Fr Martin Hayes will be ordained Bishop of Kilmore in a ceremony this Sunday.

‘I will need to listen to prepare for what is expected of me’

The Episcopal Ordination Mass for Bishop-elect Martin Hayes will take place today (Sunday) at 3pm in the Cathedral of Saint Patrick & Saint Felim, Cavan, Diocese of Kilmore. The Primate of All Ireland, Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh, will be the Principal Consecrator and will preach the homily.

His Excellency Archbishop Jude Thaddeus Okolo, Apostolic Nuncio to Ireland, with Archbishop Kieran O’Reilly SMA, will be the co-consecrators for this Episcopal Ordination.

The Celt's Seamus Enright, caught up with the bishop elect last week ahead of his ordination. Here follows his exclusive interview.

The year is 1982. Survivor’s ‘Eye of the Tiger’ tops the music charts, Steven Spielberg’s ‘E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial’ just hit the big screen, and the internationally respected National Geographic are months from publishing an expose on life in California’s Silicon Valley. The article, spotlighting an era and area where fast fortunes are made, and faster lives lived, is to be titled: ‘High Tech, High Risk, and High Life’.

In the quiet of his neatly appointed dorm, the heat from the Golden State sun still beating outside, Martin Hayes, a young man from Two-Mile-Borris, a small Tipperary village formed around a primary school, Catholic church, two pubs and two shops, ruminates over a poster tacked to the wall.

The image is of a playful dog jumping into unknown waters. Already half submerged, the block print lettering opines: ‘I don’t know where I’m going, but I’m going’.

When Papal Nuncio, Archbishop Jude Thaddeus Okolo, phoned last June to explain Pope Francis had chosen him as the new Bishop of Kilmore, Father Martin Hayes found his mind drawn back to that very poster - curled edges and trusting sentiment.

It was a defining time for the future priest from the Archdiocese of Cashel and Emly. One could even describe it as a leap of faith moment.

The trust Fr Hayes held then remains the same as it does now - with a higher power.

What brought Fr Hayes to America, after graduating in 1981 from former NIHE Limerick, now University of Limerick, was his work as a quality engineer with fast-rising Amdahl Computers in Dublin.

“It was very interesting being over there at that time. A lot was happening. But I’d come out of college, you could say, already having notions about the priesthood,” recalls Fr Hayes.

Throughout his studies, Fr Hayes was involved, among others, with Muintearas Íosa - a youth faith initiative committed to keeping the three flames alive: Fáilte (welcome), Foghlaim (learning) and Guí (prayer).

If anything, sampling life in America, however briefly, gave him cause to cherish more those three tenets and how each interact.

Fr Hayes recalls a conversation had at the time with a quintessentially Bay Area buff.

“He was talking about the number of wives he had, and the number of cars he had. He told me one of the cars got crashed, and it was time to get rid of ‘her’. ‘The car’ I asked? ‘No ‘her’’, he said back to me.”

It encapsulated to the young Martin Hayes just how different they were, both personally and spiritually, particularly in their views on people and material things. “For me, coming over from Ireland, I could see we had a richness, an appreciation of people, and the value of the human dignity that was good. Perhaps too good to risk losing.”

At the end of April 1982, Fr Hayes finally took the plunge, deciding once and for all to commit his life wholly to God.

This Sunday, September 20, he will formally become Bishop of Kilmore, in an ordination ceremony at the Cathedral of Saints Patrick and Felim in Cavan Town.

“It’s a great honour and a privilege to be asked to become Bishop. It is an onerous task as well, in this day and age, no doubt about it. I don’t know fully what I’m facing into... and maybe it’s as well,” says Fr Hayes of his impending ordination.

The eldest of a family of eight - five boys and three girls - born to the late Daniel and Mary Agnes Hayes, Fr Hayes entered Saint Patrick’s in Thurles to study for the priesthood in September 1983.

Completing a Cert in Philosophical Studies and a Diploma in Theology, he was ordained deacon in April 1988, and to the priesthood proper on June 10, 1989, by Archbishop Dermot Clifford.

