MAYNOOTH professor of theology Fr Brendan Leahy has been appointed Bishop of Limerick.
At just 52 years of age, he be-comes Ireland's youngest Catholic bishop by some margin.
The next youngest member of the episcopacy is Dr Kieran O'Reilly, the 60-year-old Bishop of Killaloe.
Fr Leahy is professor of systematic theology at St Patrick's College, Maynooth, Co Kildare.
He was born in Dublin in March 1960 and studied law at UCD. He has also studied theology, spirituality and philosophy and was called to the Bar in 1983.
Fr Leahy was ordained in 1986 and carried out postgraduate studies at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome from 1983 to 1991.
Since then he has held a number of roles in the Archdiocese of Dublin.
Fr Leahy has a strong ecumenical pedigree and is a member of the Focolare Movement.
There has been a vacancy in Limerick since Dr Donal Murray resigned three years ago following the publication of the Murphy report into clerical child abuse.
He was heavily criticised for his mishandling of sexual abuse allegations in the Archdiocese of Dublin where he had been a bishop before moving to Limerick.
Fr Leahy said the appointment was "certainly not something I foresaw as part of my life's journey" and acknowledged that many people today struggle in their faith.
"In particular I greet people who feel they are hanging on in the Church by their finger tips and all who are struggling with their faith," he said.
"I invite you not to give up. This is a Year of Faith. It can be a new start for us all."
The average age of Ireland's Catholic bishops stands at 68, with the oldest, Dr Colm O'Reilly, the Bishop of Ardagh and Clonmacnois, celebrating his 78th birthday today.
Of the 29 serving bishops, 12 are in their seventies. Catholic bishops are obliged to offer their resignation to the Pope on their 75th birthday.
Two dioceses - Derry, and Kildare and Leighlin - are vacant at present while the announcement of a coadjutor bishop in Armagh to assist Cardinal Sean Brady has been long-expected.