On Tuesday morning, Pope Francis announced that Fr Michael Duignan would be the new Bishop of Clonfert, to succeed the long-serving incumbent Bishop John Kirby who has filled the role for more than three decades. But who is the new Bishop?
Bishop-elect Michael Duignan was born on 15 July 1970 and is a native of Bealnamulla, Athlone, Co Roscommon. The eldest of a family of six, he attended Cloonakilla National School, Bealnamulla and St Aloysius College, Athlone, Co Westmeath.
He began his seminary formation for the Diocese of Elphin with a Spiritual Year at St Patrick’s Missionary Society in Kiltegan, Co Wicklow. His studies continued at the Pontifical Irish College in Rome where he attended the Pontifical Gregorian University. He graduated with a Baccalaureate in Philosophy in 1990 and a Baccalaureate in Theology in 1993. As a postgraduate student he completed a Licentiate in Dogmatic Theology in 1995.
In 1993, he was ordained a deacon in the Basilica of Santa Prassede, Rome. On the 17th July 1994, he was ordained a priest in the Church of Saints Peter and Paul, Athlone by Most Rev Dominic Conway, Bishop of Elphin.
After completing his Licentiate, he ministered as Curate in the Cathedral Parish of St Mary’s, Sligo and subsequently as Chaplain to the Institute of Technology, Sligo before returning to Rome to complete doctoral studies in contemporary trinitarian theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University with Father Gerald O’Collins SJ.
Returning to Ireland, he ministered as Curate in the Parish of Ahamlish and Innismurray, Cliffoney, Co Sligo and began teaching Theology, Philosophy and Religious Education at St Angela’s College (A college of NUI, Galway ), Cloghereevagh, Co. Sligo. In 2005, he was appointed full-time Lecturer in Religious Education and Chaplain at St Angela’s College. In the same year, he was appointed Assistant Diocesan Secretary for the Diocese of Elphin. Subsequently he was appointed Director of Religious Education, Theology and Chaplaincy programmes at St Angela’s College teaching primarily in the areas of Fundamental and Systematic Theology, Pastoral Studies and Liturgy. He was involved in the development and delivery of outreach programmes in Theology, Religious Education and Pastoral Studies in Roscommon, Knock, Carrick-on-Shannon, Athlone, Letterkenny and at NUIG, Galway and the Newman Institute, Ballina.
In 2008, he was appointed by Bishop Christopher Jones as Diocesan Director of the Permanent Diaconate and began the process of overseeing the formation of candidates for the Permanent Diaconate and the restoration of the Permanent Diaconate in the Diocese of Elphin. In 2014, he was appointed by the Irish Episcopal Conference as National Co-ordinator of Formation for the Permanent Diaconate and subsequently took on the position of National Director of the Permanent Diaconate. He is also secretary to the National Training Authority of the Permanent Diaconate in Ireland.
Since 2009, he has served as Chairperson of the Board of Management of The College of the Immaculate Conception, Summerhill, Sligo, the largest post-primary school for boys in Connacht.
In 2014, he was appointed by Bishop Kevin Doran as Chancellor and Diocesan Secretary of the Diocese of Elphin, Episcopal Vicar for Education and Formation and in 2018 as Diocesan Financial Administrator. As Episcopal Vicar for Education, he took a lead role in the establishment of Coláiste Chiaráin, Summerhill, Athlone and St Comán’s Wood Primary School, Roscommon Town.
In 2015, he led the new initiative to recruit and form Diocesan Catechists for ministry in the Diocese of Elphin with the first cohort due to graduate in 2020. He is a member of the Elphin Diocesan Pastoral Council, Council of Priests, Finance Committee, College of Consultors and the Diocesan Safeguarding Executive. Over the years he has served as secretary of the Council of Priests; member of the Elphin Pastoral Planning Group; member of the Elphin Diocesan Colleges, Principals and Chairpersons forum; member of the Diocesan Vocations Committee, Youth Committee and Liturgy Committee and as Diocesan Master of Ceremonies for Liturgical Celebrations. He was a member of the Theological Commission of the Archdiocese of Omaha, Nebraska convened for the cause for canonisation of the Servant of God, Father Edward J. Flanagan (a native of the Diocese of Elphin ). He has also been involved in training and formation programmes for Parish Pastoral Councils, Liturgy Groups, Eucharistic Ministers and Ministers of the Word.
He served as Spiritual Director to youth faith groups such as Youth 2000 Ireland, Elation Ministries and has worked with organising young adult and student involvement in International World Youth Day celebrations, youth pilgrimages and events.
Father Duignan is a member of the Knock Shrine Management Advisory Board and the Knock Shrine Faith Renewal Council. He chaired the Liturgy Committee for the visit of Pope Francis to Knock Shrine in 2018. In September 2018, he was elected President of the Oliver Plunkett Union of Past Students of the Pontifical Irish College, Rome.
Along with his doctoral dissertation, he has published various articles and homilies on theology, the Permanent Diaconate and pastoral issues. Outside of his academic and pastoral work his interests include music, reading, travel, cooking and spending time with family and friends.