St Mary’s is the cathedral church of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Ossory. It is situated on James’s Street, Kilkenny, Ireland. / Shutterstock

Denver, Colo., Oct 28, 2022 / 16:35 pm (CNA).

Father Niall Coll, a parish priest and longtime university professor from the north side of Ireland, is Pope Francis’ choice to head the country’s southeastern Diocese of Ossory. In his introduction to his new diocese, he encouraged work to build “a new generation of Christian witnesses.”

“Please know that I am as surprised as you that I find myself standing before you this morning as the future Bishop of Ossory,” he said Friday. He characterized the appointment as “the beginning of a new life and ministry for me, and a new chapter for the Ossory Diocese.”

Coll, 59, is a priest of the Diocese of Raphoe. He is currently a parish priest in County Donegal’s Tawnawilly Parish serving churches in Donegal town and Clar.

His appointment was announced in Kilkenny at the Ossory Diocese’s Cathedral of St. Mary. The bishop-designate’s statement alluded to the contrasts between Ulster, Ireland’s northern province, and his new home in Leinster, on the island’s east.  

“An Ulsterman in deepest Leinster? A bishop who had spent most of his ministry in the world of education?” he asked. “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.” 

The Ossory Diocese has over 85,000 residents, the vast majority of whom are Catholic. There are 42 parishes across the diocese’s territory, which includes parts of the three Irish counties of Kilkenny, Laois, and Offaly, according to the diocese’s website.

The diocese has lacked a bishop since 2018 when its previous bishop, Dermot Farrell, was named Archbishop of Dublin. Bishop Denis Nulty, head of the neighboring diocese of Kildare and Loughlin, has served as the Ossory Diocese’s administrator since that time.

“I have known Niall since our student days together in Maynooth in the 1980s and as such, understand full well his immense abilities, his deep faith, and his great energy for theology, pastoral ministry, and lay faith formation,” Nulty said in a Friday statement. “Niall, as we move into the weeks ahead, and as we plan for your ordination as the next Bishop of Ossory, we will continue to hold you in our prayers.”

The bishop-designate noted some of his links to his new diocese, including his encounters with religious sisters, clergy, and seminarians native to the area. Coll said he was “heartbroken” to leave his current parish, especially given the difficulties of the pandemic.

“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,” he said. “It is likely to cast a long shadow well into the future.”

Coll reflected on the challenges facing Catholicism, including the need for change.

“I come to Ossory at a time of great challenge to faith, a time when Irish society is increasingly secular and individualistic,” he said. He suggested the “Tridentine pattern” of Catholicism dating back to the Council of Trent has “left Catholics almost everywhere unfamiliar with and thus unskilled in discerning and negotiating possibilities for change in church life.”

However, he added, “trusting in the power of the Holy Spirit, discern and change we must, in line with Pope Francis’ emphasis on the need for ‘synodality.’”

Said Coll: “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.”

Coll was born Aug. 25, 1963, in Letterkenny, County Donegal. He attended St. Patrick College of Maynooth, a pontifical university that serves as the main seminary of Ireland. He was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Raphoe on July 3, 1988.

He obtained a doctorate in sacred theology at the Gregorian University in Rome in 1995. He was a lecturer, the equivalent of an assistant professor, at Letterkenny’s St. Eunan’s College and later was a lecturer in theology at St. Patrick’s College in Maynooth.

From 2001 to 2019 he served as a professor of religious studies and religious education at St. Mary’s University College in Belfast. He has written for publications including Doctrine and Life, The Furrow, The Irish Theological Quarterly, and The Tablet, the Irish state broadcaster RTÉ News reports.

His parish assignments include vicar of the parish church in Dungloe from 1998 to 2001. He was the pastor of Druholm-Ballintrina parish from 2019 to 2021.

The Ossory Diocese has roots in the ministry of St. Kieran the Elder, a sixth-century abbot. Coll will be Kieran’s 96th successor.

Coll closed his remarks with an Irish-language prayer for the intercession of Mary, Mother of the Church, and the Irish saints Kieran, Canice, and Brigid.

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