Bishop Alphonsus Cullinan declared himself “bowled over” by the warm and friendly welcome he received on his first official visit to Clonmel.
Just weeks after his ordination as Bishop of Waterford and Lismore, Bishop Cullinan accepted an invitation to a mayoral reception in Clonmel’s historic town hall and was obviously touched by the numbers who came along to greet him.
“I genuinely thought there would be about ten people here and we’d have a cup of tea and chat,” he modestly admitted to the chamber, packed with up to 100 people representing the parishes in Clonmel and Cahir areas, local and national representatives. And of course there was tea and a chat on offer after the reception.
Bishop Cullinan was in the area for a confirmation ceremony for the children of Ardfinnan, Ballybacon and Grange, in Grange church, earlier in the day. He also told the gathering that he had taken some time to visit St Joseph’s Ferryhouse that afternoon.
Many of the speakers paid tribute to the work that is carried out in parishes by priests, sisters and lay workers. Bishop Cullinan continued in this vein saying “all of us work in our own particular way for the good of society, helping society to struggle on in the ups and downs of life.” He said he had noticed the motto of Clonmel was ‘fidelis in eternum’ - always faithful. “What a motto to have,” he said.
Just an hour before he had been in St Joseph’s and while there saw a painting of Antonio Rossmini, founder of the Rossminian Order. Under it was the phrase ‘only great people can form great people.’
“It is in our living of our particular vocations, in a decent, honourable way that will help others to follow our example and live in a decent, honourable way,” he said.
Bishop Cullinan said he went to St Joseph’s to speak to a man there about a young man he had met in Waterford two days before. The young man is a drug addict and has no home to go to. He had been to school in Clonmel and he wanted to learn more about his background.
The young man is searching, he said, and part of the reason was that his own family life had broken down.
Bishop Cullinan said he would not shirk saying that in a few weeks we would be faced with a referendum that will have real consequences for family life.
He told those gathered that “we need to think long and hard before we change the definition of what binds society, which is marriage.
“It’s important. It’s crucial for society, the society we love and want to be faithful to.”
Councillors who had wished the new bishop well, in their remarks, also wished emeritus Bishop William Lee well in his retirement and Bishop Cullinan said it was nice he had been remembered and he will pass on everyone’s good wishes.
On a lighter note, Bishop Cullinan, who is from County Clare, ended his address picking up the bottle of water in front of him and saying: “I see some joker has put Tipperary Water in front of me!
“May I say I will drink it very gladly!”
Mayor Martin Lonergan compounded the inter-county rivalry when he then made a presentation to the new bishop. Joking “you’re going to kill me for this,” he presented Bishop Cullinan with a beautiful Tipperary Crystal vase! Which was graciously accepted.
The good natured fun continued when Cllr Michael Murphy made a plea that if Clare do meet Tipperary in this summer’s hurling championship that the bishop “pray for Clare as little as possible.”
Welcoming the bishop to the town, Mayor Lonergan said he had been struck by “how humble our leaders in faith in our communities here in Clonmel and Cahir are; how there’s a universal love for your parishioners and a deep concern for those who are not as fortunate as some of us.
“The Catholic Church is fortunate to have such strong, capable, decent, hard working priests, in proclaiming the good news here in our area and I want to acknowledge that and welcome you here.
“I know there are committed religious and lay people across Clonmel and Cahir who greet your appointment with renewed energy and hope.
“May Saints Otteran, Declan and Carthage the patrons of this diocese, guide and support you in the years ahead and may you enjoy the embrace of the faith community, especially here in Clonmel and Cahir Borough District.”
Words of welcome also came from Deputies Seamus Healy and Mattie McGrath, as well as the members of Clonmel Borough District Council.