By Sean Ryan - 30 May, 2015
Fr Vincent Kavanagh CSsR built up the Annual Novena to Our Lady to the point where more 10,000 people a day were attending Limerick’s ‘festival of faith’ over seven days.
During his time in Limerick, the Redemptorist cleric clashed with many politicians.
In 1977, he organised a protest to highlight the lack of Gardaí in the city during a visit by then Justice Minister Patrick Cooney.
Shortly afterwards 12 new officers were assigned to the city.
Fr Kavanagh also led the Christmas Poor Campaign, which continues to this day, and built up the Annual Novena to Our Lady each June, to the point where more 10,000 people a day were attending Limerick’s ‘festival of faith’ over seven days.
Over a number of years, Fr Vincent and the novena team travelled the length and breadth of Ireland, holding this nine-day ‘festival of faith’.
Speaking to the Limerick Leader, Fr John J. O’Riordain, CSSR, said, “For some years back, Limerick people have frequently asked me ‘How’s Fr Kavanagh?’ From his heyday in Limerick, he had moved to our monastery in Esker Co Galway where he continued to give of his best but at a more leisurely pace.”
“During these later years he still kept an interest in life and in people, spent more time in prayer in the community chapel, developed a mellowness that contrasted with the vigorous nature of Vincent, the preacher and innovator of years gone by,” he noted.
Fr Vincent in his prime was a force to be reckoned with – a formidable innovator whose practical talent knew no bounds. He had the gift of harnessing goodwill, and drawing out the best in people, but suffering fools gladly was not one of his more noted gifts.
Fr O’Riordain said that of Fr Kavanagh’s many achievements, two aspects of his career stood out for him – the years devoted to the Solemn Novena and his work for the poor of Limerick.
According to O’Riordain, when Fr Kavanagh was given responsibility for the Limerick Novena in honour of the Mother of Perpetual Help, it had already been running since the 1940s.
When Fr Vincent took up his appointment at the beginning of the 1970s there were two sessions per day during the June Novena.
“Most of us thought that this was as good as it gets – a full house in the morning and another in the evening. Vincent thought otherwise. He consulted some contacts in the business world on how to expand, and that’s when the Solemn Novena was born.”
There were four sessions the following year, then six, and on it went until Mount St Alphonsus hosted as many as 17 sessions per day.
When the church and monastery were full to capacity, Fr Vincent brought in the army, literally.
A crew from Sarsfield Barracks volunteered to erect a large marquee in the back garden capable of taking as much again as the church would hold.
All the main bands in town participated by providing plenty of good music both before and after several session and a general sense of celebration pervaded the atmosphere throughout the nine days.
A native of Arklow, Co Wicklow, Fr Vinnie, as he was affectionately known, had been in Flannery’s Nursing Home, Abbeyknockmoy, since November.
He passed away on Friday 22 May last and was buried in the Community Cemetery, Athenry. He is survived by his sister Eileen, brothers Tom and Liam.