The process which led to the establishment of the Forum began in 1999 when the Council of Priests of the Diocese organized a non-directive consultation among the priests of the diocese. They engaged Frs. Senan Timoney, S.J., Owen O’Sullivan, OFMCap. and John Byrne, O.S.A. as listeners. The purpose of this process was to allow priests to articulate their personal, apostolic and professional needs and their vision for the diocese. It was envisaged that planning the way forward for the diocese would follow.
Having completed the consultation with the priests, Frs. Timoney, O’Sullivan and Byrne presented a Report to Bishop Forristal and the Council of Priests in February 2000. Priority 1, identified in the report, was:
“We recommend the establishment of a diocesan forum in which bishop, priests, religious and laity can address the issues of the day and plan for the future.”
In May 2001 Bishop Forristal set up a “Forum Working Party” to explore the feasibility of this recommendation. It was composed of priests, religious and lay people. Its task was to identify aims, structures and terms of reference. Having listened to the experience of other Dioceses, especially Kilmore, Limerick and Killaloe, the Working Party presented their proposals to the Bishop and priests at a Priests’ Conference in May 2002. The Bishop and the Council of Priests accepted their proposals, which outlined a consultation process to be carried out in the diocese.
In September 2002 the “Forum Steering Committee” was set up by Bishop Forristal to progress the planning for a Diocesan Forum. This also was composed of priests, religious and lay people. The first task of the Steering Committee was to organize the consultation process which had been proposed by the Working Party.
This consultation was two-pronged:
In March 2003 Bishop Forristal wrote to each household in the Diocese inviting people to make submissions about the Forum in writing, by e-mail, by phone or by fax.
At the same time, a number of people from across the Diocese were trained as facilitators and listeners, and they formed and listened to a wide variety of “Focus Groups”
The questions in the Bishop’s letter and to the Focus Groups were the same:
- “What are the things in life that are concerning you most right now?”
- “What are your hopes and expectations of the Church?”
Responses were received from forty-nine Focus Groups and one hundred and fifty four responses were received by letter, e-mail or phone by Easter, 2003. In May 2003 a group of thirty or so people who had been involved as listeners and facilitators met with a facilitator, Ms. Anne B. Ryan, N.U.I.M., to collate this huge volume of material. This collation was typed up at the Diocesan Office and the Steering Committee undertook to have a Report written. The Report consisted of three sections: the theological context, the sociological context and the results of the consultation.
In May 2004 an open invitation was issued to all parishioners to attend a meeting in their local area. These meetings were called “Cluster Meetings”, a cluster being a group of neighbouring parishes. At these meetings:
- a summary containing the salient points, of the Report was presented to the people of the Diocese.
- a proposed Model of the Forum was put to people for their consideration and they were invited to comment, or make suggestions.
- parishes were asked to nominate three people, at least one man, one woman and one person under thirty five years of age.
Lively and constructive discussion of the model took place and responses at these meetings were recorded by members of the Steering Committee. It had been intended to hold another round of Cluster Meetings in June to elect the members of the Forum but, when the responses made at the May meetings were considered by the Steering Committee they realized that the Model of Forum needed to be radically altered, and to allow this work to be done, the Cluster Meetings were postponed until October. A Newsletter explaining the reason for the postponement was issued.
Before the next round of Cluster Meetings in October, a new Model, or Constitution, for the Forum was drawn up, taking into account the recommendations that people had made at the May meetings. The biggest change from what was presented at the first meetings was that the Forum now consisted of the Bishop, a lay representative from each parish, six priests and three religious.
At the Cluster Meetings in October 2004, this Constitution was presented and arrangements were made for a meeting of the nominees from each parish to choose the member of the Forum who would represent that parish.
A meeting of nominees, facilitated by Martin Kennedy, was held on 4th November 2004 and parish representatives were selected as members of the Forum.
Priests of each of the three deaneries chose two representatives in response to a letter from the Bishop inviting them to do so.
