Bishop of Down and Connor
The Holy Father, Pope Francis, has appointed Bishop Alan McGuckian, Bishop of Raphoe, as Bishop of Down and Connor.
Statement by Bishop Alan McGuckian on his Appointment by
His Holiness Pope Francis as Bishop of Down and Connor
2nd February 2024
Feast of the Presentation 2024
St Peter’s Cathedral
It is amazing to me that I am here in Belfast this morning in these circumstances. When I left Queens University in 1972 to join the Jesuits, I felt certain that I would never have the opportunity to live here again. Then, God’s providence intervened. My superiors sent me to live in Belfast from 2005 to 2017. I want to acknowledge my predecessor, Archbishop Noel Treanor. It was he who invited me to head up the Living Church office and work at the heart of the Diocese of Down and Connor. He placed great trust in me and my team of Paula McKeown and Jim Deeds. Had Bishop Noel not chosen me for that work at that time I would almost certainly not be here today.
It is good to be here today, and I thank Bishop McKeown who has been a friend since we were students together in Garron Tower. As a brother bishop he has been a good neighbour and great example and encouragement to me. Now, as I leapfrog across the Derry Diocese from west to east I know I can continue to rely on his friendship and support.
My roots are entirely in the Diocese of Down and Connor. Fr Gerry Park baptized me and Fr Vincent McKinley gave me my first Holy Communion in Cloughmills. Bishop Philbin confirmed me in Dunloy. This is where I come from and I am humbled and privileged that, after all my wanderings, the bishop of Rome has chosen to send me home.
I would not be telling the whole truth if I did not say that it will be a terrible wrench for me to leave the priests and people of Raphoe. I have been very privileged to serve among many people deeply committed to the faith; they show it in their daily lives, in the ways they look after one another in community and it was a bittersweet source of pride to me that Donegal uniquely had a pro-life majority in the abortion referendum some years ago. Donegal people took me into their hearts and have inspired me. Many of them love me deeply and I love them and I will miss them greatly.
People will now wonder what will I be like as the Bishop of Down and Connor. First and foremost, I am a priest. As I reconnect with the priests of this diocese, many of whom I know very well I have a great desire that all of us as priests would ‘Renew our hearts’. Sometimes over recent years I have signed off letters to certain people in Irish; i gCroí Íosa. In the Heart of Jesus.
I find myself wanting to emphasize again the love of the Heart of Jesus; it was central in our home as I was growing up and for centuries Jesuits have been charged with promoting confidence in the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The power of that great image is coming back to me, not simply as a pious phrase, but an expression of my desire that both I and my brother priests would be close to Christ and his people. In the heart of Jesus; I gCroí Íosa.
Secondly, I am a Jesuit. And on this feast of the presentation when we celebrate religious life, I call to mind my own vows and in particular the vow of poverty. That vow unites us with Christ who is poor and also with his people. There is much poverty in our affluent society – it is my intention to seek to be close to the poor. That may be the poor in heart, lonely, isolated – I want us to be a church that builds communities. There are other poverties too – the workers seeking a just wage, young people without jobs or opportunities and families trying their best to make ends meet. We need to be a church that is in solidarity with the poor and seeking justice for the poor.
Thirdly, I want to encourage us as a church in Down and Connor to make an impact on the world around us. Our love of Christ should radiate from us – make others curious and want to share in our joy. We must share the joy of the Gospel. I want us, priests, deacons, people and Bishop together make the love of Christ known to all. One very important way to do that will be to stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in the other Christian denominations. Today I send my very best wishes to the other Church leaders in this part of the country.
It is a source of encouragement to all of us that there is movement towards the re-establishment of the institutions of government here in Northern Ireland. Their absence in recent months has been a serious democratic deficit. I encourage everyone to do all in their power to ensure that we have ongoing and stable government here that works hard for the good of everyone and especially the most vulnerable. In addition, we Christians need to pray earnestly for our politicians. It is the grace of God in answer to people’s prayers that has led us out of the horror of past violence to where we are today.
I am one of the two Irish bishops who are part of the Synod on Synodality. My experience in Rome in October past has strengthened my conviction that our Church will be all the stronger for our working ever more closely together, clergy and lay people together taking responsibility for the Church’s mission. I will be eager to learn more about all the good work that is going on in the diocese. I will need some time to say farewell to my friends in Raphoe and then it is important for me to make a good retreat before taking up office here. I certainly intend to be here to celebrate the Mass of Chrism here in the Cathedral.
Over the past few years, I used occasionally drop in to Nazareth Lodge Care Village to see Bishop Paddy Walsh and Bishop Tony Farquhar. While Bishop Walsh declined physically it was a delight to see how he remained bright, warm and witty and very attentive to the needs of the other residents. On this day I want to pay special tribute to my great friend Bishop Tony Farquhar. I went into his Latin class in September of 1967. He knew that we were a good class but most of us were lazy, especially me. To try and stir us up he had to pretend that he was angry some of the time which, with his big soft heart, required a certain amount of histrionics. He was a great motivator and got the best he possibly could out of us. Any success I have had myself over the years in teaching adolescents was modelled almost entirely on Tony. I am sure the two of them will be praying for me today as I do for them.
