New Meath bishop urges support for Catholic schools

The newly-announced Catholic Bishop of Meath has urged greater support for Catholic schools.

As diocesan education secretary in Cork and Ross and a former head of the body representing Catholic primary schools, Canon Tom Deenihan is very aware of pressures on links between faith and schools.

The school admissions bill passed by the Dáil this month would mean oversubscribed schools could no longer use religion as a criterion to select pupils, with exemptions for minority faith schools.

There is also pressure for more Catholic schools to divest to alternative patrons to facilitate greater educational choices for parents.

“Catholic schools are an important part of the ministry of the Church and we must support parents who wish to send their children to a Catholic school,” said Canon Deenihan, whose 51st birthday is tomorrow.

On the day his appointment by Pope Francis was announced by the Vatican, he said Catholic schools should not be spoken of in the abstract, “but we should talk about our own local parish schools”.

Catholic schools are not a notion or an ideology but, rather, Catholic schools are the schools in our own parishes, that serve and are part of the local communities and that teach and welcome the local children,” he said.

Canon Deenihan will have charge of 69 parishes in Meath, Westmeath, Offaly, Longford, Louth, Dublin, and Cavan.

He was educated at the North Monastery secondary school in his native Blackpool parish on the northside of Cork City, and went to the national seminary at St Patrick’s College in Maynooth. He was ordained a deacon by his predecessor as Bishop of Meath, Michael Smith, a year before becoming a priest in 1991.

Canon Deenihan served the parishes of Glanmire near Cork city and Schull, Kealkill, and Bantry in West Cork. He taught at St Goban’s College in Bantry for nearly a decade before Bishop of Cork and Ross John Buckley made him diocesan post-primary catechetics advisor in 2003.

Since 2006, he has been diocesan secretary and diocesan education secretary, and from 2013 to 2016 he was also general secretary of the Catholic Primary Schools Management Association.

He was appointed a canon last year by Bishop Buckley, who referred to his intimate experience of family life gained as a school chaplain. He described him as a man of calmness and patience, with a subtle sense of humour, demonstrated by the new bishop’s admission of sleepless nights about unworthiness and a deficit in local knowledge.

“In the midst of this turmoil, my own bishop, Bishop Buckley, reassured me by saying that Cork, Meath, and Westmeath people always get along unless they meet on the football field. Unfortunately, we could be getting on for a while,” he said.

Church of Ireland Bishop of Cork Paul Colton said Canon Deenihan had done important ecumenical work, and he is grateful for his friendship, good humour, and practical help.

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