Former Bishop of the Diocese of Ossory, Séamus Freeman, who has died at the age of 78 , was a priest of the Pallottine Order, named after its founder Saint Vincent Pallotti.
The eldest of eight children, he was born on February 23, 1944. Shortly afterwards, the Freeman family moved from Mullinahone, Co Tipperary, to Callan, Co Kilkenny.
After joining the Pallottines as a seminarian, Séamus studied theology at what was then St Patrick’s College in Thurles as well as philosophy at University College Dublin.
On June 27, 1971, at the age of 27, he was ordained a priest. He went on to study psychology at the Catholic University of America in Washington DC. He also spent some time with the Pallottines in Rome before taking up a senior position with the Order for eight years, back in Thurles.
In 1989, he was appointed Vicar General of the Pallottines and became Rector General in 1992, a position he held for two six-year terms. The Order is part of a wider religious community known as the Union of Catholic Apostolate and in December 2005 he was elected president of the Apostolate’s general co-ordination council.
When Father Freeman was chosen to become Bishop of Ossory, then-Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, said: “He is an exceptionally warm and kind man who I’m sure will quickly win the affection of the diocese. His genuine humility hides a deep spirituality and the breadth of his pastoral experience.”
When Fr Freeman was ordained to the episcopate and installed as bishop on December 2, 2007, Archbishop Martin was the principal consecrator. The diocese covers most of Co Kilkenny and parts of Laois and Offaly and is also part of the ecclesiastical province of Dublin.
In a newspaper article on December 28, 2010, Séamus referred to Pope Benedict’s Pastoral Letter to the Catholics of Ireland, published the previous March. He pointed out that, “Catholic primate Cardinal Seán Brady issued a wide invitation, asking people to respond to this ground-breaking initiative.”
The Irish Times article continued: “For the church in Ireland, what could be more devastating than the trail of destruction brought about by child sex abuse and related failures in accountability.
As he wrote, “over 3,000 people have contributed written responses to the Pope’s letter”.
He added, however, that although there was a positive dimension to the responses, “there was disappointment that child sex abuse was not seen as a symptom of shortcomings in church structure and function in the Pope’s letter”.
He said: “Many respondents called for dialogue relating to sexuality, clerical celibacy, and the exclusion of women (not just from ordination).” At the time, he was chair of the bishops’ Council for Pastoral Renewal and Adult Faith Development.
He suffered a minor stroke in September 2013 on a return journey from the shrine at Knock, Co Mayo. Two-and-a-half years later, on April 7, 2016, the Irish Catholic newspaper reported that some of the Ossory priests had issues in relation to the management of the diocese, such as the cost of an ambitious programme of works at the Cathedral in Kilkenny, although other priests in the diocese pointed out that these works were absolutely necessary.
In a statement prior to the 2015 referendum which permitted same-sex marriage, Bishop Freeman denied any intention to block or deny equality for gay people, adding: “To vote ‘No’ is simply to remain true to the understanding of marriage as between one man and one woman.”
At the end of July 2016, the Catholic Communications Office in Maynooth announced that Pope Francis had accepted the resignations of Bishop Freeman and his Galway counterpart, Bishop Martin Drennan, and that both of them had stepped down because of ill health. Bishop Freeman suffered from dementia in his final years.
His requiem mass in St Mary’s Cathedral was attended by Archbishop of Dublin Dermot Farrell and other members of the hierarchy, as well as the Rector General of the Pallottines, Father Jacob Nampudakam. He was laid to rest afterwards, close to his predecessors in the cathedral grounds, which was familiar territory to him during his time as bishop.
Bishop Séamus Freeman died peacefully at Highfield Healthcare in north Dublin on Saturday, August 20.
Predeceased by his sister Maureen and brother Martin, he is survived by his sisters Esther and Mary, his brothers Tommy, John and Pat, sisters-in-law Bernie, Catherine and Michelle, and other relatives and friends.