As I take up office as the first teacher of the faith in this diocese, I am deeply aware of my need to be faithful and to love the faith. The first teachers in the faith that I had, who shared the faith with me and taught me to love it, were not bishops or priests, but lay people. I remember particularly my father and mother, Brian and Pauline McGuckian and my aunt, Mary Jo McKenna who was also my primary school teacher. They along with my sisters Mary and Paula, who were also powerful witnesses to faith in Christ, have gone to God. I am conscious of relying on their prayers today. On this side of the great divide I have always looked up to my big brothers, Frs Barney and Michael and John B who, together with his wife Carmel are a rock of support for me.
As I said at the beginning, the journey on which I set out in life was never going to end up here, with me as Bishop of Down and Connor. I could never have expected it; I certainly did not seek it. I have to assume that it is the will of God for me and for you. It is important then that, in spite of all my weaknesses, I do it as best I can. If I am to do well as Bishop of Down and Connor I will require the generous support of priests and people, religious and lay faithful all pulling together. When I take up office I will require time to get up to speed, to discern with you what the Lord is calling us to. When we have done that I will want us to get down to work. In the meantime, I ask for your prayers for me. I will be praying every day for you.
Oh most Sacred Heart of Jesus I place all my trust in you.
Life and Ministry of Bishop Alan McGuckian SJ
Bishop Alexander Aloysius (Alan) McGuckian SJ was born on 26 February 1953, the youngest of six children of the late Brian and Pauline McGuckian in Cloughmills, Co Antrim.
Having completed primary schooling in Cloughmills and post-primary studies in Saint MacNissi’s College, Garron Tower, Bishop Alan undertook a year of First Arts in Queen’s University, Belfast, where he studied Irish and Scholastic Philosophy (1971-1972). In October 1972 he then joined the Jesuit novitiate in Clontarf in Dublin.
Bishop McGuckian is proficient in a number of modern languages and has studied an undergraduate BA in Latin and Spanish from University College Dublin (1974-1977) and later graduated with an MA in Irish Translation from QUB, Belfast. His training for the priesthood involved the study of Philosophy in the Milltown Institute in Dublin (1977-1979) and Theology in the Toronto School of Theology specialising in the study of Scripture (M.Div and STL – 1981-1985).
After his ordination to the priesthood on 22 June 1984, Father McGuckian worked as a teacher in secondary education in Clongowes Wood College SJ, Co. Kildare. (1984-1988)
This was followed by a six month period of spiritual renewal in southern India and an experience of serving in a shanty town in Quezon City in the Philippines. before taking his Final Profession as a Jesuit on 15 February 1997.
From 1992-2003, Bishop McGuckian was appointed as Director of the Jesuit Communication Centre in Dublin. During this period he was involved in setting up the web sites www.sacredspace.ie and www.catholicireland.net. Along with Mr Tony Bolger he set up Church Resources and Church Services TV. At the same time his commitment to the Irish language led him to serve for over ten years as editor of both An Timire and Foilseacháin Ábhair Spioradálta. Later, when already living in Belfast, he translated the autobiography of Saint Ignatius Loyola from the Spanish original into the Irish language under the title Scéal an Oilithrigh (Foilseacháin Ábhair Spioradálta).
In 2011 he collaborated with Philip Orr in writing the drama 1912; one hundred years on, marking the centenary of the fateful year that saw the Home Rule Bill accepted by the House of Commons and the signing of the Ulster Covenant.
In Belfast, Bishop McGuckian served as chaplain to many of the Gaelscoileanna in the Diocese of Down and Connor and was, for a few years, Chaplain in the University of Ulster at Jordanstown and Belfast. He also served as spiritual director to the Diocesan Seminary.
From 2012 to 2017, Bishop McGuckian worked closely with the Diocese of Down and Connor in the ‘Living Church’ project. Beginning with a Listening Process in 2011 which aimed to hear the hopes and fears of the priests, religious and the lay faithful across the diocese culminating in the publication of the Living Church Report in 2012, Bishop McGuckian was invited to set up and lead the Living Church Office to take forward the Diocesan Pastoral Plan commissioned by Bishop Noel Treanor.
Bishop McGuckian was the first director of the Permanent Diaconate within the diocese. The diocese now has 16 serving permanent deacons, several of them married, ministering in parishes and chaplaincies across the diocese.
On 9th June 2017, Pope Francis appointed Bishop Alan McGuckian SJ as Bishop of Raphoe and he was ordained Bishop of Raphoe on 6th August 2017 in Letterkenny.
Since 2017, Bishop McGuckian has served as Bishop of Raphoe in Donegal and, in addition, has held a number of responsibilities on the Irish Episcopal Conference including serving as a Member of the Standing Committee, the Irish Episcopal Conference representative to ICEL (International Commission for English in the Liturgy), Chairman of the Council for Justice and Peace / NICCOSA, a member of the Council for Pastoral Renewal and Adult Faith Development and liaison Bishop with Pax Christi Ireland.