Profile of Monsignor James Horan
James Horan was born on the 5th of May 1911 in the townland area of Tooreen, in the parish of Partry, Co. Mayo. He was the son of a small farmer and tradesman, and the eldest of 7 children - 4 girls and 3 boys. By the time he had finished primary school in Partry, he had begun to look to the priesthood as a vocation. For this reason, he entered for a scholarship to St. Jarlath's Dioscesan College in Tuam, Co. Galway, which he was successful in winning. In September 1929, he and 6 other fellow students from St. Jarlath's went to Maynooth College to train for the priesthood. He was ordained 7 years later, in 1936 with 71 other students.
As there were no vacancies at home, he took up his first duty in Glasgow, in a parish called Dumbarton, August 1936. During his third and final year in Dumbarton, his parish priest asked him to act as chaplain on the Anchor Liner, 'California'. He was delighted to get the opportunity to go to America and meet all his friends and relations.
When he returned to Dumbarton after the trip, he received a letter from the Archbishop of Tuam, Dr. Thomas Gilmartin, asking him to return to Ireland. At the end of August 1939, he returned and took up the position as Chaplain to the Franciscan monastery in Ballyglunin.
After only 2 months there he was transferred to Tooreen in the parish of Aghamore as curate. One of the first things he noted about this area was the poor postal facilities, and without delay he was before post - office officials in Dublin's GPO seeking improvements. It could be said that he 'lit up' the parish of Aghamore, because it was he who was responsible for the introduction of electricity to the area. He also pioneered projects such as Group Water Schemes, Afforestation, and even Road Works and Drainage Schemes. He was probably best known at this time as Promoter of 'Tooreen Hall'.
After 14 years he left Tooreen in July 1959 to go to his next parish, Cloonfad. Not long after arriving in Cloonfad, he was busy setting up an Afforestation committee. He also organised drainage schemes which were badly needed in the area due to its' low-lying boggy state.
On Thursday September 12th 1963, Fr. Horan was transferred to Knock Parish as curate, and from 1967 as Parish Priest. He remained here until his untimely death on August 1st 1986. Often referred to as the 'Builder of Knock' he undertook to improve the facilities at Knock for pilgrims and parishioners alike. His main achievements during this time were.
- The building of the new church of 'Our Lady, Queen of Ireland', which was blessed and dedicated on July 18th 1976. The church is large enough to accommodate 10,000 people and covers one acre of ground. It was a gigantic undertaking, which required the collaboration of church authorities, architects, contractors and workers and Monsignor Horan had the responsibility of overseeing the whole operation. On September 30th 1979, Pope John Paul II raised the new church to the dignity of Basilica.
- The invitation to Pope John Paul II and subsequent acceptance to visit Knock for the centenary celebrations in 1979. It took the vision and courage of Msgr. Horan to think on the scale, which the events of this visit dictated. It has been said that if one man brought the Pope to this country, it was James Horan. Over 450,000 people came to Knock on that day.
- His third and equally amazing achievement was the building of Horan International Airport. The fact that a Parish Priest in the west of Ireland could be responsible for a multi-million pound airport seemed unrealistic and unattainable. When the first flight out of Knock Airport, destined for Rome, departed on October 24th 1985, Msgr. Horan stated that it was 'the greatest day in the history of Connacht for a hundred years'. He showed his true character and sheer determination in achieving this impressive goal. Two months after the official opening of the airport, Msgr. Horan went on pilgrimage to Lourdes with members of his family and friends. He died unexpectedly on that pilgrimage on August 1st. His body was flown from Lourdes to Knock and was the first funeral to fly into Knock airport.
Msgr. Horan is buried in the grounds of the Basilica. May he rest in peace.