My day with the new Bishop of Limerick

He quotes Bono, goes to the gym, and listens to Spin FM. Roisin Burke meets Limerick’s top cleric

My day with the new Bishop of Limerick

MY DAY with the new Bishop of Limerick starts with a cup of percolated Lavazza coffee, and a game of Who’s Who with a recently recovered picture of Bishop Leahy in his youth.

His house is modern and spacious, in a suburban Limerick estate. There is nothing here which screams ‘grandeur’ or looks ostentatious in the room — the emphasis seems to be on comfort and practicality.

It’s just gone 8.30am so I am looking forward to the caffeine kick to get up and running, but Bishop Leahy, who has been up since 6.30am, is fresh as a daisy.

Bishop Leahy is seen as something of a ‘cool’ church head, (more in touch with today’s world, not unlike our new Pope), given his quoting of Bono in his acceptance speech in April:

“A fellow Irishman, Bono, wrote a song some years ago now,’’ he said on the day. “Its words ran something like this: ‘I have climbed highest mountains, I have run through the fields, only to be with you, only to be with you ... But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.’ I don’t know what Bono had in mind, but these words can be applied to the situation many find themselves in with regard to faith.”

“How many saints and exemplary men and women throughout the centuries have told us about shadowy moments they lived through?” he asked the congregation of 1,500, packed into St John’s Cathedral on that proud day for the Dublin-born man, with Kerry roots.

At his house I turn my attention to the old black and white photo that Bishop Leahy brought to the table. It is a group photo of young school children. Bishop Leahy tells me it was taken in Pallaskenry when he was on his first religious summer camp with the Salesians.

“Guess which one is me,” Bishop Leahy says, “I’ll give you a clue — I’m in the front row.”

Staring at the picture, I struggle to match one of the 10-year-old faces to the smiling middle-aged man in front of me.

“One of these two?” I say, pointing at two random children.

“Second from the right,” the Bishop announces, triumphant in his youthful camouflage. “One of the Salesians priests spotted me straight away!”

At 9.20am, Bishop Leahy is ready to head out the door.

But before leaving, we venture into his study which is the most impressive room of the house. On the left, the wall is completely lined with fully-laden bookshelves. On the right is his large desk, overlooking the garden.

He tells me that his first appointment of the day is the confirmation of 103 school children and two adults at St Joseph’s Church. This is the final day of Confirmation ceremonies, and he has completed 20 ceremonies since April.

After the Mass, the courtyard is a buzz of excitement as mothers and fathers clamour around looking for a family photo with the new Bishop.

The sun blazes down as parents cajole their kids into the frame. “Aoife, one more — just one more!” I hear a father plead desperately, as a little girl in a yellow summer dress zigzags through the crowd.

Diocesan secretary Paul Finnerty reckons the whole community is on a high after three years without a Bishop.

“And we are certainly blessed with the choice. I think he has a great affability and ability, and that endears him to people.”

Next up, Bishop Leahy has a quick call to make — into the community centre next door for a cup of tea and a scone.

Normally the Bishop would stay for a meal after the Mass but today he has a second confirmation to attend in Moyross, at 1pm.

In Moyross, the church is a hive of energy as we pull up. There are 28 children being confirmed from the local school, and two adults. Robin Edwards, 27, from Caherdavin, is confirming his faith today in order to marry his fiancé Ciara in a church.

“Both my parents were atheists, but my mother’s family believe. I always kind of thought there was something there and I wanted to explore it more. I am getting married in October and I want to marry my partner in a church.”

As Robin makes his way into the church and sits down, the 28 excited students of Moyross National School arrive at the door, led by their principal Tiernan O’Neill.

And after the ceremony, the Corpus Christi Pipes and Drums band get their moment in the spotlight too, celebrating the fact that there are members of the band being confirmed today as well.

As we leave, the bishop is beseiged by well-wishers clutching the all-important camera, for the ‘snap’ with the local celebrity.

After the Mass, teachers and helpers and the church committee head to the Clarion Hotel for lunch, and a leisurely chat, at 3.30pm.

Two-and-a-half hours later, the Bishop reluctantly decides it’s time to leave, although we are the first to go. The bishop is hoping to go for a walk down at the University of Limerick.

Bishop Leahy likes to keep fit and tries to visit the gym as much as he can, but in the good weather a nice walk is the more attractive option.

“I like walking. Sometimes I listen to the radio, I try that young station Spin a bit, just because I am interested in what’s on it. Other times, I might just say a rosary.”

As we walk by the river, Bishop regales me with anecdotes, and his gregarious nature shines through.

He also mentions meeting someone from college since becoming Bishop. “I met a woman recently I had known in college, she told me a mutual female friend of ours had been heartbroken when I joined the seminary,” he says, laughing at the idea that he was once a heartthrob.

We agree that while Bono may not have found what he is looking for, Bishop Leahy certainly has.

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