In a solemn, emotional and moving ceremony that lasted for almost three hours, Abbeyfeale native Dr. Michael Lenihan was recently consecrated as the first bishop of the newly created diocese of La Ceiba in Honduras. It marked the culmination of 28 years of tireless work by the Irishman in bringing the good news of the faith to the people of Central America.
The new bishop’s three siblings Julie Glancy, United States, Joe from Birmingham and Anthony from Abbeyfeale with other members of the family converged on Honduras to be present as their brother was consecrated bishop by Cardinal Oscar Andres Rodriquez and his co consecrators Bishop Angel Garachana of San Pedro and the Apostolic Nuncio, Monsignor Luigi Bianco. Almost 8,000 Catholics from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador joined members of the Lenihan family for the consecration which took place during open air Mass at a local football stadium.
A reception followed Mass and the consecration while next day an official ceremony took place at the entrance of the church in which Bishop Michael officially ‘took possession’ of the new cathedral in front of an overflowing congregation.
The Diocese of La Ceiba was created by Pope Benedict XVI in December 2011 and Dr. Lenihan, a member of the Franciscan order and the former Vicar General and Pastor in the Diocese of Comayagua, and 22 priests will minister to its almost 400,000 Catholics among its 600,000 inhabitants.
Michael Lenihan was born in Cragg, Abbeyfeale in September 1951, the third child of Jeremiah and Ellen Lenihan. Jeremiah was a native of Knocknagoshel while Ellen née Cahill was from Mountcollins. Michael’s early education was at Meenkilly National School up to 5th class before he completed his primary education at Mountcollins National School and took up a position as shop assistant and Moloney’s Hard-ware in Abbeyfeale. Retired principal Michael O’Kelly, who taught Michael at Meenkilly NS, fondly and vividly remembers the new bishop. “I would like to congratulate Bishop Michael Lenihan on his recent consecration as Bishop in Honduras. This is a well deserved honour for such a humble and dedicated missionary. His adult life is a reflection of his youth. His teachers in Meenkilly National School have lasting memories of him as an exemplary student. He was unassuming, diligent and an ideal pupil in class. May God be with him in the missionary work in the years ahead,” said Mr O’Kelly.
The teenager from Cragg made a life changing decision in early 1967 when he entered the Franciscan Order at Rossnowlagh, Co. Donegal, and studied for the Leaving Certificate at Ballyshannon Community College, taking the exams in 1972. The future Bishop of La Ceiba entered the Franciscan novitiate in Killarney and made his first profession in September 1973. He commenced third level studies at U.C.G that year and graduated in English, Irish and philosophy in 1976 before going on to Rome to study theology. Following four years in Rome, Michael was ordained a priest by the then Bishop of Kerry, Dr, Kevin McNamara, on 12th July 1980.
Fr. Lenihan’s first appointment was for two years at Multyfarnham Agriculture College before being transferred to the Franciscan Friary in Wexford. He always harboured a desire to minister in Latin America, and in November 1984 he set off for El Salvador. It was a troubled country at the time, ravaged by civil war. He worked there for almost 16 years before moving to Honduras in 2000. After nine years in that country, Fr. Lenihan moved to Guatemala City in 2009 as Superior of the local Franciscan community including the Order’s house there, which contains the offices of the provincial curai, an infirmary, a residence for 40 students who attend the nearby university, the parish of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, a college for 500 students and a Franciscan spirituality centre.
On 20th December 2011 Fr. Lenihan was called to the Apostolic Enunciator to be informed that he had been appointed Bishop of the newly created diocese of La Ceiba. “I had to keep this a secret for ten days until it was made public on December 30th; this secret is called a pontifical secret and we are bound to strict secrecy until the appointment is made public,” he explained.
Bishop Lenihan’s brother Anthony made the trip from Abbeyfeale to Honduras for this very proud occasion for the Lenihan family: “We are extremely proud of him, he has done great work in Central America since he went there.” Admitting that it was a very emotional ceremony, Anthony said: “I could not stop thinking of my parents and all that they had done for him when he was studying for the priesthood. I think if they were alive that they would have been so happy.”
The Irish flag was flown at the consecration and it was also among the gifts during the Mass. “I am sorry that I did not take out a Mountcollins flag, we were born in the parish of Abbeyfeale but he is a Mountcollins man to the backbone,” said Anthony.
The Lenihan family are very grateful for the support their brother has received from home during his mission in America. “The people of Mountcollins, Abbeyfeale and all over West Limerick have given him tremendous support over the years to his mission in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. Dances and various events were held to raise funds for various projects that he was involved in on his mission and I would like to thank everybody on his behalf.”
The people of Honduras were very welcoming for their new Bishop’s family, according to Anthony: “We would like to thank the people of Honduras for their warm welcome, their kindness and generosity during our stay there.” Dr. Lenihan paid a flying visit to West Limerick and to Anthony and his wife Eilis for three days prior to his consecration during which he celebrated Mass in Tournafulla and Mountcollins. He is due back for a longer break in July when he is sure to be accorded a huge welcome.