An Irishman absolutely at home in Europe
A Thumbnail Biography of the new COMECE General Secretary
It may seem coincidental that an Irishman became General Secretary of COMECE in 2013 at the start of the Irish EU Presidency. Fr Patrick Daly’s appointment as head of the COMECE Secretariat, however, could not be further from coincidence.
Born in Dublin in 1951, Patrick Daly grew up in Sligo, a small provincial town on Ireland’s West Coast. Both his parents were school inspectors. He studied for a degree in history and philosophy at University College Dublin, graduating with a Master’s Degree in History in 1975.
That is the moment when he seized an opportunity which would turn his life upside down: he obtained a scholarship from the Belgian Government to study at the Catholic University of Leuven. There he continued to study history, specialising in the Medieval era, and obtained a PhD in 1981. The subject of his thesis was the canonisation process for Thomas de Cantilupe, the last Englishman to be declared a saint before the Reformation. Well settled into the student community in Leuven, he learned Dutch and discovered that he had a talent for languages. This talent prompted him to sit the open competition of recruitment for the European Communities, after which he became an interpreter for the European Commission of what was at that time still known as the Common Market. Between 1981 and 1987 he found himself propelled “right into the middle of the action”, particularly as he was an interpreter for the Spanish and Portuguese accession negotiations for entry into the EEC. There were also meetings of European diplomats accredited to the United Nations in Geneva. He could be said to have known and lived in the heyday of European integration. The vocabulary of European technocracy held no secrets for this interpreter working in English, Dutch and French, speaking two of Belgium’s languages like a native and with a fluency in German and Italian.
But history did not stand still for this trained historian. A second opportunity presented itself and changed his whole career: a meeting with Mgr Maurice Couve de Murville, Archbishop of Birmingham, who invited him to become a priest in his diocese. Patrick Daly already felt he had a vocation to become a priest, so he did not take long to reply to this call. After his studies at the Pontifical Beda College in Rome, he was ordained priest on 5 April 1991. He then worked with Mgr Couve de Murville, who was at that time the COMECE representative for the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales. That is how Fr Daly came to attend all the COMECE Plenary Sessions between 1992 and 2001. He was even a member of the COMECE-CEC Committee from 1995 to 2001.
After this period, he was working full-time in his diocese, becoming student chaplain at Wolverhampton University, all the time being parish priest of St Peter & St Paul in Wolverhampton, near Birmingham. His parishioners thought very highly of him and really did not want to see him go when, at the end of November 2012, a third opportunity presented itself to Fr Daly…
The COMECE bishops had in fact decided, with the agreement of the Holy See, to appoint him General Secretary of COMECE for a three-year term. That is the link between this call and the two others: the two vocations, one to work for the construction of Europe and the second to serve the Church in Europe, are now united in his new role at the head of the COMECE Secretariat. Will this job require the talents of an interpreter?
“An interpreter has to listen and understand,” says Fr Patrick Daly. “He has to communicate ideas that are sometimes complicated. Interpreters who work in the European institutions have to know all about the construction of Europe. As I see it, the COMECE General Secretary has to listen a great deal, to be aware of what is going on in the world, also in and beyond the EU, and to translate into today’s language the evangelical message and wisdom of the Church so that European citizens can be reassured about the involvement of the Catholic community in the construction of Europe.”