Most Rev Bishop Leo O’Reilly.Photo: Lorraine Teevan

Let the Busy World be Hushed

‘I remember him cutting tobacco into half ounces below at that very counter’, Kathleen told the assembled ladies gathered around the till in headscarves, a clad the day that it was announced on Northern Sound that he was to be made Bishop.

Canon Corrigan was apt to call to offer his congratulations to the McDonald sisters for the part they had played in his formation. Maura, the younger of the two took down a new bottle of Pledge from off the shelf to give the Formica veneer an extra polish for fear there’d be a run of passing trade coming in to give the counter a little rub, like they do with the foot of St. Peter, now that the counter could be reckoned as a second-class relic.

Bob Magee, nor Peggy Gillick in her corner shop above on the Diamond, could boast of having once employed a messenger boy who was now set to become Bishop.

‘Sure for all intents and purposes you could say that he found his vocation below cutting ham for Rosie Reilly of the Barrack Hill and chatting to the Aggie McGowan’s and the Mrs. Boyd’s as he packed their groceries into a Fyffes’ banana box and it the length of the street for them’. Oh, there’d have to be a picture got of him before the big day in Cavan to be stuck up in the front window to let anyone who mightn’t have yet heard that new Bishop had once worked there when he was a student above in St. Pat’s.

Kathleen and Maura McDonald were shockin’ proud that they’d had a hand in the making of a Bishop, and sure people told them they were apt to get an invite to his ordination above in the Cathedral and more importantly to the meal in the Kilmore after.

And so it was that the ordinary people of the town claimed as their own the boy from Kill, having moved with his family at just 12 years of age to Belturbet in the wake of a close bereavement and were so very proud, these years on, of this man now chosen to be a Bishop.

A man chosen to lead a diocese in what were to be some of the most difficult years the church had known in living memory; renowned in every half parish from Ballintrillick to Kilmainhamwood for his common touch, his recognition of faces, his recall of names, his asking after an ailing parent as he shook hands with someone at a confirmation ceremony.

It was in the ordinary and the everyday that he forged bonds with people who took him to their hearts, his name becoming synonymous with friendship and a fatherliness that younger priests too had known.

Near 50 years after he had worked as a boy in McDonald’s shop on Holborn hill, Kathleen couldn’t believe her eyes the evening he walked through the door of the Harbour Bar at the celebration of her retirement and there spent a couple of hours with her and her customers as they paid fitting tribute to this lady and her sister, by then deceased, who had given so much to a community.

It was in the simple and the ordinary, in the handshakes that were exchanged, that he touched the hearts of people, be it turning up without ceremony at a removal, calling to a house where a family had experienced a tragedy, sitting with prisoners and listening to their stories, no notice, no attention, touching human hearts in the quiet and the ordinary of the everyday.

Today he turns 80, a milestone in years and on this his birthday we pay tribute to Bishop Leo, a man who has given so much of himself as a Bishop over 20 years and more and has now handed on the baton of responsibility and leadership to Bishop Martin.

Over the years he has been immersed in the lives of the people of his diocese, concerned for their well-being in the midst of the commonplace of their lives.

For therein he knows is the yearning for God, in the ups and downs of living and therein too is heard the Master’s call, a voice beckoning those who will minister to His people.

For just as it was in the midst of the ordinary that the vocation of a boy was nurtured, so too it remains today, God’s voice whispering in the whirlwind of people’s lives, calling ordinary men and women from ordinary situations to minister to ordinary people who yearn for God in the ordinary and every day of their lives.

So, as we pay tribute to Bishop Leo on his 80th birthday, we pay tribute too to the Kathleen’s and the Maura’s, his late parents Terence and Maureen and to all the people down the years who made and nurtured a Bishop.