Pope Francis appoints Father Niall Coll as Bishop of Ossory

Loreto Students who attended the mass pictured with Bishop Nulty at St Mary’s Cathedral

His Holiness Pope Francis has appointed Father Niall Coll, a priest of the Diocese of Raphoe, as the new Bishop of the Diocese of Ossory. The diocese, which covers much of counties Kilkenny as well as parts of Laois and Offaly, has been without a bishop since Archbishop Dermot Farrell was appointed to the archdiocese of Dublin in 2018. Bishop Denis Nulty of the neighbouring diocese of Kildare and Loughlin has been the apostolic administrator of Ossory since then, but the Vatican has announced that the new bishop will be Fr Niall Coll.

Fr Coll was born in 1963 in Letterkenny and has been a priest since 1988 and studied in Maynooth, Rome and Dublin.He has been a teacher at St Eunan’s College in Letterkenny, lecturer at St Patrick’s College in Carlow and a curate and parish priest at different parishes in Co Donegal, as well as Professor of Religious Studies and Religious Education between 2001 and 2019. His current parish is Donegal and Clar. The incoming bishop is also a contributor to various publications including Doctrine and Life, The Furrow, The Irish Theological Quarterly and The Tablet. His appointment as Bishop of Ossory was confirmed by Pope Francis and announced at a mass in the Cathedral of St Mary in Kilkenny, celebrated by Bishop Nulty and Monsignor Julian Kaboré who is the chargé d’affaires of the Apostolic Nunciature in Ireland.

Life and Ministry of Bishop-elect Niall Coll

Niall Coll was born on 25 August 1963 in Letterkenny, Co Donegal.

During his ministry, Bishop-elect Niall Coll, in conjunction with his priestly appointments, has conducted retreats for clergy, is a contributor to various publications, including Doctrine and Life, The Furrow, The Irish Theological Quarterly and The Tablet, and in addition was the Editorial Director of the Catholic School ethos journal Le Chéile.

The following is the address given by Bishop Coll at St Marys Cathedral on Friday October 28th.

“Please know that I am as surprised as you that I find myself standing before you this morning as the future bishop of Ossory. A telephone call from the apostolic nunciature on a recent Sunday evening asking me to come to Dublin for a meeting began a process that brings me here today to what is the beginning of a new life and ministry for me, and a new chapter for the Ossory diocese. Monsignor Julien Kabore, Charge d’Affaires, was kindness itself in how he broke the news and firm in his resolve that I accept the appointment. An Ulsterman in deepest Leinster? A bishop who had spent most of his ministry in the world of education? But here I am! Truly, I am feeling daunted by the prospect and know that it will only be by God’s grace and your welcome and ongoing support that I will be able to minister fruitfully here.

Pondering the long journey from Donegal to Kilkenny, from the northwest extremity of Ulster to the southern extremes of Leinster, I draw courage from the memory of Saint Canice, patron of Kilkenny City and secondary patron of Ossory and obviously Saint Kieran the patron of Ossory. As an Ulsterman Canice, hailing from Dungiven in Co. Derry, not too far from my native heath, who also found himself called to minister in Ireland’s sunny southeast, and Kieran too travelled from Cape Clear to this wonderful part of our land. As an interested history student in Maynooth College in the early 1980s, I recall History Society excursions to both Aghaboe and Saint Canice’s Church of Ireland Cathedral where I was delighted to learn about the reach of that great man of faith from the north. But I wasn’t completely provincial in outlook at the time and was thus able to duly acknowledge the contribution of both the local Gael and Norman to the faith, history and architecture of this region in the shape of such delights as Jerpoint Abbey, Black Friar’s Church and Kilkenny Castle. In addition, I also recall trips to Saint Kieran’s College to visit fellow Raphoe students who were pursuing their studies for the priesthood there.

Coming as I do from the mainly soccer culture of east Donegal, my knowledge of hurling, that game so close to Kilkenny and Laois hearts, will test very few of you. But I have always been fascinated by the skill and dance of the game. My knowledge of this part of the world, of Ossory, comes mostly in the shape of the sons and daughter of the diocese whom I have encountered over the years. I think right away of the untiring and much respected Sr Canice (Maura Drea) who was principal of the neighbouring Loreto Convent School in Letterkenny when I was a student at Saint Eunan’s College. She died here in Kilkenny last year at an advanced age. May she rest in peace. I think of Fathers Tom Norris and Willie Dalton, priests of this diocese, who taught me theology and canon law respectively at Maynooth College. Both were passionate and insightful lecturers. I think also of the Ossory students I studied with both in Maynooth and Rome, and particularly those Ossory students, now seasoned priests of this diocese, I taught in Carlow College during my three-year sojourn there in the 1990s. And I mustn’t forget to mention those Ossory priests who pursued further theological studies in Carlow at the same time. It’s a relief for me to know that I arrive here not a total stranger to all!

But arriving as something of a stranger in new places to work and minister has been, I must admit, a sustained pattern in my life. After Carlow and three years in both school and parish in beautiful Dungloe in Raphoe diocese’s northwest, I found myself out of the diocese again teaching student teachers, both primary and post primary, and post-graduates in Saint Mary’s University College, Belfast. The partition of this island is probably at its deepest in the world of education: different paymasters and different curricula, meant that I had to acquaint myself with a quite different northern system (of Catholic education) and its wonderful personnel. After nearly two decades there I returned home, at the height of the pandemic, to the Raphoe diocese and parish life, first in Ballintra, then Donegal Town and Clar. Covid-19 has been hard on people and parishes and, as you know, recovery from it has been slow and we don’t yet have clarity on its full effects. It is likely to cast a long shadow well into the future. I am heartbroken to be leaving the parish of Donegal and Clar and want to thank the people there for the welcome and support they offered me over my brief sojourn of less than a year and a half among them. I would also like to thank Bishop Alan McGuckian, the priests and so many other lay faithful of the Raphoe diocese for their support and kindness.

I come to Ossory at a time of great challenge to faith, a time when Irish society is increasingly secular and individualistic. The four-century and more long dominance of the Tridentine pattern has left Catholics almost everywhere unfamiliar with and thus unskilled in discerning and negotiating possibilities for change in church life. But, trusting in the power of the Holy Spirit, discern and change we must, in line with Pope Francis’ emphasis on the need for ‘synodality’. I look forward to working with the priests, people and Religious of the diocese of Ossory to enhance the work already underway here to develop a sustaining theological and pastoral vision, one able to invite, inform and enthuse a new generation of Christian witnesses.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank Monsignor Julien Kabore for his kindness and assistance and Bishop Denis Nulty, the Apostolic Administer, for his kindness and encouragement to me since he learned of my appointment. Finally, a word of thanks to Father Richard Scriven Adm and all here present this morning I know many of the Diocesan Groups are here present… most especially the Cathedral parishioners and the students of the city catholic secondary schools – Those from Saint Kieran’s College, the Presentation Secondary School, The Loreto, and CBS Kilkenny and the school leavers class from the Mother of Fair Love Special School and those young students from the CBS Primary and Presentation Primary schools of this Cathedral parish.

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