August 23 - Unenviable choices for Bishop Leahy

Parish life being as it is, one imagines bishops of Limerick must have received plenty of letters over the years looking to transfer priests to another area.

Parish life being as it is, one imagines bishops of Limerick must have received plenty of letters over the years looking to transfer priests to another area.

But none of those would have been signed by over 2,000 named individuals - as was the case with the petition in Kilmallock to keep Canon Willie Fitzmaurice in the job he has filled with exemplary dedication for the past two decades.

Fr Fitzmaurice’s move to Croom is but one of 22 changes as Bishop Brendan Leahy sets about the unenviable task of reshuffling his personnel in the context of declining vocations.

Too many rural communities in Limerick have lost their grocery, their pub, their post office, their bank and their garda station. But the local priest is the very personification of the parish and its identity.

Credit is due to the bishop for at least ensuring no parish is losing a Sunday mass. Sharing priests among parishes is the logical thing to do, just as GAA clubs and schools in smaller communities have been forced to amalgamate.

Most of Limerick’s priests are deeply valued by their communities, as Fr Fitzmaurice clearly is in Kilmallock.

Kilmallock is the final resting place the Maigue Poet Aindrias Mac Craith, best remembered for the beautiful lament Slán Le Maigh, written after he had been banished from Croom to Ballyneety - by the parish priest!

But if Fr Fitzmaurice regards his move from Kilmallock to Croom as an exile, he is maintaining a diplomatic silence this week.

Speaking to the Leader’s Aine Fitzgerald this week, Fr Gerry O’Connor, a Dooradoyle native representing the Association of Catholic Priests, suggests priests should not be moved on after they reach 70.

That makes sense but the sad truth is that, at 67, Fr Fitzmaurice is only slightly older than the average priest. Almost one third of the 115 priests of this diocese are retired from or too ill to serve in active ministry - and the ordination of 56-year-old David Casey last month is the last such ceremony we are likely to see in Limerick for six years.

The choices facing Bishop Leahy are stark.

And the more radical choices faced by Pope Francis on what to do about the shortage of priests grow starker by the day.