The country’s newest Catholic bishop has pledged to live his life according to the ideals of “service” in line with the recommendations of the recent Liverpool diocesan synod. And he predicted that after the Covid-19 pandemic, life will never be the same again.
Bishop-elect Thomas Neylon, 62, appointed by Pope Francis as Bishop of Plestia and auxiliary bishop of Liverpool, said he had been “greatly surprised” to receive a phone call inviting him to the Nunciature in London, where he was welcomed by Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Claudio Gugerotti. “I was even more surprised when he revealed the purpose of his invitation,” he said.
“For now, I find peace in accepting the appointment from a trust that the Lord has placed in me. I have to deepen my relationship with Christ, the Good Shepherd, who laid down his life for his sheep.”
Born into a Catholic family in Warrington, the oldest of three children of Irish parents, the development of his faith was strongly influenced by the parish I grew up in, St Oswald’s Primary School, Padgate and English Martyrs High School in Orford.
“It was Father Bill Cook, a curate in the parish, who asked me this question: ‘Have you ever thought about becoming a priest?’ That set me on a pathway of exploration which brought me to the Junior Seminary at St Joseph’s, Upholland and to St Cuthbert’s Senior Seminary, Durham.”
After ordination by Pope John Paul II in 1982 he spent four years as assistant priest at St Cuthbert’s, Wigan. This was followed by nine years in Skelmersdale as part of the team ministry. In 1996 he was appointed parish priest at St Julie’s, St Helens. Over the next 24 years he also had responsibility for St Teresa’s, Devon Street and English Martyrs, Haydock. Last September he joined the clergy team in St Wilfrid’s, Widnes.
He said: “There is a very strong Catholic presence in this part of England. Throughout my life I have been privileged to witness testimony to the Catholic faith in families, in parishes and in schools. Last month we had our Archdiocesan Synod. The 19 recommendations that were presented to the synod members to vote on are evidence of the desire to continue to witness to the faith in the time in which we live.”
“One of the strong themes underpinning the recommendations is that of service. It is in this spirit that I hope to live my life as an auxiliary bishop.”
Later, in an interview with The Tablet, he continued: “My kind of experiences of Catholic life have been on the receiving end of the love and service of other people, people in the family, the wider community, neighbours and people in the parishes. In the parish I grew up in there was a religious sister, teachers, the priest himself.”
This helped develop in him a deep sense of service and commitment to community life.
He described how the Covid-19 pandemic had changed Church life, first with the closure of churches and the disappointment among people they could no longer physically attend.
“One of the first things I realised is how tactile Catholic life is. Contact with people, touching bread and wine, sacred vessels. We had to kind of back off.”
More recently, worshippers have been able to return. “We have been open now for some months. The people who feel able to come out appreciate what we have and are looking forward to sharing what we have, the riches we have, to open ourselves up to the spirit.”
This opening up will help the church through the recommendations from the synod members and to interpret them according to these times, opening the Church up to new ways of doing things.
“We have all had to learn new ways. Obviously life will never be the same. I think life in the church will be different, there are some practices we might look at again and develop afresh, such as new ways of approaching families and sacramental life.”
Parishes have found new ways of connecting with the wider community through the pandemic, with people in need and distress. “A lot of it doesn't get headlines but there are lots of good things out there, hopefully to give us the impetus to keep moving forward.”
Archbishop of Liverpool Malcolm McMahon OP said: “I am delighted to welcome Canon Tom Neylon as an auxiliary bishop. When I came to the archdiocese in 2014 Canon Tom was already a Vicar General and trustee of the archdiocese and his excellent pastoral and administrative skills have been invaluable to me in my ministry as archbishop. He will now be able to use those God-given talents at a higher level in assisting me in taking the Church forward in the coming years.
“Our Synod met two weeks ago and this month we will meet to determine a pastoral plan for the coming years. Bishop-elect Tom will fulfil a vital role in implementing our plan so that we can better serve the people of our archdiocese. It is a challenging time but one which offers a bright future for Catholics in this part of north-west England as we continue to be ‘together on the road’. Bishop-elect Tom will, I know, be always walking alongside our people on that journey.
“It is with great joy that I will ordain him Bishop on Friday 3 September in our Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King. On that day the Church celebrates the Feast of Pope St Gregory the Great, a man who reorganised Church life and administration and sent Augustine and his monks to evangelise the English. It is a fitting day to ordain a bishop who will be charged with the tasks of administration and evangelisation in this part of England. I know that Bishop-elect Tom will accept these tasks graciously and fulfil them with diligence and care for others.”