A meeting of religious working in the Diocese was held on 28th October and at a subsequent meeting of religious who had been nominated on 12th November, three religious were selected as members of the Forum.
On 2nd December 2004 the first meeting of the Forum was held in St. Kieran’s College, when the transition from the Steering Committee to the Forum was formally made. The Forum Coordinator, Sr. Helen Maher, had been appointed by the Bishop as outlined in the Constitution.
The second meeting of the Forum took place on 29th January 2005 and consisted of a day of formation/orientation facilitated by Fr. Eamonn Fitzgibbon.
At the next meeting on 9th March, Seán Treacy, Ballycallan Parish was elected as Forum Chairperson and Maeve Kennedy Grimes, Dunamaggan Parish as Forum Secretary. An Executive Committee of six members was also elected. 
The official Launch of the Forum took place on Sunday, 3rd April, 2005 in St. Mary’s Cathedral at 2.30 p.m. There was an open invitation to everyone in the Diocese to attend. This was a non-eucharistic celebration centred on the Word of God, the Forum being our attempt to translate the Gospel “into pastoral initiatives adapted to the circumstances” of the Diocese of Ossory at this time. The Forum Members were introduced. Representatives from parishes were mandated to carry the message of the Launch back to their parishes.
At the next Forum Meeting on 16th May, the Agenda for the Forum was drawn up. Issues that had been important to people in responding to the consultation were prioritized. Consensus was reached that the top four priorities would be Young People, Structures at Parish Level, Liturgy and Prayer and Faith Development. It was decided to set up a Working Group to address each of the first three of these and members were invited to join a Working Group in which they had a special interest or expertise. In all its work, the Forum hoped to work closely with parishes.
During the first term of the Forum (2004 – 2007) sixteen meetings of the full Forum took place. Because this was a group of almost sixty people, the Working Groups were invaluable. They did research, and prepared proposals for consideration by the full membership. These proposals were then either adopted or referred back for further work before being acted on. An example of this was the Working Group on Parish Structures which focused on having Parish Pastoral Councils established in each parish throughout the Diocese. Beginning in September 2004, over a period of two years this Working Group brought proposals to each Forum meeting. They then refined them or developed them further in the light of the feedback they got from members. This work culminated in the production of two documents:
- Guidelines for Setting up the PARISH WORKING GROUP
- THE PARISH PASTORAL COUNCIL
These documents were adopted at the Forum meeting in April, 2006.
While all priests had been kept informed of the work in progress, the final documents were presented by two members of the Parish Structures Working Group at the Priests’ General Conference in May 2006. These documents were then made available to parishes to assist them in setting up Parish Pastoral Councils. The target date for the establishment of PPCs was the first Sunday of Advent 2006.
The Young People and the Prayer and Liturgy Working Groups worked in a similar way leading to initiatives in each of these areas. For one initiative these groups combined, and having surveyed young people through the secondary schools of the Diocese, they organised a young peoples’ liturgy for designated parishes on a chosen Sunday evening. The Liturgy Group surveyed parishes in relation to Parish Liturgy Groups. In response to the feedback they got they offered suggestions/guidelines for the establishment of such groups.
In collaboration with Ossory Youth, the Young People Working Group promoted a Meitheal Training Course. The purpose of this was to provide training for a person who would be willing to work in a parish as a liaison person with young people. The uptake of this by parishes was disappointing.
Each year a full-day meeting of the Forum took place, facilitated by someone from outside the group. The purpose of these meetings was to provide an opportunity to evaluate the previous year, have some input by way of formation for members and do some planning for the coming year.
The work of the Forum was coordinated by the Executive Committee. Apart from the summer months, this group met monthly to review progress and do forward planning.
The 2004 Constitution stipulated that in the last six months of the first term an evaluation of the functioning of the Forum should be done. This evaluation was carried out and had an internal and external dimension. Forum members were surveyed for their views at an all-day meeting in September 2007. Prior to that, a random sample of priests, religious and lay people not involved in the Forum had been surveyed. The main sense that came through was that while the majority expressed positive views on the Forum in terms of widening participation in the life of the Church, there was a sense of disappointment in its lack of real impact on the lives of ordinary people in the parishes.
