A Liverpool priest has described how he saw his life was flashing before his eyes like “a drowning man” the moment he was told that Pope Francis wanted to appoint him as an auxiliary bishop of his home diocese.
Canon Thomas Neylon said that although he was summoned to London see Archbishop Claudio Gugerotti, the Papal Nuncio, he remained unaware of the Pope’s intention to invite him to become the next Bishop of Liverpool.
Speaking to the Catholic Herald a week before his ordination in the city’s Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King, Bishop-elect Neylon said the proposal left him “a bit stunned”.
He said that the Nuncio opened the door “with a big smile on his face and said ‘Excellency, congratulations!’”.
“I looked at him a bit bemused and he looked at me thinking, as I thought, that I should know what I was being congratulated about,” said Bishop-elect Neylon.
“I said to him, ‘What is all this about?’ and he said, ‘Pope Francis wants you to be an auxiliary bishop in Liverpool’.”
“I was a bit stunned by this news,” he continued. “They say a drowning man, his life flashes before him. That was a similar experience, I think, at that moment.
“We sat down and talked for half an hour and he asked for an answer and I said ‘yes’.”
He said he was in a “state of shock” but soon accepted that his life would change.
“Once I had said yes I began to feel kind of a bit different,” he said. “It wasn’t a question that was going to be hanging around any longer and I was able to accept that life was going to be different from that point onwards.”
“The big thing was that I had to keep it to myself,” he added.
Bishop-elect Neylon gave the interview on the eve of his September 3 ordination on the Feast of St Gregory the Great, the 6th century pope who dispatched St Augustine of Canterbury and other Benedictine missionaries to evangelise England.
At the time of his appointment in July he was serving as parish priest of St Wilfrid’s Church in Widnes, a position he has occupied for only a year.
The 63-year-old former vicar general told the Herald that he expected to serve the remainder of his priestly ministry in the town.
Instead, he will not only be travelling around the archdiocese fulfilling the ordinary obligations of a bishop but will also helping to implement the resolutions of the recent archdiocesan synod aimed at renewing the local Church.
Announcing the appointment publicly, Archbishop Malcolm McMahon of Liverpool placed the Bishop-elect at the heart of the project because of his “excellent pastoral and administrative skills”.
“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,” the archbishop said.
“Bishop-elect Tom will fulfil a vital role in implementing our plan so that we can better serve the people of our archdiocese,” he added.
“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.”
Bishop-elect Neylon was born and raised in Warrington and ordained priest at the age of 24 by Pope St John Paul II at Heaton Park, Manchester, in 1982. He has served in parishes in Wigan, Skelmersdale and St Helens.
An in-depth interview with Bishop-elect Neylon will be published in a forthcoming edition of the Catholic Herald.
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