Last Sunday at 10.30 a.m. Mass St. Michael’s Parish Church was once again the centre of our community. The normally half filled pews were overflowing with Holy Communicants from Scoil Mhichil Naofa and Ballyroe National School, their parents, faith friends, grandparents and extended family relations and friends. The occasion was First Communion for the happy youngsters who will remember forever the second major religious event of their lives. This was a community event in which bystanders and well wishers alike with families and friends shared in the delightful occasion made all the more pleasant by Fr. McEvoy’s few well chosen words.
One of the young communicants came from England to make her First Communion in the Parish Church from where her granny had been brought just weeks previously on her final journey to St. Michael’s cemetery. First Communion Day was to have been a happy family occasion in which Granny O’Keeffe, although terminally ill, was to share with her grand-daughter. It was not to be but the brave young girl received a comforting round of applause from all in the Parish Church on hearing of the sad passing of her granny.
The Parish Newsletter as usual carried announcements of births, deaths and marriages during the week and the passing of James Mulhall, late of Bleach Cottages who died in England caught my eye. Long gone from our community, James Mulhall was one of the many who for one reason or another made their home abroad. England provided for many of these emigrants a new way of life far removed from that which they had become accustomed to in their youth. I did not know James Mulhall but his death in England announced in St. Michael’s Parish Newsletter marked an acknowledgement that once part of the local community you retain ties which bind until death.
It was a coincidence that notice of his passing appeared the same morning as 51 youngsters stepped up to the altar to advance their spiritual journey which started with their baptism. James Mulhall made that same short trip up the aisle on the day of his First Communion, supervised, no doubt as we all were in those days, by the Sisters of Mercy. Times have changed. The Sisters of Mercy have given way to Mary English and her team of lay teachers, while the fashionable elegance of the young communicants nowadays is a wonder to behold compared to the rather plain First Communion clothes of our time. First Communion on Sunday was a truly memorable event for everyone involved and the crowded Church reinforced the community aspect of the ceremony.
Watching over it all, even if from a distance, was the man who on Saturday, 4th June celebrates the 50th anniversary of his ordination. Fr. Philip Dennehy has served in Athy both as curate and Parish Priest. He first came to our town as a young curate in 1963 with eight years experience as a priest, many of which were spent as a chaplain to Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Dun Laoghaire and later still to St. Mary’s Hospital in Phoenix Park, both of which were hospitals for T.B. patients. I had left Athy two years previously and cannot recall when I first met Fr. Dennehy. However, I can never forget the occasion when he called to 5 Offaly Street where my parents lived, one November day in 1965. He had come to comfort my parents following the death of my brother Seamus in a road traffic accident the previous evening. Since visits are one of the important works of mercy performed by clergy in our community and Fr. Dennehy’s appearance that day with comforting and reassuring words was no doubt a task he has had to perform hundreds of times during his years in Athy.
It is ten years ago since I wrote an Eye on the Past on Fr. Dennehy on the occasion of the fortieth anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood. Ten years on he has amassed a total of thirty years in the parish of St. Michael’s, twenty of those years as our Parish Priest.
Philip Dennehy, although born in Midleton, Co. Cork would I feel have greater claim to Kerry ancestry. Both his parents were born in the Kingdom and it was in St. Brendan’s College, Killarney that he ended his secondary schooling. As a young school boy in Roscommon where his father was the Chief Superintendent of the Gardai, Philip Dennehy was a mass server and this he says inspired his early interest in the priesthood. After finishing his Leaving Certificate in St. Brendan’s College in 1948 he entered the seminary in Clonliffe College in Dublin. Following his graduation with a B.A. following a successful Arts course in University College Dublin, then located in Earlsfort Terrace, he transferred to Maynooth College. Ordained in 1955 he was appointed chaplain to Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Dun Laoghaire which was then a tuberculosis hospital, now the Rehabilitation Centre.
Fr. Dennehy first arrived in Athy as a young curate in 1963 and he was to remain here for ten years, returning in 1985 when appointed Parish Priest of St. Michael’s by the late Archbishop McNamara. The fifty years of Fr. Dennehy’s priesthood coincides with the twenty years he has spent as Parish Priest of this parish. Both will be celebrated on Saturday, 4th June with a mass at 7 o’clock in the evening, followed by a reception in the G.A.A. centre at Geraldine.
Again harking back to the Eye on the Past I wrote ten years ago, the words I used then are still appropriate when applied to the man who has guided the affairs of our parish for the past twenty years.
“Fr. Philip Dennehy 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 Sunday homilies is reflected in the meaningful words and phrases so often used by him to help his parishioners in their search for spiritual fulfilment.”
Congratulations and best wishes go to Fr. Dennehy on the Golden Jubilee of his ordination to the priesthood. His curate from across the border, irrespective of how Laois fare in the first round of the Leinster Championships, will join the parishioners of St. Michael’s in celebrating a clerical life devoted for thirty years to the spiritual well being of our community, whose members have been and continue to be privileged in having such a dedicated and inspiring priest as their Parish Priest.