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“Master evangeliser” lauded by bishops

The bishops of Southern African, gathered for their bi-annual plenary at St John Vianney National Seminary in Pretoria, lauded the evangelisation work of popular Irish missionary, Msgr Barney McAleer.

Msgr Barney McAleer was acknowledged for his evangelising work in Southern Africa by the bishops at the end of the opening mass of their January plenary.

Ordained over 50 years ago in Ireland, McAleer has spent all his priestly life in South Africa ministering in the Archdiocese of Johannesburg and, in recent times, at the Bishops' Conference.

Archbishop Stephen Brislin presents Msgr Barney McAleer with a framed certificate in gratitude for his work in Southern Africa

Until recently he was the coordinator of the Evangelisation Department of the Bishops' Conference. He is now coordinator of the SACBC Foundation – which raises money for different charitable projects of the Church. Last year the foundation dispensed R630,000 to different charities and projects scattered throughout the conference region.

Pope Benedict XVI bestowed on McAleer the title 'monsignor' just before his 75th birthday in January 2014.

Archbishop William Slattery speaks about Msg McAleer calling him a “master evangeliser”

In congratulating McAleer, Archbishop William Slattery of Pretoria called him a “great evangeliser and man of the people”. The Archbishop said that McAleer had often challenged the bishops to think differently. He said that McAleer had told the bishops that if they try something and it doesn't work they should try something different. “Barney is known to people all over this country for the great work he has done for the Church in evangelising; his name is synonymous with evangelisation, he is a master evangeliser,” Slattery said. He went on to say that there was a word that McAleer never used: “no”. “Thank you very much. We appreciate all that you do and have done for the Church. Evangelisation has been the theme of your life which you always presented as 'a poor man showing another poor man where to find bread'”

McAleer has ministered under six popes: Popes John XXIII, Blessed Paul VI, John Paul I, John Paul II, Benedict XVI and currently, Francis.

Msgr Barney McAleer thanks the bishops and all those who he has worked with

In his response to the award, McAleer said that he was unworthy to be honoured. He said that the work of evangelisation was a team effort and he thanked those who have worked with him. McAleer confirmed what Slattery said saying that he told the bishops “over and over” that “the only thing you can ever follow the same method for – and it always works – is cooking Tastic rice. This doesn't work for evangelisation”.  He said that in the work of evangelisation you can never say the word “no” because with God all things are possible. McAleer joked saying “When I was in the department of evangelisation bishops were working for me, they were my field workers. The wheel has turned and now … I am working for them!”

Priests, religious and lay collaborators gathered at the opening Mass of the SACBC

McAleer was given a rapturous applause and the assembly erupted into spontaneous song as he left the sanctuary holding his 'certificate of appreciation' from the bishops for all to see.

Images: Russell Pollitt 

* The opinions expressed here by Spotlight.Africa contributors and editors are their own and not official statements of the Society of Jesus in South Africa or of the Catholic Church unless explicitly stated.


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Russell Pollitt SJ
Director of the Jesuit Institute South Africa and Editor-in-Chief of He studied the social sciences, theology and communications. He worked as pastor of the Jesuit’s downtown parish in Johannesburg, South Africa, for 7 years before moving to the Jesuit Institute. He is interested in the relationship between faith and society and the contribution that faith can make to public policy. He regularly comments on politics in South Africa and issues in the Catholic Church. He conducts workshops in South Africa on social media and the human person.

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