In September 2007 Bishop Forristal retired and Bishop Freeman was appointed. Bishop Freeman extended the term of the Forum for a further year, during which a more extended evaluation took place. Taking account of the results of this evaluation, a revised Constitution was prepared. This was approved at a Forum meeting on 8th November 2008. The main features of this Constitution are:
The membership of the Forum: forty-two lay people, one from each parish in the Diocese, twelve priests and six religious with Bishop Freeman as President.
With a view to promoting more local ownership and more easily identifying local needs, the Forum is now organised at Deanery level, that is, each of the Deaneries has its own Deanery Pastoral Council and there is a central executive body, known as the Ossory Diocesan Pastoral Council.
The full Forum comes together in an Assembly annually or as required.
The out-going Executive Committee was asked to initiate the new Deanery Pastoral Councils and the Ossory Diocesan Pastoral Council.
In May 2009 the Northern, Middle and Southern Deanery Pastoral Councils met for the first time. They continue to meet at 5/6 weekly intervals. They have elected their own Chairpersons, Coordinators and Secretaries.
The members of the Ossory Diocesan Pastoral Council (Executive body) were elected in March 2010.
The first meeting of that group took place on 9th June 2010.
List of Focus Groups
P.T.A.A. MembersParents of young children
Parents of special needs children
Men – aged 18 – 25
Home Makers aged 25 – 45
Mothers of teenagers or younger
Boys and girls 16 – 18 years
Newcomers to an area
Teachers – primary and secondary
New residents in community
Men – 40 – 65 years
Senior second-level students
Parents of addicts
Lay ministers in church
Young single farmers
Mothers of teenagers
Home MakersThird Level Students
Newcomers to the parish
Teachers – serving and retired
New arrivals in parish
Elderly people – 70 – 80
Women working outside the home
Mothers of school-going children
Mixed 14 – 25 years
Mothers – 30 – 45
G.A.A. members 18 – 25 years
30 – 40 years
New residents in parish
Forum members 2004
|Barry, Roy||St. Patrick’s|
|Bergin, Máirín||St. John’s|
|Bollard, Fr. Dan||Co-opted|
|Cavanagh, Fr. Daniel||Priest, S. Deanery|
|Dalton, Sheila||St. Mary’s|
|Dunphy, Maria||St. Canice’s|
|Gilligan, Patrick||Sier Kieran|
|Hennessy, Fr. William||Priest|
|Kehoe, Fr. Peter||Religious|
|Kennedy Grimes, Maeve||Dunamaggan|
|Maher, Sr. Helen||Coordinator|
|McCarthy, Sr. Nora||Religious|
|Moloney, Sr. Margaret||Religious|
|Murphy, Fr. James||Priest,M. Deanery|
|O’Farrell, Fr. Pat||Priest,N. Deanery|
|O’Gorman, Fr. Eamonn||Priest, S. Deanery|
|Purcell, Fr. Francis||Priest,M. Deanery|
Executive Committee members:
Bishop Forristal, President
Seán Treacy, Chairperson
Maeve Kennedy Grimes, Secretary
Síle Grant, Slieverue Parish
Olivia Maher, Tullaroan Parish
Donnchadha O’Riordáin, Castletown Parish
Aoife Shiel, Tullaherin Parish
P.J. King, Durrow Parish
Sr. Helen M. Maher (Forum Coordinator)
(In September 2005 Maeve Kennedy Grimes resigned as she returned to live in the U.S. Anne Walton was coopted as Forum Secretary. Having amended the Constitution in September 2005, Síle Grant was elected Deputy Chairperson in October 2005 and Séamus Quigley was elected Forum Treasurer in November 2005. In January 2007, Diarmuid Healy was coopted as Forum Communications Officer.)