IF YOU have a secure job in Ireland at the moment you are lucky, but there are none as safe as Fr Ger Fitzgerald’s.
At 32 the Castleconnell man is one of the youngest priests in Ireland. With only a handful of priests being ordained every year and an ageing clergy population he has a job for life.
And that suits Fr Fitzgerald just fine, who has been based in Ennis Parish for just over a year
“I’m loving every minute of it,” said Fr Fitzgerald.
There is a joke about a little boy asking a priest what does he do for the rest of the week after saying a Mass on Sunday.
“Plenty,” laughs Fr Fitzgerald.
“It would be very hectic. There are four churches with various Mass times. You could end up saying two Masses a day. One time I had a Mass in the morning, a wedding in the afternoon and a Mass at night. I visit a lot of schools, homes and we have an outreach ministry in Ennis,” said Fr Fitzgerald.
While there are many advantages to being a young priest there are disadvantages too.
“It can be a problem in the hospital. A lot of the older patients don’t believe I’m a priest - they must think I’m an imposter!
“I’ve had a number of occasions when older people have actually refused to take Holy Communion because they don’t believe I’m a priest. I have to show them a little ID that proves I’m a priest,” said Fr Fitzgerald.
On another occasion he knocked on the door of an elderly lady on his rounds.
“I was wearing the priest’s clothes but I had the collar opened and it wasn’t clearly identifiable. She came out as far as the door, looked out at me and shouted out, ‘who are you?’.
“I said, ‘I’m the new priest’. No way would she let me in, she said, ‘absolutely not, go away’.
“I went around the corner, put on the collar and knocked on the door. As sure as God didn’t she open the door, let me in and made me tea!” laughs Fr Fitzgerald, who celebrated the one year anniversary of his ordination with many family, friends and neighbours in Castleconnell.
“Being younger is nice when you are in primary and secondary schools because you can relate a little bit more to them, you know what they are into and what their scene is,” he adds.
As well as happy occasions like his first wedding and baptism there have been sad incidences too.
“Two in particular spring to mind, the first ever funeral Mass I had was a 2 month old child from a cot death. That was very sad.
“In relation to my house calls, you build up a rapport with the people you call to see and recently one of them passed away. I said his funeral Mass, it was hard remembering all the memories I had with him,” said Fr Fitzgerald.
And the effects of the recession are very visible for priests, who have access others don’t.
“The people who really need help are actually the ones who won’t call to your house. That’s why there is tremendous value in the outreach ministry in Ennis.
“We need to be reaching out to them, I’ve tried to be involved in it as much as I can,” he said.
Fr Fitzgerald first thought of becoming a priest when he was nine or 10 years old.
“It was always there no matter how much I repressed it or pushed it away. There is a wonderful line in St John, it was an invitation from Jesus to ‘come and see’.
“I would advise anyone pondering about it even in only a small way to come and see,” said Fr Fitzgerald, who is delighted he did.
He passes on his best wishes to retired Castleconnell parish priest Fr James Minogue on his recuperation.