Irish priests, gathered for reunion, remember their lost brothers

LONG BEACH – Although he’s only been the bishop of Jackson for two years, Bishop Joseph Kopacz is well versed on the annual reunion of priests from St. Patrick College Seminary in Carlow, a gathering which has recently expanded to include Irish priests from throughout the United States and abroad.
“I know that the Carlow Reunion is a spirited event that certainly embodies the Joy of the Gospel that Pope Francis asks of us,” Bishop Kopacz said, during the annual memorial Mass for deceased Irish priests, which was celebrated on Jan. 5 at St. Thomas the Apostle Parish, in conjunction with the 2016 reunion. “(Pope Francis) has admonished us, as Christians, not to look like we have just returned from a funeral. But, we can say, he’s probably never been to an Irish wake or memorial gathering because that’s a very spirited gathering, not one that’s overly dour.”
Bishop Kopacz said he accepted the invitation to preach at the Memorial Mass on behalf of the deceased priests of Carlow Seminary as “a good omen, especially after reading that a thousand priests in Ireland signed a document of protest over the process of selecting bishops.”
“I took this as a good omen and it looks like Bishop Morin and I have survived the purge and can continue to serve,” he added. Bishop Kopacz said the Eucharistic celebration was the perfect opportunity to express thanksgiving on behalf of the deceased priests from the seminary of Carlow, who have served throughout Mississippi and the English-speaking world.
Alluding to the missionary spirit so often mentioned by the Holy Father, Bishop Kopacz said, “Pope Francis wants the Church to get out of itself and go to those on the outskirts of existence and that could be someone right around the corner from where we live or across the ocean.
“(Pope Francis) says, “With loving contemplation of Jesus Christ, the whole Church is to become an evangelizing community of missionary disciples, avoiding a posture of maintenance, embracing a permanent state of mission.’ That’s our call in every age. Certainly, that is the gift I believe Pope Francis is bringing to the Church – renewing that call and, also, this evening, celebrating that call in the lives of so many dedicated priests who have served.”
Bishop Kopacz said the seminary in Carlow embodied that spirit of evangelization throughout its 200-year existence.
“From 1793 to 1993, over 3,100 priests were ordained out of the seminary, many of them from 1892 to 1989, when it was exclusively a seminary,” he said.
“Many set forth on a mission to bring the Joy of the Gospel to the English-speaking countries in our world.
“Those numbers are well documented,” Bishop Kopacz added. “It’s also well-documented that the most zealous and brightest of these priests were sent to Mississippi.” In his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel), Pope Francis writes, “Missionary disciples or evangelizers must be those who wish to share their joy, who point to a horizon of beauty and who invite others to a delicious banquet.”
That passage, Bishop Kopacz said, perfectly captures the missionary spirit of the priests who came to Mississippi from Carlow.
The papal mandate to embrace the world with the Light of the Gospel is not just bishops and priests, Bishop Kopacz said.
“This invitation, this mandate, is for all of us,” he said. “All of us must go forth to draw near to those who don’t know or live the Gospel by building bridges, supporting others, taking on the smell of the sheep and patiently seeking to accompany them on their journeys to free them and free us from all unworthy chains of the idolatry of money and the arrogance of power, the culture of indifference, the tyranny of relativism, from violence, power, greed, drug addiction and the insatiable hunger of the arms merchants drenched in blood. Our time certainly has its challenges and, yet, we have the Light of the Gospel where the mercies of the Lord are renewed each day.”
Bishop Kopacz told all gathered that, “Each of us is a mission to be salt, light and leaven in a world that is immersed or inclined toward darkness.”
“We walk with God each day in the land of the living and we know that the Light of the Gospel continues to burn bright – dimmer in certain areas and certain times but certainly, through suffering and martyrdom and sacrifice and loving dedication, the Lord is very much present,” he said.
“For nearly 200 years, Eucharist – the Blood of the Covenant – has been our source and summit, the fountain of God’s mercy that endures forever. The deceased priests of Carlow have their chapter in the Lord’s demand to ‘Go and make disciples of all the nations.’ May they have the rewards of their labors in the Father’s rest.”
In 2014, Carlovians Father Gerard Cleary of the Diocese of Biloxi and Father Martin Ruane of the Diocese of Jackson were called home to God. The Memorial Mass is the highpoint of the three-day reunion, which also includes a golf tournament and a few celebratory meals.
Carlow Alum Father Liam Kelleher has been coming to the reunion for 15 years.
“I make this a part of my vacation, said Father Kelleher, a priest from Cobh in County Cork, who was ordained in 1978 for the Diocese of Cloyne.
“I take the month of January off because the weather is very bad in Ireland and it’s nice to get away and get to where the sunshine is. Father Jim Fennessy (of Atlanta) and I are the only two here from the Class of 68 but it’s great to see all the others and play a game of golf I want to thank the people here because this is a marvelous church, a marvelous community and it is absolutely wonderful to be here.”