JUST over 60 years have passed since Limerick celebrated the Marian Year Jubilee. Throughout the city and county, Marian Shrine committees were set up and their work led to the erection of many shrines which are still standing. Truly, it was a very different time and a different Limerick.
The Leader, then a staunchly Catholic newspaper, was caught up in the fervour of 1954. “Never before,” we reported then, “has Limerick witnessed such a striking manifestation of faith when 15,000 marched in procession through the neatly decorated streets as a mark of honour to the Mother of God in this Marian Year ... This great expression of faith was indicative of a city that knew no bounds in its love for the Blessed Virgin.”
Six decades on, faith in Limerick is in a different, less unquestioning place, tested by the kind of scandal that would have seemed unimaginable to readers in 1954. And yet there is also some welcome evidence that the church here is moving forward again.
Brendan Leahy, ordained as the 47th Bishop of Limerick in April 2013, is the man spearheading this hoped-for revival. This week we report that he has called the first diocesan synod in Limerick for more than 70 years, describing it as “an opportunity to regenerate and build up the church of the future in our diocese”.
Around 350 delegates drawn from all walks of life locally will attend the synod, scheduled for the spring of 2016. Bishop Leahy talks of “starting from scratch”. He wants to “rebuild and repair the church”. Such an approach acknowledges that without significant reform, the church has a bleak long-term future. Vocations could scarcely be any lower and the numbers in our churches have fallen off drastically, when compared with the halcyon days of Marian Year.
Less than two years into his “new job”, Bishop Leahy strikes one as a man who – having very much found his feet in Limerick – wants to make a positive difference and perhaps leave a legacy. He should be applauded for adopting such a progressive approach. Limerick will never again be the pious place it was in 1954, but in 2016 it can show the rest of the country the way forward for the church.