Firing up the barbecue: Fr Charles Reche, the longest serving Friar with Fr Bernardino, in Moyross Pictures: Michael Cowhey
IF you cast your mind back ten years ago, the Limerick city community of Moyross was a very different place.
The area was a no-go for many people, with gangs disrupting life for those living there, and anti-social behaviour very much the norm rather than the exception.
RTE presenter Pat Kenny famously encountered a youth with a gun when taking a tour of the area in 2006. But it was the brutal burning of a car containing young Gavin and Millie Murray that same year which truly shocked the nation, and helped to pave the way for Regeneration.
While it was this State intervention which grabbed the headlines, the Franciscan Friars have also played a huge role in bringing peace in the estate, after moving in ten years ago.
A relatively new order, the ‘Monks’ as they are colloquially known, swapped the tough streets of the Bronx in New York City to set up a mission in Moyross.
And this week, they marked their tenth anniversary with a special Mass led by former Bishop of Limerick Donal Murray, who was instrumental in their coming here, and a celebration barbecue.
Fr Charles Reche, who is the longest serving of the Friars, hails from Normandy in France.
Joking that he is “the ultimate French Friar,” Fr Reche explained that he’s been in Moyross since 2010, and has witnessed a miracle of sorts with the area transformed into a far more peaceful neighbourhood.
“It’s amazing really. The people are still hurting. But the change has been very significant. There are still challenges, but overall, Moyross is way more peaceful. One of our neighbours actually mentioned that he has never experienced Moyross as peaceful as it is now – even before the troubles took hold,” he told the Limerick Leader.
Something that Fr Reche also feels is a highlight for him is the way the youngsters in the Corpus Christi parish have “blossomed” since the Monks arrived.
“Some of these kids were just 12 or 13 when we first came. Now they are into their early 20s. To see how they have blossomed humanly and spiritually is something which will stay with me. They are the future of Ireland, the future of Moyross, and the future of the church,” he said.
Tommy Daly, the chairman of the Moyross Residents Alliance, played a key role in bringing the brothers to Limerick.
He lives just doors away from St Patrick’s Friary in Delmege Park.
“They are a big addition to Moyross. They have helped develop Moyross. In bad times, they brought positivity. They are just brilliant and inspiring, and we’re delighted to have them on board,” he said.
It was the former Bishop of Limerick Dr Donal Murray’s relationship with one of the founders of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, the late Fr Benedict Joseph Groeschel which helped bring the order to Limerick – in doing so, creating their first mission outside of America and Britain.
“They have been a real boost to the community. Moyross was wounded before they came in. But the respect between them and the community in both directions is very important. It has been part of the turnaround in Moyross. The area has changed for the better, and the monks have been a part of that.”
Fr Reche swapped another tough community, the Bronx for Moyross, and he says the comparison is stark.
“It’s very different. Just the size alone. In Limerick, there are 120,000 people. In the Bronx, you’re talking between two and three million. In terms of the people, the big difference is here everyone pretty much knows everyone. That makes a big difference. The Bronx is more anonymous – you’re a face in the crowd, nothing more,” he said.
Surveying the Clare hills, which are faded because of the cloudy rainy weather on the day of the tenth anniversary celebration, Fr Reche said: “The views are nicer here. Even though I am in Moyross, I feel like I am in the countryside.”
One of the reasons peace has reigned in the estate, he added, is the decline in its numbers. Back in 2007, almost 5,500 people lived in the northside community – but this is now below 2,500.
The Franciscan Friars have brought a lot to Moyross – but equally, the people of Moyross have helped the Monks, Fr Reche added.
“The people of Moyross have taught me how to be a priest. It’s like learning to be a parent with your first child. It’s pretty much the same thing. I think what I learnt the most is I don’t know as much I think – and this draws me to rely on other people as well as God.”
Moyross was the monks’ first Irish friary, but they have since set up a mission in Derry. Through the years, they have taken part in a series of community activities including notably in 2010, where they took on local gardai in a charity soccer match.
And although the friars have reached a decade landmark, Fr Reche feels there is far more to do.
“Ten years is a long time. But I get the sense this is only the start,” he concluded.
Mr Daly added: “Long may they last. We welcomed them with open arms, and we’d do it all again. They’re lovely people, ,and we’re delighted to have them on board.”