Home News Archbishop Kieran O’Reilly’s homily for Foundation Day

Archbishop Kieran O’Reilly’s homily for Foundation Day

Archbishop Kieran O’Reilly’s homily for Foundation Day
Fr Pat Hurley (94) the oldest Columban priest in Ireland presenting Archbishop Kieran O'Reilly with the foundation decree for the establishment of the Missionary Society of St Columban 100 years ago on 29th June 1918. PIC: John McElroy

June 29th 2018

Feast of Saints Peter and Paul.

Columban Centenary Mass

A very good afternoon to all who have gathered – Priests, Sisters, Brothers, Lay Missionaries Co-Workers and Office staff, and family members of the Columban missionaries, for this special day in the life of the Columban Missionary Family.

  1. Opening

It seems very strange for missionaries to be gathering at 2.00pm in the afternoon. Customs wherever we worked indicated that we would be safely resting out of the midday sun at this time. Here we are, missionaries returned to Ireland and enjoying a most beautiful spell of fine weather, weather that I am sure reminds many of you of the places you have worked on mission over many years. It is a delight to be here with you this afternoon to share some thoughts about your institute

This is your day of celebration and thanksgiving. It was on the 29th June 1918 that Bishop Thomas O’Dea, Bishop of Galway, formally erected the Columban Mission as a Diocesan Society. You are gathered here today for this moment of prayer and reflection when we celebrate the founding work of your Founders but also of all who have been associated with your Institutes over the past one hundred years. In a special way celebrate, Fr Blowick, Bishop Galvin and all the early pioneers of the Society.

I was recently present at the Union Day celebrations in Maynooth when the Jubilarians from the different years celebrate their ordination anniversaries. The speaker at the 25th Jubilee spoke about how young he was when he entered Maynooth – just 17 years. And I thought it was probably much the same for each one of us here. That would not happen now!

Pic: Columban Mission

As I look around those who are here today for this celebration – priests, sisters, brothers, I realise that we all probably entered our religious institute around that age – 17/18. We left home and as the title of Fr Neil’s book reads on the history and development of the Columbans, it was probably “a mad thing to do”.

But we had the support and encouragement that came from family, neighbours and the wider society at that time. This helped us to embark on our journey into religious life. We remember those who supported us, they probably thought we were a bit mad to be leaving Ireland to go to foreign places about which they knew very little and indeed, if we are honest, about which we at that time, also knew very little about.

Reflecting on that support brought to my mind how so much has changed, on a day like today we reflect on who influenced us to set out as missionaries – was it a cousin or a neighbour who had joined the missionary family or sisters congregation and we followed? That was how the Spirit led us to begin our journey of what we would now call vocational discernment.

Those of you present who joined the Columban Missionary enterprise as you look back now must view it as an amazing engagement. To think that you would go to the Asia, to China and then other countries to bring the Gospel. Surely a “mad thing to do”!

All of us were a little mad in what we set out to do. We all set out on a journey that would take us to the “ends of the earth” from this small island on the edge of Europe. Mission and faith, belief and hope, a world out there to be understood and to  be lived in, in a different way in the light of the Gospel.

Pic: Columban Mission

We carried with us a certain perspective from our island to distant lands – we were missionaries, we had a self-confidence. We had an assurance because we followed great men and women who had gone before us. They had established the mission stations – parishes, schools, hospitals and communities from great cities to the most remote locations.

Mission stations for you in Asia, for me, it was Africa. We travelled on the coat tails of our missionary grandfathers and grandmothers – we stood on their shoulders. We were blessed to be able to do that.

I am sure you will remember the missionaries who welcomed you when you first arrived on mission? How they welcomed you to join them in the mission work that they were immersed in, delighted that new young missionaries had arrived to continue the work.

More exciting still was that you were sharing with people who had been part of the first movement of your institute. With people who had worked and shared with the founding leaders their vision, hope and dream for the growth of the Kingdom of God.

The last century has been seen one of the most extraordinary journeys in the church’s understanding of mission.

