ST MARY’S Cathedral has a Bunbury.
Dean Thomas Bunbury had charge of the parish in the 1800s and his face beams from a portrait in the boardroom.
His 21st century successor, Dean Niall J Sloane, barely a year in office, accepted this Limerick appointment only to find that a 12-month programme for the Cathedral’s 850-year celebrations was about to get under way.
He talks about the Cathedral as a place of worship, as heritage icon, as a community institution, as venue for the arts and as a principal tourist attraction.
Around us, St Mary’s is busy this winter afternoon with plenty going on under luminous leaded windows.
The Evergreens, a group of local pensioners of all faiths and perhaps none, meet for tea and talks and sharing. Tourists wander. Staff are working upstairs, downstairs.
Doors open seven days to morning service. There are lunchtime and evening concerts, exhibitions, Episcopal services and a parish of births, marriages and deaths to tend.
“Everything that we do is open to everybody. This is who we are.”
That our Church of Ireland Cathedral is for all people is the guiding tenet that Dean Niall J Sloane articulates in several ways.
“We based the 850 year programme around 12 areas such as health, education, sport, tourism, people. We had talks every month and a service to link in with various bodies such as Tidy Towns, Limerick Civic Trust and the Irish Cancer Society.
“For example, for The Environment and Architecture unit, we had our own Noreen Elleker speak on Edmund Sexton Pery, the man who designed Pery Square and other parts.”
Another initiative invited each of the “hidden heroes of Limerick”, the Suicide Watch groups, Order of Malta, St John’s Ambulance and so on “to say thank you to them. So much of what they do for the city and surrounds is about being unsung heroes.
“We sought nominations from them for individual community heroes, open to any representative and from any sector. We received about a dozen.” Now Limerick’s Community Awards Scheme 2019 recipients are Sr Delia O’Connor, Paul Carey, Philip Doran, Tom Naughton, Maura O’Neill and Bedford Row Project. Their quiet achievements will be acknowledged at St Mary’s Cathedral on Sunday February 17 at 7pm. In addition, the Dean will present cheques to local charities and groups.
Everyone is welcome. A stronger, more united, successful and energised Limerick is the aim of the initiative.
“We are partnering with other stakeholders and are particularly conscious of the role played by Limerick Council. We are working together with them as a team.
“The Cathedral is the third largest tourist attraction in Limerick, after King John’s Castle and The Hunt Museum and we are the voice of what is Limerick’s oldest building. We are here longer than anyone else.
“First and foremost. St Mary’s Cathedral is a place of Christian witness. We are part of a big community and reaching out.”
There are other significant identities: as the tourist magnet pulling, in part, a quarter of a million people to Limerick on the medieval trail.
“And thirdly, as a place for concerts, talks, the arts, recitals. A cathedral is more than a church, it is a place which by nature of its ministry, can push the boundaries and experiment and be bold.”
Case in point, St Mary’s front West Door – for centuries only opened for Episcopal occasions “and very special persons”- will become the public portal as soon as it is supported by an internal porch.
“Everybody is a special person. It is all about engagement.”
The revitalisation of downtown Limerick is something that Dean Sloane holds dear for the locals.Outside on Nicholas Street, the painters are busy refreshing edifices in a jointly funded scheme: “Styx is already painted and three houses. We recognise that a lot of people on the street don’t have a lot of money.
“We are family here and family supports each other. That’s what families do.”