Category Archives: Diocesan News

Canon Andrew Johnston. R.I.P.


The death has taken place of Canon Andrew Johnston, a priest of our diocese.

Fr Andy retired in 2009 on grounds of poor health.  He has been cared for since that time.

Our sympathy to his nephew, nieces and their families and to his wide circle of friends.

May he rest in peace.  Amen.



  • Born: 31st July 1938 in Abbeyquarter, Ballyhaunis.
  • Educated Ballyhaunis N.S. and St Nathy’s College
  • Ordained: June 1964
  • Ballymote Parish Summer 1974
  • Appointed CC Bonniconlon 1964-66
  • Appointed to St Nathy’s College
    • Dean 1966-1973
    • Teacher 1973-1982
    • President 1982-1996
  • Sabbatical Rome: 1996-1997
  • Appointed Parish Priest of Foxford 1997
  • Retired 2009



“There was darkness over the whole land” towards the end, and the cry “My God, my God, why have you deserted me?”… And then the tomb…and the very big stone shutting him in.

In the light of the last years of Fr Andy Johnston’s life, the Gospel account resonates …and those words – ‘Darkness’, ‘deserted’, ‘tomb’   : they give food for us to ponder, gathered here as we are to remember Canon Andy, in fondness and in faith.

He was born almost 77 years ago in Ballyhaunis. Secondary School in St Nathy’s meant he became a priest of this diocese of Achonry. The same St Nathy’s figured strongest in his life as a priest: 20 years in all, as Dean, teacher and eventually a very effective and transforming President. After a sabbatical year in Rome, he came here to Foxford as ParishPriest in 1997. He was very happy here. And though away since his retirement in 2009 on health grounds, he is now back again, and here he will remain, his final resting place. This is what he wanted.

Fr Andy was an imposing figure. Somewhat reserved and private. Nevertheless very approachable and very fair. The word that keeps coming up when people talk of him is kind.

These last months, I have been around the diocese doing Confirmations, the Sacrament of the Holy Spirit. The gifts given to all for the sake of human flourishing, but dormant unless we choose to awaken and use them and allow them bear their fruits. My last visit to Foxford was a few weeks ago to confirm 69 young people from the parish area. Looking on Fr Andy in the light of these gifts, we see he was a man of some wisdom, he read widely, prayed constantly and worked hard. He was understanding,  and fair in judgement, and courageous in decision.  The Gifts of the Holy Spirit were alive in him. Consequently he bore the fruit, especially kindness. But not only that. His family especially will have known his love. He was patient, too, faithful , loyal, and gentle. There was a peace around him. And in these last years too, TG. One man described him as a perfect gentleman and totally confidential.

 I mention all of these qualities not in order to eulogise the man whom I know was human too, like the rest of us, but in order that we might today all the more deeply give thanks to God and to the Holy Spirit whom Andy had the grace to allow come alive in him in so many ways.

And then we come back to those final years when he was, to put it gently, away from us. There have been many extraordinary advances in medicine and science in our modern era, cures and promises of cures. We live longer. And yet, the mystery remains to challenge and test. Truth is, the more the mysteries are unfolded, the deeper they become. Alzheimer’s disease confronts us with that mystery. At its most uncomfortable. Regardless of education or qualification, we flounder in coping. For us, who have to watch, it is unbearable. We can’t speak for the one on whom the dementia has descended. “When the 6th hour came there was darkness over the whole land until the 9th hour.” And a kind of chaos. “The veil of the temple was torn in two.” But the centurion got it right. “In truth, this man was a son of God.”

So today, and yesterday, we have come, many people have come, to anoint him with our prayers, like those women with their spices. The stone, too big for us, which locked him in, has been removed. And Andy, like Jesus, to whom in the idealism of his youth he gave his life, is free again, with a freedom we cannot even begin to imagine, please God.

The first reading tells us: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me. He has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, the broken hearted, to proclaim liberty.” I think we can say on reflection today, that God did indeed choose Andy to bring this good news. And not just by those admirable and important things he did, that the world rightly lauds, but above all like his Master through the poverty, which so challenges us all, that he lived like his Master at the end.

Every Mass begins by asking the Lord’s mercy as we prepare to celebrate the sacred mysteries. One way or another, all our lives reflect and contain these mysteries of the passion of the Lord. May God give us the grace to live them well and to offer them with Jesus,  surrendered,that the world and all we love may be saved.

