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Dublin parish protests departure of beloved priest

By Susan Gately - 16 September, 2018

“If the Archbishop appoints me, I see that as what God wants me to do. If I respond positively and go where he wants, I think it brings a grace.”

Fr Hugh Kavanagh (Photo: R. Samson)

A parish in Dublin has staged a protest over plans to move its priest to another parish.

The parishioners of East Wall, in north inner-city Dublin, have presented a petition with 1,400 signatures to the Archbishop of Dublin, requesting him not to move Fr Hugh Kavanagh to Clondalkin.

Fr Kavanagh, a native of Wicklow, has been administrator at the parish for five years. Last weekend, parishioners staged a protest outside the church calling for the priest to stay put. One placard read: “Hail Mary full of Grace, can’t someone else take Hugh’s place?”

Speaking to CatholicIreland, Fr Kavanagh said he was “humbled and touched” by the concerns of those who joined the protest. He admitted it was hard to leave East Wall, which he described as a very close-knit community. However, he said he had not hesitated at all when asked by Archbishop Diarmuid Martin to move parish.

“The Archbishop’s task is a very difficult one. So it is really an opportunity to support him in his role. If he appoints me, I see that as what God wants me to do. If I respond positively and go where he wants, I think it brings a grace,” he said.

Parishioners said Fr Kavanagh had been instrumental in helping to bring healing to the parish, in particular after local children were abused by a priest in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

The priest’s housekeeper, Helen McCulloch, quoted in Extra.ie, said: “I know him from all the good work he’s done in the parish. He provides pastoral care for anyone who needs it. The kids love him, the teenagers love him. Even when we were organising a petition, a little one said to us how sad she was that Fr Hugh was leaving.”

Ms McCulloch said Fr Kavanagh had opened the church gardens to older retired men and children. “He’s a very kind man who is very involved in his community. He has brought people back to the Church. He’s the first priest of the people that we’ve had, he is there for us.”

The population of East Wall is around 5,000 but only a couple of hundred go to the Saturday evening or Sunday morning masses. “Mass is central, but an even bigger role is building the community and the parish,” Fr Kavanagh told CatholicIreland. “Pope Francis talks about going out to the peripheries. So I visit people, and I’m with them at significant moments.”

He said he had loved his time at East Wall. “You get to know people quite well. It’s perhaps different to other parishes. When you go out to buy a bottle of milk for example, it doesn’t take five minutes, it’ll be 15 or 20 because of all the people you meet.”

Although he’s out in the community so much, he does not see himself as a social worker. “We [priests] bring the presence of Jesus with us. I have to bring the love of God to people. A social worker will have a competency that I won’t have. But when people need to speak, lots of times they share with a priest what they wouldn’t share with a social worker. What is of real importance is the spiritual aspect. You are there for people who can share what they want with you, and then you bring it to God for their sake.”

Fr Kavanagh will move to the combined parish of Rowlagh and Neilstown in Clondalkin at the end of September. Despite the challenge of pulling up roots in East Wall, he remains convinced that priesthood is a “wonderful way of life”.

“You are meeting people and often it is in sad situations but even there you see the good part of people. You enter their world and you see the goodness in how they are trying to live certain moments. You see the depth of their Christianity and that reinforces me as a priest. You feel you are not on your own.”

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