Very often, at the end of the 19th century and into the 20th century we saw ourselves as bringing cultural values and richness to other cultures. However, we have learned over time that all cultures have value in the eyes of God.

We learned through lived experience the beauty, wisdom and the spirituality of those we have touched and have touched us during our lives on mission. We can only hope that those to whom we were sent encountered something spiritual and wise in us!

The book: “A Mad thing to Do” by Fr Neil Collins is for your Institute a great insight into the development and growth of your institute over the past century up to day. It is a commendable tribute to those who have contributed to the work of the Kingdom of God through the charism of your Institute.

As Missionary Institutes, we have many questions as to how do we move forward? It is part of our nature to continually search out our future. The demographic reality is that Ireland is not going to provide nowhere near the same number of missionaries that it provided in the last century. That phase of our church life in Ireland is slowly drawing to a close.

It is through this reality that the Holy Spirit speaks to us, what matters now is how we live out that reality in Ireland and in the countries where we have worked on mission.

We are helped in our search for answers with the reflections of two significant contributors to the discussion. The first comes from David Bosch (Mission Theologian). He defined Mission in our time as follows:

“Mission is quite simply the participation of Christians in the liberating mission of Jesus, gambling on a future that experience would seem to deny. It is the Good News of the love of God, incarnate in the witnessing of the community for the good of the world.” David Bosch

This is a powerful statement of what mission is. I put it to you gathered here that in essence that was part of the vision of the Founders of this Institute. That was their vision, they may have been contained or constrained by the social realities of the time. However, drilling down below the surface we come to what true mission is about for them in their time: “Making the Love of God Known”.

The second person I make reference to is Pope Francis who has contributed enormously to the understanding of mission during his pontificate. Pope Francis defines mission in a striking manner in his homily at the canonisation of the Franciscan Friar, Juniper Serra:

During the homily he stated: “Go out and proclaim the merciful embrace of the Father. Go out to those who are burdened by pain and failure, who feel that their lives are empty and proclaim the folly of a loving Father who wants to anoint them with the oil of hope, the oil of salvation… go out with the ointment that soothes wounds and heals hearts…mission is always the fruit of a life which knows what it is to be found and healed, encountered and forgive.” (Homily at the Canonisation Mass of Junipero Serra, Franciscan Friar who ministered in California in the 18th Century, Canonised September 2015)

I am sure you will agree that the statement of Pope Francis is a powerful and beautiful statement. It has nothing to do with age or stages of life, it is as valid for young as for those of middle or advanced years. It is as valid for each one of us gathered here as it is for the young missionaries of our Institutes. Indeed, our own vocations promotors can present this statement to any candidate and boldly say that this statement sums up what mission is about.

In the papacy of Pope Francis, mission is now more clearly understood as being to the peripheries, to the poor, reflecting accurately the Good News we preach. That is where the Lord Jesus told the disciples to go and he showed them the way, through his ministry, when he was with them.

The question asked in today’s Gospel, on the feast of Ss Peter and Paul, by Jesus: “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” Matt. 16:13. We are asked to witness to what Jesus brought to us – a man from God who went to the periphery, who came to bring the Good News to the poor, that others may also be able to answer the question for themselves. The story of the mission of the Father in Jesus Christ must be continually retold in each generation.

Today, is a time of celebration of mission, celebrating what our founders equally understood, all that we have done and hope to do and set out to do is about going out and proclaiming the merciful embrace of the Father. Our Institutes have been able to do this with the support of family, benefactors and co-workers. Our Institutes from the beginning were “missionary beggars” dependent on the contributions on those of modest means and the poor.

On a day like today it is important we remember – family, friends and neighbours. They funded our Institutes so that our Institutes would be exactly what Pope Francis said – Institutes that would proclaim the “merciful embrace of the Father” through the living out of our charism.

We thank God who has helped us in so many ways and give thanks for all those who participated in our missionary task.

Our missionary task is not over, age is not the issue, each one is continually asked to assess, “how am I proclaiming the merciful embrace of the Father”?