So we thank you Lord for Fr Andy Johnston for the life, the love, and the passion of Canon Andy Johnston agus ar do dheas-lámh go raibh sé faoi shíocháin.

Diocesan Pilgrimage to Knock

The third Sunday of May has been traditionally the day for our Diocesan Pilgrimage to Knock Shrine.  Earlier today Bishop Brendan led people from the Diocese of Achonry and the Archdiocese of Dublin in the celebration of Eucharist.  A large congregation was in attendance.  Admiring the work done on the Basilica and noting that at the same time Mass was beginning in Longford to mark the re-dedication of St Mel’s Cathedral, Bishop Brendan told us that these buildings and the work done on them are a sign of hope for our church at this time.



‘Go out to the whole world. Proclaim the Good News to all creation….and they, going out, preached everywhere’

I mentioned the striking re-ordering and renewal of this Basilica at the beginning. And today in Longford the beautifully restored Cathedral is being rededicated. These two major projects fill us with hope and confirm us in faith. We have a future and so does our catholic faith….

The great Feast day on which we gather, the Ascension of the Lord, focusses our minds and hearts too on the future. Where Jesus has gone, we will follow. And in the meantime, we are tasked with leading and inviting the whole world to follow that same path of Jesus into the fullness of life now…

St Mark tells us in the Gospel:

‘Jesus showed himself to the eleven’ It was not 12 anymore. Betrayal and tragic death had depleted them. The arrest, condemnation as criminal, the torture and execution of Jesus had left them in shock, & on top of all that there was their own cowardice and denial of him…

Nevertheless, the Risen Lord has only one message for this shattered and fearful group: ‘Go out to the whole world’…no less!…and ‘proclaim the good news to all creation’.

This is not the world’s way of doing things. Then or now. It is not our way either. We seek out the best, the qualified, the experts. Nothing wrong with that. Only it’s not seemingly the whole story, as the world is inclined to make it.

Mysteriously, Jesus tasks the weak, the sinners, the depleted….with continuing his own work.

St Paul remained awestruck all his life that he himself, a sinner, a persecutor and collaborator in the murder of Stephen the first martyr, was chosen by Jesus to continue his work. ‘Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world…God’s foolishness is wiser that human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger that human strength’.(1 Cor 1, 20, 25) ‘God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong’. (1 Cor 1, 27)

This is as true today as it was on the day of the ascension or the day Saul was knocked off his high horse… And he leaves the weak weak.

Jesus continues to rely on those who know their weakness and sin to continue his work. That is something the world never understands. But it is the truth of our Christian faith. It was so from the moment Jesus ascended, and consigned his own work and mission, lock stock and barrel, into the hands of this reduced, fearful and broken remnant of his disciples.

St Mark goes on to tell us – so matter-of-factly- you could miss it – that while Jesus was being taken up to heaven, ‘they, going out, preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word by the signs that accompanied it’ . On Sunday next we will celebrate with Pentecost the Lord’s ‘working with them’ and in them – the coming of the Holy Spirit.

The extraordinary fact is we matter to God. Each and every one of us. Our weakness, difference or inability is no barrier to us doing his work. His Kingdom is founded on forgiven sinners and built by them, beginning with Peter and Paul…and all the rest of them.

The Confessional Chapel here in Knock isn’t underground for nothing. It is foundational to all that happens up here at ground level and everywhere else in this holy place. Without repentance – and the joy of the prodigal’s return – Jesus’ task cannot continue, God’s Kingdom cannot come. And our celebrations in this Basilica will lack all substance. It is from the joy of forgiveness and reconciliation that we become messengers of the Good News…men and women who are capable of communicating the love of God.

Today is also the 49th World Communications Day. Pope Francis has issued a Message for this day in which he invites us all to reflect on the theme: Communicating the Family: A Privileged Place of Encounter with the Gift of Love.  He reminds us that the Family is the subject of profound reflection at the moment by the church, in a process involving two synods over two years.

The family deserves profound reflection at this time, not least in our own country. The stability of our whole society depends upon it, as does the welfare of all people. ‘It is in the context of the family that we first learn to communicate’, the Holy Father tells us, and that is so true.

