Sunday is the most important day in the weekly calendar for all christians. For a clergyman it assumes perhaps even greater significance when viewed as an opportunity to address his congregation other than on an individual basis. However, the average sermon or homily can sometimes seem strained and perhaps even less than relevant in the context of the modern world but never when the words are those of the man who is the subject of today’s article.
Fr. Philip Dennehy, Parish Priest of Athy, has a most eloquent if sometimes understated way of putting his thoughts before his parishioners. The obvious attention and care which goes into the preparation of his homilies is reflected in the meaningful words designed to help his congregation to come closer to God.
He will shortly celebrate forty years as a priest, fifteen of which have been spent as a Parish Priest, first in Monksview, Dublin and latterly in Athy. Born in Middleton, Co. Cork, the son of a member of the Garda Siochana he was to live in a number of Irish towns as he grew up, each new address marking another step in his father’s climb up the promotional ladder. At the age of two he moved to Tramore, Co. Waterford, later to Limerick City and finally to Roscommon town where his father was Chief Superintendent. Philip Dennehy who had six sisters and one brother attended the Christian Brothers Schools in Tramore and Limerick, ending his secondary schooling in St. Brendan’s College, Killarney. As he readily acknowledges his County allegiance is somewhat difficult to ascertain given his almost nomadic early lifestyle. However, pressed on the point he will acknowledge a sneaking regard for his Kerry ancestry, the County where both is parents were born and where all his relatives come from.
An altar boy while in Roscommon he was attracted to the priesthood at an early age, entering the seminary in Clonliffe in 1948 straight from secondary school. Having obtained his B.A. in University College Dublin he went to Maynooth College in 1951 where he spent the next four years. Ordained in 1955 he was appointed Chaplain to Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Dun Laoire, then a tuberculosis hospital, now the Rehabilitation Centre. Spending one year there he was next transferred to another tuberculosis hospital, St. Mary’s Phoenix Park. Both were particularly difficult postings for a young Chaplain, required as he was to deal with the spiritual needs of the many unfortunate patients suffering what was then the most dreaded of diseases - tuberculosis.
Fr. Dennehy first arrived in Athy as a young curate in 1963 and was to remain here for ten years. When he left the town in 1973 he did so with a heavy heart, having made many friends. For him leaving a Parish is always a sad occasion but as he says, “if you enlist to soldier you must go where you are sent”. Unusually he was asked by the late Archbishop McNamara to return to Athy as a Parish Priest in 1985. While the basic duty of a Parish Priest is no different from that of a Curate the administrative responsibility of a Parish Priest imposes a duty which does not always rest easy on the shoulders of someone whose job is to bring Christ to the people.
As a clergy man who takes things at face value he refuses to delve too deeply into people’s motives, always prepared to assume the best of intentions for every act, charitable or otherwise. Conscious of the excessively strong role of the old style Parish Priest of another era, Fr. Dennehy has always adopted an easy going attitude in his contacts with members of his congregation. Recognising the important role of the laity he seeks to motivate people within the parish to do what they can for themselves. His common sense approach in all things underscores his belief that as a Parish Priest he is not an authority on everything. To him so called experts are suspect, common sense being the most useful tool in dealing with most situations.
In celebrating forty years in the priesthood, twenty years of which he has spent in Athy, Fr. Dennehy can look back on many happy events, many achievements and inevitably some sad occasions. He can do so with justifiable pride and in the certain knowledge that there can be no higher calling that a life dedicated to the service of God.