The bishop-elect of Kerry yesterday said he was "totally surprised" when Papal Nuncio Archbishop Charles Brown advised him of the appointment ten days ago.
Fr Ray Browne, parish priest of Kilgefin, Co Roscommon, in the Diocese of Elphin is the first bishop chosen for an Irish diocese by Pope Francis.
The Westmeath-born priest succeeds Dr Bill Murphy who has been in charge since 1995.
Fr Browne had not figured in local speculation about Bishop Murphy’s successor. Although it has caused a surprise, it is in line with the trend of appointing "outside priests" as bishops to various dioceses, as happened recently in Cloyne and Limerick.
Fr Browne, 56, was introduced by Bishop Murphy from the steps of St Mary’s Cathedral in Killarney, following 10.30am Mass. Bishop Murphy said it was a joyful occasion, adding his successor’s wide range of administrative skills and pastoral experience would greatly benefit the diocese.
Fr Browne was also welcomed by local clergy and Mass-goers and spoke with the Confirmation class from Holy Cross Mercy School, in Killarney.
The bishop-elect said he was looking forward to getting to know Kerry and had happy memories of a time in a local Gaeltacht learning Irish. He voiced concerns about unemployment, emigration and people in financial difficulty.
However, he declined to comment on the proposed abortion legislation saying that would be a matter for another day. In his prepared address, he said: "Life in its fullness points to the fundamental right to life of the every human being from the moment of conception in our mother’s womb to the moment of our natural death."
Fr Browne said the weeks ahead would be a "decisive moment" for Ireland in that regard and urged people to attend a national prayer vigil at Knock Shrine, tomorrow.
Among those to welcome him was Killarney teacher Ella Stack who said: "He seems to be a man of very gentle disposition and a pastoral man. I think he’ll get on very well here."
Tony Darmody, also Killarney, welcomed the ending of two years of speculation about a new bishop and said it was a great day for the Church in Kerry.
Meanwhile, Bishop Murphy, 76, who offered his resignation to Rome almost two years ago, is to continue living in Killarney and is looking forward to spending time walking and reading. He will have the title, bishop emeritus, and said he will be available to assist local clergy when needed.
*Fr Ray Browne was born in Athlone, Co Westmeath, on Jan 23, 1957. He has three sisters and three brothers, studied in St Patrick’s College, Maynooth, and was ordained for the Diocese of Elphin in 1982.
He studied Canon Law in the Gregorian University, Rome, and obtained a science degree from UCC, in 1978. He spent 13 years in Galway City doing Canon Law work and the remainder of his time there as a school chaplain and in parish work before being appointed parish priest of Kilgefin, Co Roscommon, in 2008.
He also worked on the Galway Regional Marriage Tribunal and was the designated person for safeguarding children in the Diocese of Elphin.
Bishop Christopher Jones said Fr Browne’s ministry was marked by his "profound spirituality".