He then goes on to ponder the passage in St Luke’s account of the Visitation which tells us that ‘When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant in her womb leaped for joy’… Pope Francis says:

‘The womb which hosts us is the first school of communication, a place of listening and physical contact where we begin to familiarise ourselves with the outside world within a protected environment, with the reassuring sound of our mother’s heartbeat. This encounter between two persons, so intimately related while still distinct from each other, an encounter so full of promise, is our first experience of communication. It is an experience which we all share, since each of us is born of a mother’.

Pope Francis then goes on to say that we move from the mother’s womb to the womb of the family, made up of interrelated persons, ‘where we learn to live with others despite our differences’. And the Church is a further family to which we belong and in which we hear God’s word and become ourselves communicators of his Good News to the world …

The decisions we make around life in the womb and family life are crucial– more critical probably than we can even imagine at this point. That is why we must pray in a particular way today for our own Irish people and the decision our votes will make on Friday next. Family does matter, mothers matter, fathers matter, supporting the best possible environment for the upbringing of children matters. Marriage as the complementary, self-sacrificing union of man and woman matters. It matters for the whole welfare of society, not to mention the future of our race.

Knock is a place where a very profound communication took place 136 years ago.[Like many of the most effective communications we experience,] it was a silent communication. No words, but the picture, the scene that people witnessed on the gable wall of the parish Church on the miserable wet August evening speaks volumes: the entire mystery of our faith is present in the vision. Mary along with St Joseph, her husband, and St John, the Beloved Disciple, stand silently in prayer and contemplation before the Lamb on the altar, their child Jesus, very much at the centre of the vision. Jesus, the Lamb of God ‘who takes away the sins of the world’, the lamb of sacrifice and of Salvation, is all – for Mary and for Joseph… AND for the beloved disciple holding the Book of God’s Word, which is each and every one who is simple and humble enough to believe and accept the Word with joy. John stands for us all.

 ‘You will be my witnesses’ Jesus said to his disciples in the first reading we had today, ‘indeed to the ends of the earth’. This place was in a way ‘the ends of the earth’ back in 1879. And like at that moment of the Ascension with the eleven, he appeared this time with his family to 15  ordinary parishioners, and it is because of their word, their going out and telling what they saw and experienced, their witness in other words, that we are here today, and countless thousands keep coming here to be reconciled to God and to be built up and made stronger in faith and as family of God.

Work with us too, Lord, that we may be your witnesses today, bringing your Good news to our own world. For the sake of all who are crying out for compassion and love.

Our Lady of Knock pray for us today. Pray with us always. Amen

Chrism Mass Homily

chrism (Gospel: Lk 4:16-21)

Jesus, at home with his own people in the Synagogue of Nazareth, searches out in the Book of Isaiah the passage that was our First Reading today, and proclaims it for his own people.  Everything Jesus does in this short dramatic reading is very deliberate.  Most of all, this is true of the word he spoke at the end, when all eyes were fixed on him: “This text is being fulfilled today even as you listen”.  [And please God it is being fulfilled today through our agency]

When Pope Francis spoke to the assembled Bishops and other participants at the end of the Extraordinary Synod last October in Rome, he might have been commenting on this reading when he said:

“The first duty of the Pastor is to nourish the flock that the Lord has entrusted to them, and to seek to welcome, with fatherly care and mercy, and without false fears, the lost sheep”. 

But then the Holy Father immediately corrected himself: “I made a mistake here”, he said, “I said ‘welcome’…rather it is ‘to go out and find them’”.

The challenge Pope Francis has been putting to us constantly and unrelentingly since he succeeded to the See of Peter has been the challenge to become a missionary people: each one of us personally, and together also, to be a community of men and women who go out to the very people Isaiah speaks about in this text that Jesus searched out and proclaimed to his own people at Nazareth at the beginning of his public ministry.

‘Missionary’ now for us, then, means going out to our own people primarily and finding them. And it’s not a task for some priests or some people, but for all priests and all people. It is what we must turn our attention to in our diocesan and parish councils, in our teaching and preaching and above all in our renewed prayer. And there is room in this mission for all: for all adults of course, but also for all children, for all who are ill, suffering or disabled, and for all who are in the Golden Years of old Age. All of us Missionary together, going out actively if we are able, and in spirit if not so able, but going out to the lonely and the lost, the poor and the friendless, going out in our hearts all of us, and with our feet if blessed with physical energy and limbs that are still strong …

We live in a very inward-looking, self-regarding world. Even the most critical and noble of human quests, like the quest for justice, fairness human rights or freedom, can be turned into a narrow and egotistical pursuit. Realistically, this has always been the case. The love Jesus proclaimed and modelled for us supremely in the events we commemorate this week, was never easy for people to accept, not to mind embrace. Peter very blatantly and the other apostles too (except for the youngest, John), not to mention the crowd who cheered Jesus on last Sunday, demonstrate that this week so well.  Showing scant regard for the greater good of society and the future of humanity is not new.

