The Very Rev Liz Fitzgerald has been installed as the first ever Lady Dean in the long and distinguished history of St Eunan’s Cathedral. The historic Service of Installation took place on Saturday evening, 23rd September 2023 – the Feast Day of St Eunan, after whom the cathedral church is named.

The Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, Rt Rev Andrew Forster, told a gathering after the service that the new Rector had been appointed Dean not because she was a woman but because she was the best candidate for the position.

The incumbent-elect was presented for institution as Rector of Raphoe, Raymochy and Clonleigh by the Archdeacon of Raphoe, Ven David Huss, who also preached the sermon.

The Archdeacon began by commiserating with the new Rector because he said it was the third occasion on which she had had to listen to him (he had been the preacher when she was made deacon in St Columba’s Church, Omagh in 2015 and again, six years ago, when she was introduced as Bishop’s Curate in the parishes of Gweedore, Carrickfinn and Templecrone.

Archdeacon Huss chose an extract from Matthew’s Gospel, Chapter 28 v 19 – the Great Commission – as the theme of his sermon. In it, Jesus urges his disciples to go and make disciples of all nations.

“It is here,” the preacher said, “that our Lord Jesus Christ gives the church his parting words and our standing orders. He gives here a Great Project, ‘Make disciples’, and a Great Promise, ‘I am with you always.’

“If ever we are wondering ‘what are we supposed to be doing?’, the answer is here: make disciples. That is our task as the church.

“Not to maintain a building, or preserve an institution. Not to nurture an identity or to make waves politically. Not even to fill pews or balance books, to gain column inches in the paper or likes and shares online.

“All those things are good,” Archdeacon Huss said, “they have their place, but they are secondary to the great project – make disciples. That’s the imperative.”

Rev Fitzgerald’s husband, Sean, their son, John, and his partner, Eirinn Canning, were in the front pew listening to the sermon along with the new Rector.

“Perhaps some of you have a poor sense of direction (like me),” Archdeacon Huss suggested, “and when you’re driving to a new place you need to follow someone. Many’s the time I’ve been led to an unfamiliar house by someone who has said: ‘Look, I’ll meet you at such-and-such a place and then you can follow me.’

“And that works well unless you find like I have that going through busy traffic or after a junction you’re not quite sure if you’re still following the right car or someone else’s. It is worthwhile for each of us to pause and ask: who am I really following in my life?

“Am I trying to live up to the expectations of others: parents, neighbours, friends? Am I trying to chase success or popularity, pleasure or freedom? Or am I following Jesus Christ?

“That’s his call to all of us: ‘Follow me.’”

Archdeacon Huss said the first pillar of disciple-making was to administer the sacraments and the second was to teach the word of God.

“St Eunan, or Adomnán, whose feast is today, was among many other things a great teacher. He was Abbot of Iona and biographer of Columba, his relative and fellow-native of what we now call Donegal. The Annals of the Four Masters says this about him: ‘Adomnán, son of Ronan, Abbot of Iona, died on 23rd September, after having been 26 years in the abbacy, and after the 77th year of his age. Adomnán was a good man, according to the testimony of St Bede, for he was tearful, penitent, given to prayer, diligent, ascetic, and temperate… and moreover, he was wise and learned in the clear understanding of the holy scriptures of God.’

“Well, our learning may not reach the heights of Eunan, who has been called a great ‘sage of the western world’ and even ‘the founder of Scottish literature’. But surely he reminds us to place a high value on teaching and learning as foundational to our Christian task.

“We don’t make disciples by engineering or cunning or force,” the preacher said. “We use the methods God has given us: the celebration of the sacraments and the teaching of the word of God.

“That’s the great project for all of us: make disciples. Let that be the focus of this next period in the life of this cathedral and these parishes.

“But we finish with the great promise: ‘I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’

“What a promise. It’s the same thought as in Psalm 121 – we don’t go it alone: ‘The Lord is your keeper / the Lord is your shade at your right hand / my help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.’

“It’s why our whole ministry should be bathed in prayer, as Romans 12 reminds us: ‘Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.’ Because our ministry as Christians will be effective only by the power and presence of the Lord.

“Pray earnestly for the work of the Holy Spirit. Pray that his presence will go with us.”

Drawing his address to a close, Archdeacon Huss said: “What an exciting time in the kingdom of God and in the life of these parishes – which are not ours, but his. The Church for which he came and shed his precious blood to win for himself a people for all eternity.

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Saturday’s Service of Installation was led by the Rural Dean and Diocesan Registrar, Rev Canon David Crooks. The Bishop’s Curate for the occasion was Rev Johnny Lowden, Curate in Glendermott and Newbuildings.

During the service, gratitude was expressed to Rev Canon John Deane and Diocesan Reader Peter Clampett who had led services during the vacancy which followed the departure of the previous Rector, Rev Arthur Barrett, to Glendalough.

A choir comprising members of different local churches led the hymn-singing, accompanied by Cathedral organist Renee Goudie.

After the service, the congregation made their way the short distance to the Cathedral Hall for refreshments and speeches.

Canon Crooks was applauded for preparing the liturgy for Saturday’s service (the new Dean thanked him for collecting her robes in England). Canon Crooks pointed out that the Bunbeg Group of Parishes – which Very Rev Fitzgerald had left after six years – had now produced its fourth Dean of Raphoe. Bishop Andrew told the gathering that the guest of honour was now the only female Dean in the Church of Ireland Province of Armagh.