NEW bishops are expected to be appointed to a number of dioceses within months after the diocese of Limerick finally filled its vacancy following a three-year wait.
Five Irish dioceses have either no bishop or have bishops serving beyond their retirement age.
The Irish Independent has learned that bishops will be installed at some of these dioceses within the first half of the year.
Hundreds celebrated at St John's Cathedral in Limerick yesterday after Pope Benedict appointed Fr Brendan Leahy as the next bishop of the diocese. He replaces Dr Donal Murray who stepped down in December 2009 following the publication of the Murphy Report.
Fr Leahy (52) is Professor of Systematic Theology at St Patrick's College in Maynooth.
He was accompanied by Papal Nuncio Archbishop Charles Brown, who informed him last week that he had been chosen to become Limerick's next bishop.
The papal envoy said the Vatican is currently working on the appointment of more bishops for Ireland.
Kildare and Leighlin has been without a bishop for over three years while Derry, Ardagh and Clonmacnoise, Elphin and Kerry are also waiting on announcements from Rome.
"There is obviously still several dioceses waiting for bishops and the Holy See is working as fast as we possibly can to fill those dioceses," Dr Brown said.
"So I think, with God's grace and the intercession of the saints, within not too long we should have some more appointments in Ireland," he added.
The announcement of Fr Leahy's appointment was made at masses yesterday morning and more than 300 people made their way to the cathedral to greet the new bishop.
Resounding cheers rang out with the cathedral bells at 11am as Fr Leahy stepped forward.
He said the first indication he received about becoming a bishop was over Christmas when he was contacted by the Papal Nuncio's office.
"Naturally, it was a big surprise. My plan for the moment is to get to know people, what they are saying and discover from them.
"The challenge for the whole church is to renew at all levels – that is the biggest thing for us."
He admitted he did not have great links with Limerick, but recalled spending a week on a summer camp in Salesian College in Pallaskenry.
He studied law in UCD, theology and spirituality at the Mater Dei Institute of Education in Dublin and philosophy at Clonliffe College. He became a barrister in 1983 before being ordained a priest in 1986.
Fr Leahy said his pastimes away from the church are going to the gym, attending the cinema, reading and long walks. He has two sisters, Treasa and Maura, and one brother, Tom.
Fr Leahy will be formally ordained at a ceremony in Limerick after Easter.