Ireland’s first – or perhaps second – woman bishop
On 30 November 2013, at Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin, Pat Storey was ordained as the Anglican bishop of Meath and Kildare. She had been the rector of St Augustine’s in Derry and is a standing committee member of the Church of Ireland’s general synod.
She has given herself wholeheartedly to God and the church, “teaching the Scriptures and pastoring with that disarming directness, which is your hallmark – a directness, which speaks the truth in love, with a ready laugh and delightful sense of humour,” said the Rev Nigel Parker, preaching at the service. It has been “our privilege to pray for you, as the Lord Jesus calls you to a deeper life of sacrificial service”.
She was the first woman to be consecrated by the Church of Ireland – but maybe not Ireland’s first woman bishop.
St Brigid of Kildare (sometimes known as Bridget or Bride) is one of the island’s most popular saints, though she is venerated far more widely. She is thought to have been born around 450, become a nun and later an abbess and became ill and died around 523.
Various stories have grown up around her, indicating something of the impact of this remarkable person on those around her and later generations. They convey her willingness to share what she had with the poor, her powerful faith that could work miracles, her commitment to peacemaking and the esteem in which she was held as a religious leader. She reportedly founded a school of art which produced some of the finest Irish illuminated manuscripts.
It is also sometimes said that Bishop Mel, believed to be a nephew of St Patrick who helped to evangelise Ireland, was guided by the Holy Spirit to consecrate her as a bishop at Mag Tulach. In some accounts her successors continued to wield a bishop’s jurisdictional authority for centuries, and other Irish bishops sat at their feet.
Even in an age when women were usually expected to be subordinate to men, her compassionate wisdom, spiritual depth and exceptional gifts were widely recognised.
Brigid remains a source of inspiration to many and a much-loved figure in popular devotion.
It is perhaps fitting that the first part of Ireland in modern times to have a bishop who is a woman includes Kildare.
(© Savitri Hensman is a regular Christian commentator on politics, economics, society, welfare and religion, including Anglican affairs. She is an Ekklesia associate and works in the equality and care sector.)
Savitri Hensman, an Ekklesia correspondent, raises the distinct possibility that the new (Church of Ireland) Bishop of Meath and Kildare may, in actuality, be not the first but the second Woman Bishop in Ireland. There are stories of another Woman, who may have been ordained a Bishop in Ireland – the 6th century Saint Brigid (or, St. Bride), who was thought to have been consecrated bishop by a nephew of St. Patrick himself – Bishop Mel – at Mag Tulach! I wonder if the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland will want to deny this?
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand.