Catholic priest installed as ecumenical canon in St Anne’s Cathedral

Historic appointment in Belfast cathedral strengthens the common mission to "witness to Christ and promote reconciliation, peace and unity."


Dean John Mann and Fr Eddie O'Donnell at St Anne's Cathedral, Belfast
Dean John Mann and Fr Eddie O’Donnell at St Anne’s Cathedral, Belfast

For the first time, a Catholic priest has been appointed canon at a Protestant cathedral in Belfast.

Fr Edward O’Donnell, parish priest of St Brigid’s, Belfast, was installed on  Sunday, 25 September as an honorary Ecumenical Canon in St Anne’s Cathedral following his election by the Cathedral Chapter and the Dean of Belfast, Very Rev John Mann.

Among those attending the installation service were members of Focolare in Northern Ireland.  “It was a real joy to be part of what seemed a landmark moment in the journey of reconciliation and peace for Belfast,” said Irene Jovaras.

“I experienced a  deep sense of gratitude to all those who have lived, worked and suffered to contribute to fulfilling Jesus prayer…’That All May Be One’.”

Ms Jovaras, who is part of the Focolare community in Belfast, said that Fr Eddie had “a real gift for proclaiming the word of God as we hear his homilies each Sunday. It is good that this gift is extended to the wider Christian community”.

Afterwards, speaking to Roisin McAuley on BBC Radio Ulster, Fr O’Donnell said he was very surprised by the appointment. “It never crossed my mind and when Dean Mann rang me, I wasn’t able to respond. I was shocked but very pleased to accept the appointment.”

Under the statutes of the Church of Ireland, an Ecumenical Canon at the cathedral may say or sing Morning or Evening Prayer or the Litany; read Holy Scripture; deliver an address and assist at occasional services. The Ecumenical Canon holds office until they resign from the office or cease to be a full–time minister or accredited preacher.

Currently St Anne’s cathedral has two ecumenical canons, one a Presbyterian the other a Methodist. “It is the fact that this has happened, it is the symbolism of the appointment – that is the most important thing,” Fr O’Donnell told the BBC.

The Dean of St Anne’s cathedral, Rev John Mann said division and fear were on people’s minds.  “Do we go down these roads of division and fearfulness or work towards greater unity and co-operation?” he told the BBC.  “If this little step helps us towards coming together in Christian fellowship, that is all to the good.”

Asked if he would be bringing members of his own congregation to St Anne’s Cathedral when he preached, Fr O’Donnell said one always welcomes “a bit of support!” but he added in South Belfast there were very good relations between the churches.

Sharing the joy following Fr Edward's installation at St Anne's Cathedral
Sharing the joy following Fr Edward’s installation at St Anne’s Cathedral

“We move around each other’s churches especially during Lent so there is nothing new in members of my parish coming to St Anne’s.” Some already do so for the cathedral for the Even Song and Morning Prayer.

In a statement the Catholic diocese of Down and Connor expressed its appreciation for the “symbolic gesture of communion which demonstrates an ongoing commitment to work together for peace and reconciliation, building bridges across a divided community”.

Congratulating Fr O’Donnell, they said the installation recognised “his personal contribution to ecumenical engagement over many years of ministry and the fraternal friendship extended by the clergy and parishioners of St Anne’s Cathedral to Fr O’Donnell, St Brigid’s Parish and the Diocese of Down and Connor.”

“This historic appointment strengthens further our common mission to witness to Christ and the promotion of reconciliation, peace and unity.”

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