Person of the Month: Champion of youth Fr Chris is toast of Limerick

Aine Fitzgerald

Reporter:

Aine Fitzgerald

Email:

aine.fitzgerald@limerickleader.ie

Eugene Phelan, editor, Limerick Leader, award sponsors, presenting the Limerick Person of the Month award to Fr Chris O'Donnell

Eugene Phelan, editor, Limerick Leader, award sponsors, presenting the Limerick Person of the Month award to Fr Chris O'Donnell Picture: Adrian Butler

IF a picture is worth a thousand words then the photograph on the right speaks volumes about the latest recipient of the Limerick Person of the Month award, Fr Chris O’Donnell.

Over 30 people - mostly young - turned up the Clayton Hotel in the city this week to see the Adare native honoured for his devotion to youth ministry in the Diocese of Limerick over the past 11 years.

In July of this year, Fr O’Donnell made national headlines when a campaign was launched by hundreds of young people appealing to Pope Francis to keep the “inspirational” Limerick priest in the diocese.

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

Fr O’Donnell is due to be relocated to Dublin next week where he will remain for up to a year to help write a sixth class religion book.

“Any work with youngsters is a joy,” said Fr O’Donnell as he cast his eyes across the lobby of the Clayton Hotel where the throngs of young people, many of them youth leaders, had gathered for the presentation.

“We are blessed to have them. They deserve this because they are absolutely smashing youngsters and I am just blessed to have them in my life. I would count them as my friends. I would hate to lose contact with them.

“I sort of feel a bit of a hypocrite getting an award for this because it is such a privilege and I would be very conscious that there are youth workers, teachers, nurses and doctors working with young people in even more caring ways. We are privileged, really privileged.”

The director for youth ministry for the Diocese of Limerick was keen to point out that he was accepting the award on behalf of all those who have given their time for the benefit of young people in Limerick.

“Aoife Walsh who is coordinator of youth ministry in the diocese has been working on it longer and then we have some people here who were working on it before we started working on it so we have a real sense that we have inherited what we have and we are building on what they did.”

The aim of the Diocesan Youth Ministry team is to resource and support the young church in the Diocese of Limerick.

“We bring 90 youngsters to Lourdes every year.  We just find different ways to journey with youngsters,” Fr O’Donnell explained.

“Leaders and volunteers come to Lourdes with us - give up a week of their holidays to work with us. I would look at them and have such time and affection for them as they are just salt of the earth.”

Speaking of his devotion to religious life, Fr O’Donnell said he, like all people, is on an ongoing journey which includes ups and downs.

“It is always going to be an ongoing journey but it is a privilege to work with young people and people in general. It’s not just young people - I’m marrying, I’m baptising, I’m unfortunately burying, I’m visiting the sick. But it’s a privileged position to be in in many ways but, yeah, it’s challenging, it’s tough and it’s difficult but I still love it.”

The Bishop of Limerick, Brendan Leahy, expressed his delight that Fr O’Donnell was being honoured.

“This really is good news for the ‘young church’ here in the diocese.  The monthly Limerick Person of the Year’ award, as I have experienced in my time here, goes to people who have really stood out and done something notable. That our diocesan youth ministry team, led by Fr Chris O’Donnell and Aoife Walsh and others working in the programme, would be selected as one of the monthly winners speaks volumes about their work. It’s a great fillip for the diocese, for youth ministry here and will, no doubt, embolden all involved for the future.”