The 51-year-old bishop said that he hoped the change would lead to renewal in the dioceses in the west of Ireland.
He said: “There is no doubt that today is a historic day for the Diocese of Galway, Kilmacduagh and Kilfenora. It is also a historic day for the Diocese of Clonfert and indeed for the Catholic Church in Ireland.”
“Under the guidance of St. Peter himself in the person of Pope Francis, we have been nudged together to do something genuinely new. To paraphrase the words of that great poet from the Aran Islands, Máirtín Ó Díreáin, we are being called to bring about a new ‘An tEarrach Thiar’ – a ‘Western Spring.’”
The pope’s decision to place the dioceses under one bishop was disclosed last November.
The Vatican said on Friday that the pope had accepted the resignation of Bishop Kelly, who reached the customary retirement age of 75 years on May 20, 2021.
In their November statement, the bishops explained that the change would not be an amalgamation and would not suppress either diocese.
“Both dioceses will continue to maintain their own integrity and autonomy as is but will work closer together, where possible, through the person and ministry of a single bishop (in persona episcopi),” they said.
The existing diocesan structures, institutions, lands, finances, and juridical competencies will be left unaltered.
Duignan, a native of Athlone, County Roscommon, was born on July 15, 1970. He was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Elphin in 1994. He has served as the bishop of Clonfert for over two years. His episcopal consecration took place on Oct. 13, 2019, a few months after his appointment by Pope Francis.
The Diocese of Clonfert, located in parts of County Galway and County Clare, traces its history back to the sixth century, when St. Brendan (also known as Brendan of Clonfert) established the Clonfert abbey. The diocese was formally established in the year 1111.
Today, the diocese has a population of 36,000 Catholics across 24 parishes, making it one of Ireland’s smallest dioceses.
The Diocese of Galway, Kilmacduagh, and Kilfenora is much larger in population, with more than 105,000 Catholics.
Galway and Kilmacduagh dioceses were combined in 1883 after the bishop of Galway was made the apostolic administrator of Kilfenora.
Duignan is formally known as the bishop of Galway, Kilmacduagh and apostolic administrator of Kilfenora, as well as the bishop of Clonfert.
Duignan and Bishop Kelly concelebrated a Mass on Feb. 11, the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, at Galway Cathedral. Archbishop Jude Thaddeus Okolo, apostolic nuncio to Ireland, was the chief celebrant.
Duignan said: “Last week when Archbishop Okolo asked me on behalf of Pope Francis to become the bishop of Galway, Kilmacduagh and the apostolic administrator of Kilfenora along with being the bishop of Clonfert — it was like being asked again to be a bishop for the first time. A moment, where half of you feels like turning away, while the other half of you feels called to stay and do the Lord’s work.”
“I am very conscious of my own sinfulness, of my own flaws and weaknesses, my particular ways and shortcomings, my need to listen and to learn. At times, the thought has crossed my mind that the Holy Spirit must indeed have a sense of humor in trusting me with the care of not just one but with two distinct dioceses. Such however is now the reality I find myself in.”
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