by Monsignor Dasey
14th December 2007
Dear Bishop John
On behalf of the priests, deacons, religious and laity, it is my pleasure to welcome you back to our Cathedral and Diocese. It is good to see again Sisters Sheila and Kitty, and, also, members of your family. Let me say at the outset, that you look so much better than when I last saw you in early May, and we are all grateful to the Lord that our prayers for your full recovery are being answered. Your recovery is a journey, and though there may be still some way to go, it is great to see such significant progress.
We have waited some time for this opportunity to say our thanks to you for your fourteen years of ministry among us, and to wish you well in whatever ministry you decide to undertake. With your health improving we agreed tonight was that opportunity, and it has been good to see and hear you at this Mass.
Trying to capture the highlights of these fourteen years is a large task for me, but, I do wish to capture some of these. For me, and I know for my brother priests your care and concern for us in good times and not so good times was your priority as our Diocesan Bishop. We felt we could come to Bishops House, and a sympathetic and supportive ear would listen carefully and respond to us. At such times, the hospitality from Sheila and Kitty was always welcome.
Every sick priest would know that you would visit them as soon as you became aware of their illness, and visits would then become a normal part of your ministry to them with a phone call and a brief handwritten message between visits. You established the annual reunion for our retired brethren, and they appreciate this very much. For our retired priests in Ireland, the receipt of a hamper at Christmas together with a personal letter became the norm – our retired brethren who had served the people so well for so long were not forgotten, and this was well received.
From the time you arrived in January 1993, you visited parishes virtually every weekend, and ensured that you met parishioners to make yourself known to them, and to listen to them. This you continued at all major diocesan events, and especially in this Cathedral when you would stand at the door to have a word with everyone – not leaving until the last person had left the Cathedral- you were with your people, and available to them.
High in your priority was the annual Diocesan Pilgrimage to Lourdes where you participated fully in every formal and informal event, and I know that you valued very much the participation of the young people of the Diocese at Lourdes – in fact we have the largest contingent of any Diocese in England and Wales, and, this, we should celebrate with joy.
The year of the Millennium is one we shall remember for a long time, with our Diocesan celebration– the largest gathering in any Diocese in England and Wales- drawing together young and not so young from schools, parishes and organisations to the Riverside Stadium. I am sure everybody will recall how at the end of our Mass as the procession of priests left the altar, the spontaneous applause from the 20000 in the Stadium, and our waves back to you. The walk for Vocations in 2006 was another event which we will long remember.
You promoted the permanent Diaconate, and established our Adult Formation and Youth Ministry Teams which I feel sure will always be associated with you. The process of consultation involving priests and people on Adult Formation showed your commitment to collaborative ministry.
But everything in your 14 years of ministry among us has not been joyful for you because Bishops have to make decisions that some find difficult to accept and understand. You have had to close schools and parishes, and amalgamate others. I know that you found such decisions very hard to make, and they were all made after much discussion with your advisers, and much prayer and thought. But in the end they did take their toll upon your health.
So we do wish you well in whatever ministry the Lord has in mind for you. You will always be welcome among us, and, very sincerely, I do hope you will maintain your contact with our Diocese, and that you will be with us in January, when our new Bishop, Mgr Drainey, is ordained here in this Cathedral.
We felt we could not let the occasion pass without giving you a ‘little something’ from priests, religious and people of this Diocese. We know that you lived frugally, and I am sure you will continue to do so, but we do hope you will use this gift for something personal.
Sisters Sheila and Kitty were co-workers with Bishop John for most of his 14 years as our Diocesan Bishop. They cared for him, and were most hospitable to all his visitors and guests. The threesome formed a small prayer community where daily they said the divine office together. They joined fully in our diocesan celebrations, and were very much part of the ‘Diocesan Team’. Bishop John’s illness affected them with their concern for him, and I am sure that like us, they are happy to see his return to good health.
We are most grateful to their religious order – Congregation of Jesus who did not take any payment from the Diocese for the Sisters’ service.
They are now settled in convents in the London area not far from each other so they can keep in contact.
We did not want them to leave Middlesbrough without a small memento to remember us and the good times they shared with us. So I would like to ask Judy Coates and Pat Wilson from the Curial Office staff who had much contact with the Sisters to present them each with a small gift from all of us here in the Middlesbrough Diocese.