Newcastle village was alive with anticipation and activity on Saturday evening, November 15, due to the visit of the Papal nuncio, Archbishop Charles John Brown to celebrate the bicentennial of the parish registers.
Relics of Christianity go back much further, to the 5th century when the nearby nunnery in Molough was founded on the banks of the Suir. The church of Kilronan, near Kilmanahan, was built before the Norman invasion.
There were ecclesiastical sites in Kilcreggane and Bennetschurch in the parish also.
The old church site in the village was in existence in 1482 and it was then described as being extremely large. During Penal times Rev. James Prendergast ministered to his scattered flock by building an oratory in his fatherâ€™s shooting-lodge in Boolahalla in 1793.
The present Romanesque style Church of Our Lady of the Assumption was rebuilt in 1879 by Rev. Thomas (nicknamed â€˜Fieryâ€™) Finn for Â£1,500. It incorporated some of the walls of an earlier church, â€˜an tseanchillâ€™. This church was remodelled and was blessed on 15 August 1973 by Bishop Michael Russell.
Archbishop Brown was appointed nuncio to Ireland on November 26, 2011 and ordained to the episcopate on January 6, 2012. He was born in New York in 1959, of Irish ancestry on his motherâ€™s side. Brown is an anglicisation of the German surname, Braun. Apart from ecclesiastical qualifications, his academic background is in History and Medieval Studies.
He was ordained by Cardinal John Joseph Oâ€™Connor in St. Patrickâ€™s Cathedral, New York in 1989. He ministered as assistant parish priest in St. Brendanâ€™s parish in the Bronx until 1991. From there he went to Rome to study for a doctorate and after that took a position with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. He was chaplain to Pope John Paul II and Adjunct Secretary to the International Theological Commission prior to his appointment as papal nuncio to Ireland.
Father Garrett Desmond and the pastoral council were delighted when he kindly accepted their invitation to celebrate Mass in the parish to celebrate the bicentenary. The church was packed to capacity for the occasion.
Chairperson of the council, Tony Geraghty, welcomed the nuncio, his secretary, Monsignor Cruz Serrano, clergy, elected representatives, guests, visitors and parishioners.
Council member Ãine Keating summarised the long tradition of Christian faith in the parish. She then introduced the presentation of gifts. Rev. James Mulcahy, retired priest of the diocese, whose family roots are in the parish, presented a copy of the recent translation of his father, Seamusâ€™ book, â€˜An Gleann agus a raibh annâ€™ to the nuncio. A pen and ink work depicting the church and the nearby Suir bridge was presented by local artist, P.J. Cullinan. A young couple from the parish who are getting married after Christmas, Marie Kennedy and John Coyne, brought up the offertory gifts.
The recently launched parish website was presented by one of the parishâ€™s most senior citizens, Mrs. Jo Hyland. One of the most junior parishioners, Aidan Morrissey, in his mother Bredaâ€™s arms, was blessed by the nuncio. A plaque to commemorate the bicentennial, which will be displayed in the church, was presented for blessing by Aidanâ€™s father, Niall. This symbolises the long tradition of faith that has been passed down from several generations past and which the present parishioners want to pass on to the coming generations.
Mass was concelebrated by Cardinal Brown, Bishop Emeritus William Lee and Monsignor Nicholas Oâ€™Mahony. Rev. Robert Mc Carthy, former dean of St. Patrickâ€™s Cathedral, who lives in the parish, some local clergy and Sr. Antoinette were present also. The church was beautifully decorated for the occasion. Representatives of the various parish ministry groups participated in the Mass and the liturgy was further enhanced by the singing of the combined Fourmilewater-Newcastle church choirs.
One of the main points of the nuncioâ€™s homily was that it is the community of believers, rather than the building, who are most important in the church. People come together to worship and to celebrate. The main reason people come to church is because it paves the way for life in the hereafter.
He referred to the previous generations who have celebrated Baptism, the Eucharist and Marriage in the church. During November we are particularly mindful of those whose funerals have taken place in the parish. We will follow in their footsteps one day. For that reason the gurgle of infants in the congregation was music to the nuncioâ€™s ears, and as he said, â€˜to the ears of Godâ€™. They are the future of our Church.
After Mass, a very enjoyable concert, with Joan Oâ€™Dwyer as M.C, was provided by the local artistes. These included The Cedar Towns, Scoil Rince Mhic Craith, Stefan Grace, Cora Kelly and SeÃ¡n Walsh. The newly formed Ballymacarbry Community Choir made their debut on the Newcastle side of the parish.
The entertainment concluded with a rendition of songs from the WWI era organised by Newcastle Historical Society. Their last number, â€˜Itâ€™s a long way to Tipperaryâ€™, was particularly appropriate on the occasion, as the nuncio had revealed during his homily that his motherâ€™s ancestors came from the county. The night concluded with refreshments. Everybody was in high spirits as it had been such an enjoyable occasion.
Enormous credit is due to so many who worked very hard to make this commemoration a reality. As we say in this former breac-Ghaeltacht, â€˜Ar scÃ¡th a chÃ©ile a mhaireann na daoineâ€™.