It is fast approaching ‘moving-in’ day at the Bishop’s residence, located in the leafy grounds of the Diocesan Pastoral Centre when the Celt sits down to interview the new Bishop-elect.

The Tipp reg is parked in the driveway, and there is a hustle and bustle both inside and out. A fresh lick of paint and a change of soft furnishings are on the cards. There is a sense the echoey top corners of the high-ceiling rooms will soon soften as the house becomes more lived in again.

A keen golfer, Fr Hayes is looking forward to exploring the lush fairways and manicured greens dotted locally. He has already received several recommendations. It all helps for a self-confessed “stranger” to these parts.

To have a pastime, personal and separate from priestly duties, Fr Hayes feels is “important”.

He delights that only the week after his own ordination, Kilmore welcomes a new priest to the fold, Thomas Small from Belturbet.

Thomas will be the first new priest ordained locally since Laragh native Séan Maguire in June 2012, and eight years before that again, when Fr Ultan McGoohan was ordained (2004).

Mindfulness in knowing who a priest is beyond the collar and liturgical garments though is something Fr Hayes is keen to impress.

“Who am I beyond ‘Father’?,” Fr Hayes asks. “Who is the human being there?”

Such consideration, Fr Hayes thinks, is perhaps more vital now than ever given the dwindling number of priests nationally, and yet no shortage of demand.

Including almost all of Co Cavan and a portion of counties Leitrim, Fermanagh, Meath and Sligo, the diocese of Kilmore has a Catholic population of approximately 69,000. It is served by around 51 active priests, and 18 retired, who minister in 35 parishes comprising of 95 churches.

“There are less priests now and there is a danger, because of the pressures, that guys will morph and shrink into their role only,” broods Fr Hayes.

Three years ago Fr Hayes was appointed Director of Pastoral Planning and Development in his native archdiocese. The role was an holistic one, aimed at constructively developing and resourcing youth ministry and liturgical formation in the community.

Following widespread consultation, involving both priests and laity, a draft pastoral plan was formulated, the contents of which will be implemented between now and 2025.

‘Church of the future’

The plan sets out a pathway for committed members of the lay community to step up and assist in daily church services.

Fr Hayes believes that involvement will form a central part of the “church of the future”.

The buzzword for this is “co-responsibility”.

How that happens is still to “evolve” says Fr Hayes.

Drawing an imaginary circle on the polished wooden surface of a large table, Fr Hayes points to the centre, symbolising the role of the priest. Much like the spokes to a wheel, he then carefully etches out the outlying positions he envisages for lay people.

He refers to what went before as a situation where priests were placed on a “pedestal”.

“Now I see the priest as part of a circle. Everyone is equal. He’s in the circle, working, and his role is to bring out the best of the gifts of the people around him.”

Fr Hayes accepts it will be “strange” at first seeing lay people engaged in pastoral ministry assignments. But he assures that those answering the call will be given a grounding in liturgy and training, before placement begins.

“Obviously they have to be accepted by their communities, and by other priests in these new roles of collaboration.”

Fr Hayes is quick to praise the groundwork laid by his predecessor, Bishop Leo O’Reilly. Kilmore already had its own Pastoral plan going back to 2015, now entering its final year in 2020.

“The great thing I find is there's a history of involvement of lay people here. I know it may not be happening as per the theory, but the foundations are here. There will of course be challenges, but I am excited about the work ahead,” enthuses Fr Hayes.

What might sound shocking to some, but in the “church of the future” as Fr Hayes refers to it for a second time, may be a situation where there is even more laity acting in roles of pastoral care than priests; “some full time, others as volunteers, but all receiving some type of formation.”

Pastoral workers

Fr Hayes reflects on what occurred in one parish down the south of the country, once served by four priests, but now only has one.

“[The priest] was being pulled here and there, attending schools, nursing homes, visiting hospitals, all the above. So what I’m saying is let’s give people the skills, the training, put them out in situ, and most importantly, people respond to them and acknowledge them in their role as pastoral workers.”

Celibacy and gay priests

There are some alterations Fr Hayes is less keen to see happen.

One such suggestion is that priests might be allowed marry one day.

“I know plenty of guys, friends of mine who have left, and have got married. I’d be sad they’ve left, and there are examples around the world where churches are opening to such suggestions.

