Faith Matters

Church of Ireland cathedral appoints Catholic priest

Fr Edward O'Donnell is the parish priest of St Brigid's in south Belfast.

A Catholic priest is to lead prayer and services at a Church of Ireland cathedral.

St Anne's, the Church of Ireland cathedral in Belfast city centre, said the addition of Fr Edward O'Donnell was "significant".

Fr O'Donnell is the parish priest of St Brigid's in south Belfast. It is the first time in the history of St Anne's that a Catholic priest will serve on the cathedral chapter.

Fr O'Donnell will join Methodist minister Rev Ruth Patterson, and Presbyterian minister, also Rev Ruth Patterson, to complete the cathedral's complement of three ecumenical canons.

The statutes of the General Synod of the Church of Ireland state that the dean and chapter of St Anne's Cathedral, having consulted with the Bishop of Down and Dromore and the Bishop of Connor, may appoint up to three ecumenical canons.

A cathedral's ecumenical canon may say or sing morning or evening prayer or the litany; read holy scripture; deliver an address and assist at occasional services. An ecumenical canon holds office until they resign from the office or cease to be a full-time minister or accredited preacher.

A native of Magherafelt, Fr O'Donnell studied in St Malachy's College Belfast, and St Kieran's College in Kilkenny. In June 1976 he was ordained priest for the Diocese of Down and Connor, and recently celebrated his fortieth anniversary as a priest.

After ordination, he was appointed chaplain to Belfast City Hospital, then, while curate in the Parish of Drumbo, he was the first Catholic chaplain in Hydebank Young Offender's Centre. In 1982 he was appointed Bishop's Secretary by Bishop Cahal Daly, a post he held for eight years.

After a short curacy in Antrim town, Fr O'Donnell was appointed parish priest of Newtownards and Comber and in 2002 he was transferred to be parish priest in St Anne's in Finaghy.

In 2010, Bishop Noel Treanor appointed him as parish priest of St Brigid's in Belfast, an appointment he continues to hold. He serves on numerous diocesan committees and is a member of the board of directors of Restoration Ministries.

Fr O'Donnell will be installed as an ecumenical canon of St Anne's Cathedral on Sunday September 25. He said he was surprised to learn from the Dean of Belfast, the Very Rev John Mann, that the cathedral chapter had elected him, adding that he was "very pleased and happy to accept".

"While this is a personal privilege for me, the honour is shared with all those who work quietly but persistently to improve and strengthen inter-church relationships," Fr O'Donnell said.

"I recognise that for St Anne's Cathedral community, and for the Catholic community of Belfast, that this is a significant step, perhaps even historic, but more so, I recognise the generosity of the dean and chapter in inviting me, as a representative of the Roman Catholic Church, to be an ecumenical canon.

"I look forward very much to working with them and making a contribution to the Christian life of our city. Our common faith Jesus Christ commits us to strive for reconciliation and unity - that unity, wonderfully described by the great Lutheran theologian, Oscar Cullmann, as `unity in reconciled diversity'."

Dean Mann said he was delighted that Fr O'Donnell had accepted the nomination.

"He is a priest for whom I have great admiration and his presence in St Anne's will be source of strengthening the already important ecumenical bonds that we have. Our unity in Christ is important to us both," Dean Mann said.

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