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The Metropolitan Cathedral welcomed over 1,000 people on 3 September for the Episcopal Ordination of Bishop Tom Neylon.
By Simon Hart
‘What we have received today is an extraordinary grace from above, a new bishop for the Church.’ These were the words of Archbishop Claudio Gugerotti, the Apostolic Nuncio, at the conclusion of the Episcopal Ordination of Canon Thomas Neylon – a strong moment of light for the archdiocese as more than 1,000 people came together at the Metropolitan Cathedral on Friday 3 September.
It was Archbishop Gugerotti, the Vatican’s representative in Great Britain, who had earlier read the mandate from Pope Francis formally appointing Canon Neylon with the words ‘We name you Bishop of the Titular See of Plestia and at the same time appoint you Auxiliary of the Archdiocese of Liverpool’.
Canon Neylon, 63, duly became the ninth Auxiliary Bishop of Liverpool appointed in the history of the archdiocese and he will assist Archbishop Malcolm McMahon alongside Bishop Tom Williams. The Archbishop added a pinch of humour to the proceedings when noting at the beginning of Mass: ‘With two Toms – Tom Tom – we won’t lose our direction in this diocese.’
In his welcome note in the order of service, the Archbishop reflected: ‘It is testament to the service which Canon Neylon has offered to the Archdiocese of Liverpool that the Holy Father has appointed him Auxiliary Bishop. Indeed, the presence of so many people from across the archdiocese and beyond pays tribute to his ministry and reflects very fittingly Canon Neylon’s own sentiment and new episcopal motto, “I call you friends”.’
This was the first large-scale celebration at the Metropolitan Cathedral since the Covid-19 pandemic and Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster, was present together with Bishops from across England and Wales – among them Paul Swarbrick, Bishop of Lancaster, who studied for the priesthood alongside Bishop Neylon and preached the homily.
The centrepiece was the Rite of Ordination, which included the reading of the papal mandate in Latin by Archbishop Gugerotti and in English by Canon Aidan Prescott, Vicar General and Chancellor of the archdiocese. The congregation heard that in order that ‘the flock of the Lord may arrive safely at eternal, verdant pastures, it is necessary to appoint suitable shepherds who will lovingly tend this sheepfold’.
The mandate concluded with the following words from Pope Francis: ‘We urge you to carry out your ministry lovingly and zealously, in communion with your Archbishop, entrusting yourself to the protection of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary and Saint Joseph her spouse, who will help you to shepherd with the heart of a father, so that in you the Christian faithful may recognise Christ, who is always close to His people.’
This was followed by the singing of the Litany of Saints, as Bishop Neylon lay in front of the high altar, before Archbishop Malcolm led the Prayer of Consecration. He anointed the head of the new Bishop with the oil of chrism and presented him with the Book of Gospels, his Bishop’s ring, mitre and pastoral staff amid a spontaneous round of applause from the congregation. As the rite came to an end, Bishop Neylon was greeted by the other Bishops present and invited to take first place among them.
‘Ordained by a saint’
Another highlight of the Mass was the homily by Bishop Neylon’s friend, Bishop Swarbrick. The pair studied at seminary together and Bishop Swarbrick recalled the fact that Bishop Neylon was ordained as a priest by Pope St John Paul II, in front of 250,000 people at Heaton Park, Manchester in May 1982. ‘Some of you may not have been surprised by Tom’s appointment – after all, he was ordained a priest by a saint,’ he quipped.
Touching on the symbol of the shepherd, Bishop Swarbrick also made a light-hearted reference to Pope Francis’s observation about a bishop having ‘the smell of sheep’. He began: ‘To put it crudely he has sniffed you out … Tom, you smell of sheep!’ This led to a more serious reflection. ‘It means not only have you shown you know and are faithful to Christ’s teaching, but that you can get it across,’ he said.
‘The art of teaching means first, of course, to have a solid grasp of and passion for the subject; but this must be communicated. The skill of the true teacher is to awaken in the pupil a sense of interest and wonder that will provoke and feed an adventure for life.’
Bishop Swarbrick added: ‘Your work as a bishop, Tom, will be to sanctify the people of God because this is what Christ came to do – be holy for the Lord your God is holy.’
Finally, there was a reference to the significance of the Episcopal Ordination taking place on the Feast of St Gregory the Great. ‘The burden of pastoral office is daunting,’ said Bishop Swarbrick. ‘Individuals can be forgiven for shying away from it. St Gregory the Great, whose feast we keep today, serves as a comforting example of somebody of immense ability and great holiness who did all he could to avoid taking it. When you read the Directory for the Pastoral Ministry of Bishops, have St Gregory’s book on pastoral care close by.’
Born in Padgate, Warrington, Bishop Neylon had most recently served as parish priest at St Wilfrid’s in Widnes, following 24 years at several parishes in St Helens. The congregation included groups from both towns, with St Wilfrid’s parishioner, Barbara Norris, reading the first reading of the Mass from the second letter of St Paul to the Corinthians (4:1-2,5-7). As a measure of the scale of the occasion, there were also church leaders from other denominations – including the Bishop of Liverpool, Paul Bayes – and local civic guests including the Lord Lieutenant, Mark Blundell, the High Sheriff, Nigel Lanceley, and the Lord Mayor of Liverpool, Councillor Mary Rasmussen.
On a personal level, members of Bishop Neylon’s family played their part by bringing forward the gifts at the offertory – his nephews, Joe and Peter Neylon; his brother Joseph Neylon; and his sister, Mary Annels – as the choir sang ‘Jubilate Deo’ by Benjamin Britten.
The music of the Mass – led by the Cathedral choir under their director, Dr Christopher McElroy – also included ‘Praise to the holiest’ by St John Henry Newman; the medieval ‘Laudes Regiae’, with its Latin refrain 'Christus vincit' which was chanted at the consecration of the Cathedral in 1967; and 'Hail Redeemer, King Divine', which was the recessional hymn.
The celebration came to a finish with a closing address from each of Archbishop Gugerotti and Bishop Neylon. The former described Liverpool as an ‘extraordinary archdiocese’ and described the ordination of its new Bishop as a ‘universal gift’. He said: ‘’I would like just to say that my presence is the presence of him who is the sign of visible unity in the Church which means that through his presence, the whole Church universal is here with you now because this Bishop has been ordained for the Church universal not only for the Archbishop of Liverpool and this is very important.’
Then it fell to Bishop Neylon himself to offer his own closing words. ‘I think I’m going to spend a little bit longer wearing L-plates,’ he said. ‘There is lot to learn as I am discovering day by day and even hour by hour with this new direction in my life. Just to say that I will continue to pray for you and please do keep me in your prayers.’