“The rules are there at the minute, and that’s where we are. But I feel there is still a calling for a celibate priesthood, because it means that you’re totally available.”

He’s asked too if he thinks Ireland is ready for an openly gay priest preaching from the altar.

“There are priests I know who are gay, and they’re able to minister very effectively,” Fr Hayes reveals. “They might not be open about it, for personal reasons or whatever. But anyone I know, and on the whole issue of homosexuality, they have huge amount to offer and contribute to the church, now and in the future.”

Covid challenges

But there are some adjustments, in face of a global pandemic, that are beyond everyone’s control.

Covid has “absolutely changed everything” for the church, states Fr Hayes.“It has challenged absolutely everything. The whole way church works is with people, communicating with them, and gathering them. Straight away the necessary regulations hinder that ability,” he laments.

If there is one positive, it’s the pandemic has pushed the church towards embracing new technology quicker.

Masses by web-cam, social media to spread liturgy, or radio to transmit sermons, lockdown created a captive audience. The result, Fr Hayes feels, was an even more tuned-in congregation.

“In Ireland, through my growing up, a lot of people were involved rather through social conformity. It means that they just bring their heads to the celebration, and not their heart. I remember celebrating mass one time in Vallejo (California). An hour and three quarters later, we concluded mass. In Ireland you couldn’t handle that. But they were with it, and I remember at the end of mass being exhausted, yet exhilarated, because there was this sense of feeling of participation,” explains Fr Hayes.

“[After restrictions were lifted] I had one parishioner say to me there was the sense people wanted to [attend church] rather than the feeling they have to be there.”

Fr Hayes, meanwhile, remains unaware just how he was selected for the role of Bishop.

As is the case generally, Rome regularly surveys for recommendations for those thought to be deserving of elevation.

When he first heard Kilmore mentioned he knew it was “up north somewhere”, but little else.

“I know when I heard first ‘Kilmore’,” Fr Hayes pulls back in mock shock: “‘I’m going to be away from home’. It is a big change, I know that, but the welcome we got on 29th of June, and the messages since, have all been lovely.

“It is something I’ll be saying to people, those back home as well, that ‘I’m okay’. There’s a welcome. I’ve gotten lovely personal messages, from people I don’t know, who hopefully I’ll meet one day.”

Even out having lunch one day recently, the Bishop-elect had someone approach and say to him: “‘I hope you’ll be happy in Cavan’. Another said to me: ‘It might be a bit colder up here, but we’ve warm hearts’. Having that, I know I will.”


Fr Hayes comes aware of the impact the Troubles have had on this region, particularly in the Fermanagh part of the Diocese.

In his 21 years and up until retiring on health grounds in 2018, Bishop O’Reilly spent much time addressing issues around peace and reconciliation.

Fr Hayes sees being an “outsider” as an advantage, on a whole range of subjects, not just the geopolitical divide.

“That’s part of the thinking in Rome, to bring in people totally separate. I come here fresh, the value being that people can come to me knowing the slate is clean.”

Asked what his plan for the Diocese will be, he replies simply: “I don’t have a plan. I’m going to listen. My role for the past three years involved a lot of listening. I will need to listen to prepare for what is expected of me.”


Before arriving in Cavan, Fr Hayes spent a week on retreat in Glendalough. He regularly visits the Hermitage Centre, serenely perched overlooking the famous Monastic Site with Round Tower.

The time spent there this year helped Fr Hayes find peace with the decision he’d made.

“It did awaken me to the enormity of the challenge. But being in a place of St Kevin, aware of his attachment to Gospel, and faith, knowing it was going to involve sacrifice, I see myself right now evoking that same spirit of being on Mission.”

Lastly, Fr Hayes is asked about the motto he has chosen to signify his ordination as Bishop.

“Your steadfast love endures,” he replies, inspired by Psalm 136, and also by the writings of the late Jesuit priest, Michael Paul Gallagher.

“Really it means to relax in the reality of being loved by God. That is something I wrote myself when discerning my vocation. [My motto] stems out of my convictions that instead of me trying to earn the love of God, that God loves everyone of us first, and eternally.”