29 Sept 2022

Fr Vincent Stapleton writes to Archbishop Patrick Leahy

When our attention is drawn to a problem, something we might never have noticed becomes painfully obvious.

Fr Vincent Stapleton writes to Archbishop Patrick Leahy

Pictured above: Fr Vincent Stapleton


Dear Archbishop Leahy,
This letter is partly written in apology and partly in hope. We look forward to the day when your statue in the grounds of the Cathedral in Thurles will be restored to its former wholeness.

Here is my apology. On the 26th of June 2019, I was scheduled to say the 8am Mass in the Cathedral. Being an early Mass, perhaps I wasn’t quite 100% awake, but I was back home enjoying a boiled egg around 10am, when my fellow curate, Fr. Joe rang me, wondering what had happened to the Bishop’s statue. That woke me up fairly lively!

Sure enough, ten minutes later, I was appalled to drive into the Bishop’s grounds and see the destruction quite clearly. Two hours earlier, I took the exact same drive and noticed nothing.

When our attention is drawn to a problem, something we might never have noticed becomes painfully obvious.

We are doing our best now to restore the head of your statue and also to restore the roof of the Cathedral that you and your people built.

In the aftermath of the pandemic, with soaring prices, these efforts can seem like an impossible ask. We have run a series of concerts in the Cathedral (with another coming up on September 30th next @ 8pm – featuring The Celtic Brothers), set-up a ‘Raise the Roof’ lotto and taken other steps to launch this mammoth project.

As a parish community we are very grateful to everyone who has gotten behind the project.

Recently, someone drew my attention to the fact that the plans to build Thurles Cathedral were put in place in the aftermath of the Great Famine. When we consider the efforts of a poverty-stricken people to build a marvellous house of worship to honour God, to honour Our Lady of the Assumption and to provide a place of prayer for the people, it should give us fresh heart that our task is not so unassailable.

But this leads me to another observation, that can be easy to miss, if we are not quite awake … another beheading, if we think of it this way. Our Irish Catholic faith has slowly but surely lost its head and we have failed to notice. We have gradually over the decades reduced our way of faith either to a cold moralism, where we are all obliged to follow a series of stringent rules … or to a set of ideas, dogmas and doctrines – a fixed system that allows for no creative expression, that binds even God … when in fact, our faith is first and foremost, an encounter, a mysterious relationship with a person, where we discover that we are loved in our brokenness and that our future and horizon carries an eternal hope.

This person is Jesus. St. Paul calls him the head of his body, and we are that body – the body of Christ. How have we allowed our head to be knocked off and removed and replaced by ideologies and moralisms that give no life?

As we continue to work to replace our statue and to replace our roof – it is time again for us to re-place the encounter with Jesus at the heart of the Church … to make our encounter with the Risen Christ, the focus of all that we do.

If we do that, our statues will come to life, our buildings will come to life and as Jesus himself once said – our Church’s and homes will be called again houses of prayer.

A native of Borrisoleigh, Fr Vincent Stapleton is a curate in Thurles parish working as Rector of St Joseph and St Brigid’s Church, Bóthar na Naomh, Thurles.

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