Nobis Ministerium Reconciliationis

By Martin Newell

First published in Anach Cuain 2006

The 2003 edition of ‘Anach Cuain’ described the 24 July centenary celebrations of the Church of St Brendan by the Lake at Annaghdown. The centrepeice was the visit of Most Rev. Michael Courtney, Titular Archbishop of Eanach Dúin and Apostolic Nuncio in Burundi who made the occasion a glittering event in the history of the Christian community of Annaghdown.

A deep bond instantaneously established itself between Archbishop Courtney and the people of his titular see, such was the personality and the manifest goodness of the man. His striking address will never be forgotten by those who were priveleged to be present to hear it. He himself felt so much at home that he expressed a firm intention to return in July 2004 to meet the people again and to accompany some of them on the annual Cruach Phádraig pilgrimage.

In times gone by one would often hear one’s elders say “Man proposes and God disposes”. In this case, God disposed that Michael Courtney would not make his promised return to Annaghdown. The whole world is aware of his tragic assassination in Burundi on 29 December 2003 in which sad war-torn country he had been working unceasingly in the cause of peace, knowing and accepting the risk to himself. His funeral ceremonies, in Loughrea and Nenagh on 2 and 3 January 2004, were attended by a delegation from Annaghdown and were occasions of national mourning.

In preparation for the intended July 2004 revisit, the congregation of St Brendan’s commissioned the production of an ornate episcopal mitre for presentation to Archbishop Courtney. This is now mounted most attractively in St Brendan’s over an appropriate inscription headed by the episcopal motto. It was blessed by Archbishop Michael Neary of Tuam on the occasion of commemoration ceremonies on 23 July 2004 before a very large attendance with members of the Courtney family as special guests. The attendance included Bishop James McLoughlin of Galway and the Very Rev. Patrick Towers, Rector of St Nicholas Collegiate Church, Galway, who was a personal friend of the late Archbishop. Most touchingly, there was a replay of the videotaped address of 24 July 2003.

The episcopal motto, shown above in Latin, may be roughly translated as “Ours is the Ministry of Reconciliation”. This typifies the character of Michael Courtney and it is also, probably, a deliberate exhortation to all of us from a man who is a saint and martyr. On 23 July, attention was drawn to the fact that men such as St Brendan, in common with the many pre-Norman saints, did not derive their saintly titles from any canonical procedure in Rome or elsewhere, since the Irish Church was then independent, but from the acclaim of the ordinary people. It is therefore in accordance with tradition that Michael Courtney should now be acclaimed St Michael, Martyr, by the people of Annaghdown and that his name should henceforth be joined with that of St Brendan.

Further Reading

Nobis Ministerium Reconciliationis: Archbishop Michael Courtney

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