To love is to go out of oneself, to put the other before oneself, to serve the other and to die in his or her defence if it comes to that.

In other words, it is the Way of the Cross, as this week that we call ‘holy’ proclaims. To love in this way, the way Jesus loved, is not easy.

But our call is to live ourselves the love he lived ‘to the end’ during these days. It is not for us to demand it of others, but to be examples of this love to them ourselves. With regard to how others may act, he set down the marker for us all: ‘Father, forgive them. They know not what they do’.

The blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians. Laying down our own lives is what achieves the society we wish to build. There is no other way to establishing the Kingdom of God.


The first prayer of this Mass today, our prayer today, asked God to grant: ‘…that being made sharers in Christ’s consecration, we may bear witness to His Redemption in the world’

The arena in which we live out our priesthood is ‘the world’. We are secular priests. For you and I, that world is now the world of 2015 here in the diocese of Achonry.

Our gift for this world is that we be ‘witnesses of His Redemption’ in it. Otherwise our words are empty.

This witnessing comes because we have accepted the call of God to share in Jesus’ consecration, as the prayer puts it. That is what happened when we were solemnly anointed with Holy Oil of Chrism at our ordination: we were made participators in Jesus’ own consecration as the Christ, Redeemer and Saviour.  So we are part of Christ…which means Jesus has washed my feet and I continually allow him do so. “If I do not wash you” Jesus said to Peter setting him straight, “You can have no part with me”.

To know how much I need this washing and to want it is the first step always… And tonight we will be challenged again with Peter….and there must only be one response, the response of Peter: “Then, Lord, not only my feet, but my hands and my head as well”.

In other words, I come to him all the time to be cleansed, refreshed, and restored. I am to be Act of Contrition, morning noon and night. The first word of Jesus with which he began his public ministry was the cry: “Repent!”. If we have not made this first invitation of Jesus public’ ministry our own as priests – or is it not rather a demand, a sine qua non? -, we have no right to proclaim to anybody the second part of that invitation/command: ‘believe the Good News’

This means surely regular reconciliation, along with constant intimacy with him in reflection on the Gospel, prayer and contemplation. So that we ourselves be believers, first and foremost.

A lifestyle based on these foundations is what makes me a worthy and suitable minister of Christ’s sacraments to God’s people, the Sacraments so present to us all today in the Solemn Blessing of the Sacred Oil of Chrism, along with the other Holy Oils of Baptism and the Sick, to which we will proceed now as soon as we have made the renewal of our priestly promises.

Sherry Weddell Speaks to Diocese


On Thursday, February 13th, the Diocese gathered with Sherry Weddell in the Father Peyton Centre, Attymass, Co. Mayo.

Bishop Brendan began the day with a prayer and words of welcome to Sherry and the many people from around the diocese who assembled to hear her speak on the topic of “Forming Intentional Disciples” – the title of her best-selling book.  She spoke with passion and conviction and from a place of deep and nurtured faith.  Her message was truly inspirational  and, all gathered, were impressed by the sincerity of her message.

Her words, especially around prayer and seeking the prayers of people before any re-shaping of church, parish or self can take place, sat well with the Diocesan Prayer initiative that is currently taking place throughout the diocese.

There were many strands to Sherry’s presentation but the need to bring Jesus into our conversation was centre stage.  She fears that, for many, Jesus is the name that dare not be mentioned whereas, in her opinion, it is only through its mention and regular mention that the name can be fully alive for us all.  She raised for us, as she has done in her book, the direct and soul-provoking question; “What is your personal relationship with Jesus Christ?”

It is in the answering of this question our direction is found.  It was a day well spent and the diocese is thankful to Sherry for joining us and to Tim Nichols and his wife Cathy who have hosted Sherry in their home.  We wish her well over the coming days when she presents a seminar in Maynooth and next week in Malta.

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Forming Intentional Disciples – Sherry Weddell from Renewal Ministries on Vimeo.


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