I leave you with that special question for each one to reflect for a moment as we mark this special day in the life of the Columban missionary family.

May the Holy Spirit of the Mission be with our missionaries this day – laity, co- workers, sisters and priests throughout the world called to proclaim the merciful love of the Father.

Archbishop Kieran O’Reilly, SMA


Foundation Day in Dalgan: Words of Welcome by Regional Director Fr Pat Raleigh

  • Fifty years ago when we celebrated the Golden Jubliee of the Society and just before I left for the Philippines, little did I think that I would be standing here today to welcome you all to our Centenary Foundation Day.
  • On behalf of our Superior General, Kevin O’Neill in Hong Kong, represented today by Pat Colgan, all Columbans in the Region of Ireland and those home on vacation it is a great pleasure for me to welcome you to Dalgan for this very special occasion. We are indeed blessed by beautiful weather.
  • I particularly welcome Archbishop Kieran O’Reilly, Archbishop of Cashel and Emly who has graciously accepted our invitation to lead us in the celebration of the Eucharist today and also to give the Homily. On your behalf I wish to congratulate Kieran on the 40th anniversary of his ordination.
  • Archbishop Kieran is first and foremost a Corkman (Corkonian) and a member of the Society of African Missions (SMA). Prior to him moving to Cashel and Emly he was Superior General of the SMAs and for five years he was Bishop of Killaloe.
  • We are indeed very pleased that you are with us today as being a Missionary yourself you will have a feel for who we are and what we are celebrating today.
  • Today is a day to rejoice and to give thanks to God for God’s many graces and blessings to us as a Missionary Society over the past 100 years. We owe a huge debt of gratitude to our Co-founders Bishop Edward Galvin and Fr John Blowick for their foresight and vision in founding a new Missionary Society in the turbulent years of 1916-1918.
  • I also warmly welcome the newly appointed Ambassador of the Republic of South Korea to Ireland, His excellency Ambassador Woon-Ki Lyeo and his wife to our celebration today.There always has been a strong bond of friendship between the people of South Korea and the Columbans. His inauguration will take place in Dublin this coming Tuesday 3rd
  • It is indeed very fitting to have with us today so many Columban Sisters. I warmly welcome you all and am so glad that you are present to enjoy this day with us. For over 90 of these 100 years you have been there as our partners on mission. We owe you a huge debt of gratitude. A warm welcome to you all.
  • I also warmly welcome Pat Colgan representing General Council in Hong Kong. It is good to have you with us for today’s very significant celebration and also for the Family/Mission Day this coming Sunday.
  • I am also very pleased to welcome many of our faithful and dedicated staff from the Regional Offices. I sincerely thank you for very dedicated service over the years. It is much appreciated.
  • I also welcome others associated with us in our work and it is a pleasure to have you with us for this very special occasion – Lay Missionaries, Co – workers, Shinto, our Organists Philomena and Margaret.
  • A special welcome to Srs Siobhan Corkery and Patricia Lynch from the Medical Missionaries of Mary. It was a pleasure having you with us for the past two weeks and my only regret is that your companions had to leave this morning.
  • At this celebration of the Eucharist we remember in prayer Fr Dan Canniffe who died yesterday in our Nursing Home. May he rest in peace.
  • I now hand you over to Archbishop Kieran. May it be a very enjoyable day for us all.


