The 41st bishop of the combined dioceses of Waterford and Lismore took office on Sunday vowing to reach out to Catholics who have â€œturned awayâ€ from the practice of their faith and urging his flock to join him in climbing Godâ€™s mountain.
Formerly Fr Alphonsus (Phoncie) Cullinan, the new bishop was ordained at a ceremony in the Cathedral of the Most Holy Trinity in Waterford city as 800 invited guests and members of the public watched.
Among the attendance were representatives from the parishes in South Tipperary which form part of the diocese of Waterford and Lismore including priests, public representatives, lay pastoral council members, and people from youth groups.
Archbishop of Cashel and Emly Dr Kieran Oâ€™Reilly along with the Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Charles Brown were the assistant ordaining archbishops while the chief ordaining prelate was Bishop William Lee, who retired from the diocese in 2013 because of poor health.
One of the features of the two-and-a-half hour ceremony was the â€œconstructionâ€ of a replica of the round tower of Ardmore, with youth representatives from each of the 45 parishes in the diocese bringing a brick to be used in the project.
The choirs for the ceremony were accompanied by organist and Fethard native Cecilia Keogh.
The Mass was filled with formality and centuries-old ceremony but the mood was also lightened by the new bishop himself in his address towards the end, when he spoke of how he hoped to be a worthy successor to Bishop Lee and thanked everyone for the welcome already shown to him.
He looked forward, he said, to meeting all of the priests of the diocese and getting to know them. â€œYou do a great job in the day-to-day bits and pieces of parish life. The fact that I am your bishop will not prevent us, I hope, from being brothers.â€
Bishop Cullinan also made reference to hurling in his speech to the congregation in Waterford, when he wondered â€œhow are the people in this part of the world going to put up with a Clareman,â€ before adding that someone said â€œwell if you can put with Davy Fitzâ€¦,â€ in reference to the former Waterford manager and current Clare boss.
â€œOut of love of Jesus,â€ he said later, â€œwe put ourselves at the service of others, especially those most in need in our society - the poor, the sick, the vulnerable, those who feel alienated from God, those on the margins.
â€œWe reach out to those who have turned away from the practice of the faith, many of whom are in our own families and parish communities. How can we walk with them in a way that will help them to see once more the beauty of following Jesus?â€
Outside the cathedral when the formalities were done, Bishop Cullinan personally greeted many of the 800 who had packed into the venue for the occasion, as well as members of the public gathered outside.
He told reporters he felt â€œelated, overwhelmed and humbledâ€ following his ordination. â€œThe first thing I have to do is genuinely try to be holy, try to be a follower of the Lord and everything flows from that.â€
Asked what he intended to do to tackle the decline in vocations, he said: â€œI really do believe it has to be one-to-one, it has to be personal, it has to be getting out there and meeting young people and proposing the questionâ€¦ Iâ€™ve got to go out and ask people, â€˜would you consider a vocation to the priesthood or the religious lifeâ€™ and weâ€™ll see who will respond. Iâ€™m sure that the Lord is still asking.â€
Bishop Cullinan (55) is a former teacher and a former member of the Bunratty Castle Entertainers and the ceremony included he and his family singing the Psalm.
Originally from Lahinch, he spent most of his years as a priest in Limerick and is a former chaplain of the regional hospital and Limerick Institute of Technology. He was most recently parish priest of Rathkeale.
A total of 29 bishops were present including the primate of All Ireland Archbishop Eamon Martin; representatives from religious communities; principals from Catholic primary and secondary schools in the diocese; members of lay organisations such as Accord, CURA, Knights of Columbanus, and the Knights of Malta.
Bishop Lee, in his opening remarks, also welcomed the Church of Ireland Dean of Waterford, Rev. Maria Jansson who represented Bishop Michael Burrows; Rev Sahr Yambusu representing the Methodist and Presbyterian churches; and representatives from the Coptic Orthodox Church, the Russian Orthodox Church and the Society of Friends.
President Higgins was represented by his aide-de-camp Lt Col Michael Kiernan while Cmmdt Kieran Carey represented taoiseach Enda Kenny.
The homily was delivered by Monsignor Michael Olden, retired president of St Patrickâ€™s College in Maynooth, while Msgnr Nicholas Oâ€™Mahoney, who has served as administrator of the diocese since Bishop Leeâ€™s retirement and has carried out confirmations in that time in local parishes, read the apostolic mandate formally appointing the new bishop.