A COUNTY WEXFORD priest said his final Mass at the weekend, two weeks after he told parishioners that he was to leave the priesthood. [I understood that when a priest made a decision to leave he stopped celebrating Mass.]
Fr. Noel O'Brien, the Catholic Curate based in Templeudigan, told his congregation two weeks ago that he was to leave the priesthood out of a desire for companionship.
It is understood that he has applied for a special dispensation to get married and it has been reported that he is to fly to Florida to wed. [Father Noel left the priesthood before for a similar reason but was later readmitted.]
Local parishioners filed into St. Mary and St. Lawrence's Church on Sunday morning at 11.30 a.m. for Fr. O'Brien's final Mass in Templeudigan.
Towards the end of the ceremony, Joe O'Connor, the Chairperson of the Parish Council, made a special presentation to Fr. O'Brien on behalf of the Parish. [Is the Mass a proper setting for giving anyone a presentation, though I presume it was just before the final blessing?]
The presentation was met with rapturous applause from the near-full church and a clearly humbled Fr. O'Brien thanked the congregation for their support and unrelenting kindness.
'I am very grateful to the many people who have visited me and wished me well. Your good wishes and gifts mean the world to me and are a great source of affirmation and a great memory to carry into the future,' he said. [Father O'Brien is as genuinely nice and generous person as you could meet. But 'rapturous applause' for someone leaving the priesthood? Do families give a presentation at a family gathering to one of them who decides, for whatever reason, good or bad, to divorce or separate from his or her spouse?]
He announced from the pulpit two weeks that he was to leave the priesthood as he wanted companionship in life, having found the priesthood lonely. However, he would not be drawn on the subject and when contacted by this newspaper he said that it was a ' very personal' issue and would not wish to comment further. [Back in the mid-70s I interviewed the late Fr Vincent San Juan SJ on the radio in Ozamiz City, Philippines. He spent nearly all of his priestly life working with couples and families. I asked him what the biggest problem in marriages in the Philippines was. His answer: 'Loneliness'. I interviewed Angela McNamara, a nationally-known counsellor in Ireland, the following year and asked her the same question about marriages there. I made no reference to my interview with Fr San Juan. Her answer: 'Loneliness'. It's not only priests who experience this.]
The former Missionary Priest arrived in the Diocese of Ferns in 2000, having worked on the missions with the Columban Order. [We Columbans, The Missionary Society of St Columban, are not an 'order'. We are a society of secular priests who don't take a vow of poverty and who are not required to live in community. The reporter however was using a term that is widely used.] He was appointed by the Diocese as the Catholic Curate in Caim, where he was based until 2004, when he was reassigned to Burma. After the one-year mission in Burma he was appointed as the CC [In Ireland 'CC', 'Catholic curate', means assistant priest in a parish] in Templeudigan.
There is no indication yet that a permanent replacement has been found to step in to fill Fr. O'Brien's position.
'In January 2009 Fr. O'Brien said he was moving on, so any future plans he would discuss with his Order [the Columbans] not the Diocese. He indicated that his time in Templeudigan was coming to an end,' said Fr. John Carroll, the Diocesan Communications Officer.
'If he was to be married in the Catholic Church he would have to submit himself for a process of dispensation, which is done through the Bishop or the Order. That would be sent off to Rome where the Pope would decide upon the application. We have received no application for dispensation nor have we been asked,' added Fr. Carroll.
- Elaine FURLONG
I've been a priest since December 1967. Like many other priests, I think I can say that one of the most painful things for me, as a priest, has been the number leaving the priesthood, some of them close friends. But I find the public congratulations given to Father Noel, as it has been given to other priests in Ireland who announced from the altar that they were leaving, inappropriate and unhelpful.
I wish Noel O'Brien well. We worked in the same part of Mindanao back in the 1970s and I always found him to be kind, helpful, prayerful and dedicated.