Foundation Day in Dalgan: Words of Thanks from Regional Director Fr Pat Raleigh

  • A lot of words have been spoken today and the last thing you want to hear at this stage is a long speech. Yet it would be very remiss of me if I did not say a few words of thanks.
  • Today has been a day of thanksgiving to God for his faithfulness to us as Missionary Society for the past 100 years. We owe a huge debt of gratitude to our two Co-founders, Bishop Edward Gavin and Fr John Blowick for their foresight and vision in founding a new Missionary Society in the turbulent years of 1916-1918.
  • We owe a huge debt of gratitude to all our deceased Columbans who worked in very difficult conditions particularly in those early years of the Society. Today we pay a special tribute to our Columbans who met violent deaths down through the years.
  • We are extremely grateful to all our benefactors and supporters, both living and deceased, who made great sacrifices on our behalf and who more than likely denied themselves many things. I take this opportunity to thank the people of Ireland for their generosity.
  • It is very important for us to remember the comment of one Irish Bishop to our Co-founder, Fr John Blowick when he said of this College building: “Built for you by the generosity of people who could not afford it”.
  • Was it ”A Mad Thing To Do” to start the Society? Perhaps it was but history will show that God has been full of surprises. Over the past 100 years we have made some little difference and have made small inroads and footprints into people’s lives and for this we are very grateful. It would be very remiss of me not to thank our gracious hosts in the many different countries where we have worked and are working: “When we went on cross cultural mission it was our hosts who welcomed us and were patient with our cultural clumsiness. We shared with them our faith only to find that they had much more to share with and teach us. Some of these faced ridicule, danger and even death for living out the Gospel” (as they do today in many parts of the world).
  • I particularly thank the families of Columbans for the support they have given over the years and which continues today as we saw recently by the large number of relatives who turned up for Cemetery Sunday.
  • It is indeed very fitting that the theme for our Centenary is “Sharing Gospel Joy”. We should feel encouraged and grateful to Pope Francis for his message to us on the occasion of our Centenary when he asks ‘that we deepen our commitment to finding new ways of bringing the newness of the Gospel to every culture and people and that we do so with joy’.
  • I sincerely thank each of you for your presence today and the contribution you make in so many different ways to Columban mission. We are deeply grateful for your loyalty.
  • I thank the Columban Sisters especially and do please know that we are very grateful.


  • I’m afraid that I haven’t followed the proper protocol in my words of thanks.
  • Now I would like to thank Dr Mary McAleese and her husband Martin for your presence with us today. Thank you so much for your stimulating conversation and your deep knowledge of St Columbanus and his legacy. Thank you also for your appreciation of the work of Irish Missionaries down through the years. Your cousin Fr John Joe McGreevy was indeed an esteemed member of the Columbans.
  • We are living in very changing times. We have experienced and continue to experience many changes in our understanding of mission. We have tried to adapt to the changing situations and the challenges each decade brings, of course always recognising the centrality of the person, message and mission of Jesus and his love and compassion for all, but central to who we are is the message and mission of Jesus.
  • Archbishop Kieran you are indeed a true and loyal friend. Thank you so much for honouring us with your presence today and for leading us in the Liturgy.
  • Joe Humphreys thank you for being with us and your great journalistic skills came to the forefront in your conversation with Dr McAleese. A warm welcome to your daughter. Joe’s father -in law Denis O’Brien was a few years ahead of me in Grange National School in the Parish of Bruff, Co Limerick.
  • I thank the Ambassador and his wife from the Republic of South Korea for your presence and I hope your stay in Ireland will be a very happy and fruitful one.
  • Congratulations to our awardees of the Schools Journalism competition, ‘Migrants are our Neighbours’. A very warm welcome to you and your families and indeed to those who were not able to attend.
  • I very much appreciate the presence of Srs Siobhan Corkery and Patricia Lynch, both on the Leadership team of the Medical Missionaries of Mary for your presence. It was wonderful having you and your companions with us for the past two weeks. My only egret is that the rest of the group were not able to stay.
  • There are so many others too thank and I am afraid that if I mention names I may leave out somebody. I do want to say a special thanks to Sarah Mac Donald for all the work she has put into the preparations for this historic day. Sarah is the Editor of the Far East.
  • A special thanks to all who were involved in preparation of the Liturgy today, the Choir, Padraig O’Donovan and Ray Husband and everybody else. It was very fitting that our oldest member Fr Paddy Hurley who turned 94 two days ago brought up the Decree establishing us as a Society. My thanks to Neil Collins for his translation.
  • Last but not least I thank all the staff here in Dalgan for the huge amount of work they have done for today.
  • Could I now invite you all to stand and thank David, Peter, Anne and all the staff for the wonderful meal.
  • Until we meet again. Have a safe journey home.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.