Homily of Monsignor Gerard Dolan at the removal of Bishop Jones RIP

Homily of Monsignor Gerard Dolan at the removal of the late Bishop Christopher Jones RIP

Monday 21st May 2018, Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Sligo


My dear friends in Christ,

We are a diocese in mourning as we lament the passing of our much beloved retired bishop, Bishop Christopher Jones, popularly known as Bishop Christy.  We have assembled from near and far in our Cathedral, the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Sligo, to commend his soul to the Lord. As we pray him a place among the blessed, we ask the good Lord to grant him his forgiveness and mercy.  We also give thanks for his dedicated ministry as priest and bishop of the Diocese of Elphin and we pray every consolation and strength for his grieving sister – Sr Eileen, his sister-in-law Pauline as well as a host of nieces and nephews and the extended Jones family.  We extend to them our deep sympathies, also to Bishop Kevin, his successor as bishop of our diocese. 

Bishop Christy has admirably taken his place in a long succession of Bishops of Elphin who have occupied the See of St Asicus over a period of 1500 years.  Generation after generation has kept the flame of Christian faith burning through the centuries in this part of the West of Ireland.  Every period of time reflects the challenges in handing on the Gospel message either because of poverty, division, persecution, affluence or indifference.  Along with our clergy, deacons, religious, parish communities and families, Bishop Jones courageously shouldered that responsibility for a period of 20 years of transmitting the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ to this generation.   

As principal pastor of our diocese, Bishop Christy discharged his ministry at a time of seismic and rapid change both in civil society and in the church family.  He continued to preach the Word of God with unfailing patience and sound doctrine and to minister as a good shepherd. “I have great faith in the future of the Church because people will be far more involved than they were and I have great confidence in this”.

He came to know and love so many people throughout the length and breadth of our diocese and so many people came to know and love him.    

Many of you will have different memories of him as the Bishop who confirmed your children, who visited the homes of your sick and bereaved on the occasion of parish visitation, who visited the schools in your parish, who offered Mass for you in this Cathedral or in many churches throughout the diocese.    

As clergy we knew him as one who imposed hands on many of us on the occasion of priestly ordination or as the bishop who gave us various pastoral assignments.  We knew him too as a faithful pastor, a man with great strength of character with the courage of his convictions, a person of boundless energy with a deep love for Christ and his Church, a man of prayer, of deep faith. 

Brón ar an mbás, is dubh mo chróise. On a personal note, this occasion marks for me the passing of an era.  It is a time of sadness, but filled with Christian hope as I experience the sense of loss and departure of a priest and a bishop whom I was privileged to have known for many years.  Both our lives moved along similar lines for many years.   

Each of us hailed from the parish of Tulsk in County Roscommon, formerly the historic parish of Ogulla and Baslick which has close Patrician associations.  We also attended Summerhill College and later Maynooth College where he was ordained a priest in 1962. Next we found ourselves together as members of the teaching staff of Summerhill College.   

On his appointment as Bishop of Elphin, he asked me if I would continue in my post as Diocesan Secretary, a position I already held with his predecessor Bishop Dominic Conway. I could hardly say no!  As we worked together in the Diocesan Office and as Vicar General, I saw at first hand the difficult diocesan decisions that at times had to be made as well as dealing with the everyday diocesan administration.  My priest colleagues at St Mary’s Cathedral Presbytery used to tease me at times about possible clerical changes – this would happen during lunch – but I would change the conversation to another topic.

I think we fared well as a team in an atmosphere of mutual support and understanding.

Bishop Christy was very much a ‘people’s bishop’.  “I have received so much from the people of the diocese.  They have been my strength throughout my ministry as priest and as bishop.  One thing I have learned is the goodness of people and their willingness, once encouraged, to take responsibility for their parish and church”.

Speaking in Knock in August 2010, he said he had very happy memories of his years as bishop “I believed totally in the teaching of the Second Vatican Council and especially on its emphasis on the role of the laity in the Church. The more involved they are, the more their lives will be enriched”. 

As you will observe from his CV, his Episcopal Ministry was wide-ranging and comprehensive.  He showed great concern for justice and for the dignity of the human person.  I can only briefly refer to some of his pastoral initiatives eg his work with the Travelling Community and with Sligo Social Services which was a project very close to his heart, aimed at providing necessary services to meet the needs of people in the community.  He took a special interest in the Youth apostolate and was closely involved in the Rockwood Parade Sligo Youth Project. 

He strongly encouraged and promoted the apostolate of Catholic Education in the diocese.  The development of a new campus at Summerhill College, Sligo and the amalgamation of two diocesan Colleges in Athlone were important highlights in this ministry.

He highly valued the important contribution of the Religious Sisters in the diocese.  He was a tireless advocate for rural development of communities west of the Shannon and kept frequent contact with our emigrants in the UK.

At national level, he chaired various commissions and councils of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference.  In these areas he strongly supported Christian marriage and the family and was a powerful advocate for the right to life of the unborn.

Apart from his very busy life, he was still able to find time or make time for some recreation.  He loved to play golf right up to his recent illness.  He enjoyed a four ball at Rosses Point Golf Club.  “Tulsk will take on the rest”.  He has left us many valuable memories.  ‘These are the tears of things’ – Lacrima Rerum (Classical Latin poet).

When asked on one occasion about the resources of his ministry as Bishop, he replied: “devotion to prayer, to the Eucharist and to Mary the Mother of God”.  He chose the motto ‘Fiat Mihi’ (Let it be done to me) for his Episcopate, echoing Our Lady’s response to the Angel’s message at the Annunciation.

His short period of retirement was marked by four family bereavements and the onset of a serious illness.  Up to the last, he maintained interest in everything that was happening throughout the diocese and indeed in the wider church.  He was ever grateful for the wonderful nursing and medical care he received for the caring presence of his family and friends, for the constant stream of prayers offered by so many people for him.

“If a man serves me he must follow me: wherever I am, my servant will be there too.  If anyone serves me, my Father will honour him” (John 12:26).  Yes, Bishop Christy wholeheartedly served the Church family.  The span of his entire life was in the Lord’s hands – the Lord was his portion and inheritance.  He called Bishop Christy to himself on the threshold of the great feast of Pentecost, the feast of the birthday of the Church.  We mourn his passing, we pray that the Holy Spirit will now lead him into the family circle of the Most Blessed Trinity and that he will be welcomed into that eternal home where there is plenty of place with this greeting: “Well done, Bishop Christy, good and faithful servant, you have shown you can be faithful in small things, I will trust you with greater.  Come and join in your Master’s happiness” (Mt 25:23)