Pope urged to keep Limerick priest Fr Chris O'Donnell in Diocese for youth

Social media campaign as Bishop moves to allay fears over priest's transfer

Anne Sheridan

Reporter:

Anne Sheridan

Pope urged to keep Limerick priest Fr Chris O'Donnell in diocese for youth

Papal plea: A campaign has asked the Pope to intervene in Fr Chris O'Donnell's transfer

A CAMPAIGN has been launched by hundreds of young people appealing to Pope Francis to keep an “inspirational” Limerick priest in the diocese.

Fr Chris O’Donnell, of the youth ministry at the Limerick Diocesan Pastoral Centre on Denmark Street, is due to be relocated to Dublin later this year after 12 years in Limerick.

A litany of tweets have now been sent to @Pontifex, the Pope’s Twitter account, where he counts over 11 million followers, under the hashtag #keepourhero.

An online petition has also been launched, where over 1,200 signatures have been collected, pleading with His Holiness to keep their “beloved" and "favourite priest" from being relocated.

Fr O’Donnell, a former primary school teacher, is relocating to Dublin this September for up to a year to help write a sixth class religion book produced by Veritas.

The 43 year-old priest from Adare said he is not on Twitter and has not seen the campaign on social media, adding "I'd probably be mortified, I'm sure."

"The young people I work with are great. It's a gift and a privilege to work with them. As much as they love me, I love them, and I think that the reaction in the last few days is a reflection of the work we do in the youth ministry as much as the personalities involved," he told the Limerick Leader.

"I fully appreciate their sentiments - it's typical of good people and it's lovely to see that fondness is there.

"I also have to be open to new challenges; that's the life of a priest. I'm not being sent against my will or forever, but I will miss the daily contact with them. I don't know the finer details of my role in Dublin at present, but I trust in the bigger picture," he said.

Fr O'Donnell joked that in the meantime he "will be watching as much Fair City as I can and practicing my Dublin accent."

Praised for reinvigorating the Church amongst the youth in Limerick, he is involved in a number of programmes, which he says "provide young people with experiences in faith and in life."

The pilgrimages to Lourdes, he said, are regularly "over-subscribed", as are youth programmes with Anois, a leadership training programme for secondary school students, and waiting lists apply to both.

"Praise is due to the Limerick diocese, as not every diocese prioritises young people as much as they have done, particularly Bishop Leahy and Bishop Donal Murray," he added.

The Bishop of Limerick, Dr Brendan Leahy, said he has “certainly noted the response of young people across the diocese” to Fr O'Donnell's departure, before it was officially confirmed by the diocese.

“To see such an outpouring of affection for Fr Chris speaks volumes about his relationship with them and the connection that young people can have with their Church and priests,” he said.

The petition outlined that “Fr Chris has touched the lives of many young people and has been an integral part of youth development in Limerick.

“Limerick can not afford to lose this amazing man and we must petition together and try to keep him” it states.

“What Chris has done for my life cannot simply be put in words,” wrote Brian Curtin, one of those behind the campaign, to the Pope.

“At a time in my younger life when it could have gone one way or another, I was introduced to him and it shaped the rest of my life. I can credit to him my close group of friends for life and the direction my life has taken under his friendship and guidance.

“To move him, especially at such a pivotal time for the future of Limerick, would be unwise and frankly irresponsible. His place is with us, and always will be.”

Others made a plea to the Bishop Leahy, highlighting the decline in priests in the Limerick diocese in recent years “and more especially young priests who can relate to the youth.”

“Fr Chris is a class act and is likely the primary reason that many of us are returning to the Catholic Church,” wrote another.