BY No Author | March 21 2014 | comments icon 0 COMMENTS     print icon print


A day of joy for Paisley Diocese

Bishop John Keenan aims to lead the diocese in a spirit of vibrancy, inclusion and love

Joy, that is what Bishop John Keenan hopes he can bring to Paisley following his Episcopal ordination on St Joseph’s Day this week. That is what the former chaplain of Glasgow University wanted as the hallmark of the celebrations, a day of joy for the diocese that has waited 18 months for the Vatican to name a new bishop to lead it.

“I was very anxious for the ordination to be a moment of great celebration of Faith, to reinforce the Faith, and also a moment of great evangelisation,” Bishop Keenan (above) said. “This is a moment for the Church in Paisley, and this ordination must be an Evangelical moment. It is not my event.”

The bishop was keen that as many people ‘of good will’ as possible came to the ordination and benefited from it. A collection for the poor, including the poor of the diocese, was taken up during the celebrations on Wednesday.



When asked what challenges he sees ahead, Bishop Keenan while he ‘does not have any plan,’ for his new role, he has some principles. He said that he is looking forward to being ‘a priest with my brother priests’ and hopes that they continue to be ‘as happy as they have been.’

“It always has been a happy diocese and it has been served well by the previous bishops with the pastoral care of their priests,” he said. “For the people, I want to bring the joy of the Gospel wherever I go. It is a joyful thing Faith. We have a God who loved us so much he died for us and came back to life and nothing that happens can rob us of our Salvation.

“The third principle is that I want to be very light of foot. I want to tread very lightly on the diocese and really to listen a lot.

“Beyond that, the whole diocese, the whole of Scotland knows the challenge—and that is to have a Church that is vibrant with youth so that we can reform, reshape the Church—in so far as it may be reshaped. From a vibrant environment for the young you would then expect vocations to come to the priesthood but also to married life…

“No one should be excluded from the love of the Gospel, or belonging to the Church.”



Bishop Keenan, 49, now the youngest serving bishop in Scotland, learned of his selection by Pope Francis on a Tuesday, a day off, ten days before the official announcement on Saturday February 8.

Bishop Keenan said his initial reaction to being named as bishop of Paisley was to be ‘daunted and overwhelmed.’

“No one really feels worthy to take on this job,” he told the SCO. “But the nunciature were very kind and reassuring so I left feeling much more encouraged.”

The new bishop thought of Pope Francis daily homilies, and, in particular, on King David feeling unworthy.

“But that was not the point, the point was Samuel had anointed him,” the bishop said. “So we don’t think of our unworthiness, we just remember we are anointed, so that was a great help.”



The bishop said his family was delighted at his appointment as Bishop of Paisley when he let them know shortly before the official announcement.

“They were amazed and overjoyed really,” he said. “I think they had a real sense of pride. My nephew came in on the Saturday and said ‘you know you are all over Twitter!’”

The bishop said his mum had mixed emotions. The announcement was made at the Vatican on her 75th birthday.

“She was very, very happy for me but she is aware that, from time-to-time, it will have its crosses as well,” he said. “I apologised to her for raining on her parade but I think it was of great consolation to her that my ordination was on St Joseph’s day as my late father was called Joseph.

The new bishop was inspired by his parents, especially his father who worked tirelessly as a newsagent to support his family yet was ‘a very happy man who loved his children and always encouraged them.’

“The way I am as a priest is so similar to the way my dad was with me,” he said. “I am serving the people with the store of my dad’s love.”

It was his father who, as a teenage working in a silversmith’s, organised for the ordination chalice for a cousin who was ‘as close as a brother’ who went on to become a Salesian priest. At the time of crafting the vessel, Joseph Keenan had no idea it would become the chalice his son, Bishop Keenan, would take as his own ordination chalice, as the year he was to become a priest his father’s cousin died.



Within hours of the official announcement, the then Fr Keenan was overwhelmed in a different way, by the ‘tidal wave’ of congratulations and support from parishioners, his fellow clergy and the Bishops of Scotland.

“Between cards, emails, text and enormous amounts of good wishes, I was equally encouraged by the goodwill of the people. The bishops also have been so welcoming, and the priests themselves,” he said.

“And the people! It struck me that that so many of them have said that ‘when my mother was dying,’ ‘when my father was not well…’ or ‘when my baby was in the hospital…” he said. “So many memories for them are in fact part and parcel of the day or the week of a priest. That is who we are, but it has touched their lives in a way that has remained with them for years. It made me realise that it’s the smallest of acts of kindness that can actually be the rock of people’s Faith for decades.

“We need to be so close to people in the joys and sorrows of their lives. That’s what makes the Faith rock solid over time. Pope Francis spoke about that in the Joy of the Gospel: ‘True man knows how to give priority to time over space.’”

The new bishop was also surprised by the number of people he knows already who live in Paisley Diocese.

“As a priest you get to meet and know a large number of people, but I was genuinely surprised at how many of the good people and good friends I know are from this diocese,” he said. “That was a personal joy on a very human level.”

While parishioners at both the chaplaincy, where he has been based for 14 years, and St Patrick’s, where he has been parish priest for a year, were supportive of his new role, his departure has been bittersweet, especially for the parishioners at St Patrick’s due to the well-documented troubles they experienced prior to his arrival.



Bishop Keenan comes from the microcosm of university life to Paisley Diocese, and brings with him 14 years of experience in building the chaplaincy into a thriving Catholic community that reaches out beyond student life. Among his most precious memories of his time as chaplain include the many pilgrimages he made with his congregation, such as pilgrimages to World Youth Day in Cologne and Madrid and, most recently, Rio.

“These offered a chance to get away together, to get out of the office, and just spend time with the students,” he said.

Memories from earlier in his vocation include his time at Christ the King parish, including the family fun days. He recalled the camaraderie and the fraternity of being in a presbytery of three priests. Further back, his home parish of St Gregory’s, Wyndford, inspired him. It was the parish where he received all the Sacraments and from where his father was buried from.

“I remember being so involved in the parish,” he said. “A Paisley priest, Fr Gallagher, gave lots of space for young people to become involved… I remember my parish being the birth of my vocation.”

Challenges that he has faced during his ministry include the realisation that when priests are very young they want to do everything very quickly ‘and we can focus on the things that we like rather than serving the wider picture.’


— In next week’s SCO, full report of Bishop Keenan’s Episcopal ordination with photographs.




— Pic: Paul McSherry


—This story ran in full in the March 21 edition print of the SCO, available in parishes.


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