St Anne’s Cathedral has appointed a Roman Catholic priest as one of its canons for the first time.
Father Edward O’Donnell, parish priest of St Brigid’s in south Belfast, is now one of three “ecumenical canons” at the Church of Ireland cathedral.
The dean of the cathedral, the Very Reverend John Mann, said the title allows him to help lead worship – meaning he can preach, as well as read scripture and prayers.
To take part in services, they must first be invited by Dean Mann.
Dean Mann said Fr O’Donnell may well take part in this year’s traditional Black Santa fundraising effort, which involves standing outside all day in the run-up to Christmas.
Fr O’Donnell joins two other ecumenical canons who are already in post.
The others are ministers in the Methodist and a Presbyterian churches, and – bizarrely – both are called Ruth Patterson.
In order to have the right to appoint ecumenical canons, a cathedral must first obtain the permission of the Church of Ireland’s general synod.
The church granted St Anne’s the right to do so in 2009.
Other cathedrals on the island of Ireland also have such posts, including Armagh Cathedral, which already has a Catholic ecumenical canon.
However, Dean Mann believes that this is the first parish priest – who is directly in control of ministering to a congregation – who has been given such a post in Northern Ireland.
The new appointment was announced on Tuesday night.
Dean Mann told the News Letter: “Some of the other Church of Ireland cathedrals are also looking at this. In certain ways, we would see it as a sort of logical step along the way of our ecumenical pilgrimage with other churches.”
He said the move was a “very significant step we are taking”.
However, he also said it was “part of a pattern” and they already hold ecumenical services at St Anne’s in Belfast city centre.
Fr O’Donnell is a native of Magherafelt, studied in St Malachy’s in Belfast and St Kieran’s College, Kilkenny, and was ordained in 1976.
He will be officially installed at St Anne’s on Sunday September 25 at 3.30pm.
In a statement, issued via the cathedral, he said: “Our common faith Jesus Christ commits us to strive for reconciliation and unity – that unity, wonderfully described by the great Lutheran theologian, Oscar Cullmann, as ‘unity in reconciled diversity’.”