Fr. Francis Mitchell – April 1996

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Memories and Thanks

It’s not very often that I have an Archbishop kneeling in front of me. In fact, it has only happened once and I’m sure many cars will pass under the Arch in Athenry before it happens again!

Unquestionably the greatest day of my life was the day Archbishop Cassidy knelt before me and asked for my blessing – the day I was ordained to the Priesthood. June l9th 1994 was the day family, friends and neighbours gathered with me to celebrate the fact that God had called me to be a priest and now He was sending me out like the prophet Jeremiah and so many others with the words, “Go now to those to whom I will send you and say whatever I command you”.

Ordination day left me with no doubt about what my work would be, but where that work would begin, I knew not! I was in suspense for six weeks until one morning in mid-July I received a phone call from the Archbishop’s House inviting me to come to meet the Archbishop. And so, I sat before His Grace with open ears and a racing heart! He knew what state I was in so he began by saying, “Well Athenry is the Parish!” and I smiled with joy and great relief.

My relationship with Athenry went back ten years. After my Inter-Cert in 1985, I spent the summer delivering fruit and veg. to shops in towns and villages in counties Galway, Mayo and Roscommon. Athenry was one of these towns. So, I knew all the shops from Greaney’s to Jimmy Nolan’s, and from Millie’s (Browne) to what is now “The Shopping Basket”.

On July 29th, I packed my little white car and drove the 29.5 miles from my home to Fr. Seery’s house, where I would be based for my time in your parish. The day was warm, the welcome warmer. The streets were narrow, but the smiles on people’s faces were broad. My own initial shyness was swallowed up by your enthusiasm. No wonder that I would say after a short time that I had settled very well.

I will forever remember my first Sunday morning in Athenry. Fr. Tony was celebrant at the 10 a.m. Mass and I was “assisting”. When he asked me to go out and introduce the Mass, I hadn’t a clue what he meant, but I took off with a fit of confidence befitting a Pope, and I arrived at the ambo where I announced that I didn’t know what I was supposed to do next.

Then I got a very pleasant surprise – you applauded me! The old saying, “You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression” comes to mind – the first impression was very good and a second chance was not necessary.

Principally my work was to include celebrating the Mass, preaching and administering the Sacraments and visitation of homes and schools. That privilege also brings with it the responsibility to explain the Word of God to the congregation – to preach.

Recently you will have probably heard commentators in the media asking if preachers could now be considered to be hypocritical in the light of recent scandals. My answer is that it is the DUTY of the priest to preach the TRUTH as it is contained in the Scriptures and in the Church Doctrine. If the priest finds himself unable to live up to these standards this is not a reflection on the TRUTH of the message he preaches. When the priest preaches he does as Christ did; he explains the Scriptures (as best he can) and invites his listeners to turn away from sin and wrong-doing of every kind. Wrong-doing is wrong no matter what its origin! As a preacher myself I have found that some of the most challenging homilies I have heard have been homilies that I have delivered myself! And it’s not always easy to rise to the challenge they present.

When I began my house visitation, I decided it would be best to begin at the furthest point and work my way back to base. Therefore, I began in Mountain West which borders the Parish of Oranmore. I thought I would have the parish visited in a couple of weeks – but I soon discovered it would take years – literally years! And again, the warm welcome I received into your homes is something I remember clearly and appreciate very much.

Part of my appointment included returning to Maynooth to complete my studies. I found the “dual mandate” very tiring but I always looked forward to returning to Athenry each weekend.

Having to study gave me a true insight into what the students in the primary schools meant when they exclaimed their hatred for school! They may have hated being there but I’m indebted to them and their teachers for the freedom to walk in at any time.

In terms of the school year, the first term for me was very difficult and very long. From the parochial point of view it passed very quickly and before I knew it I was standing with Frs. Tony, J. J. and Joe at the altar on Christmas morning. The most beautiful sound of the Children’s Choir will long ring in my ears – it was so full of the joy of Christmas – the birthday of Our Lord – and yet I stood on the sanctuary with my head bowed and a heavy heart.

Christmas morning brought to an end my short but memorable time in the parish of Athenry and Newcastle.

Scripture scholars tell us that in the Old Testament remembering is something the writers did as a way of saying thanks to God. It is for the same purpose I have relived some of the many enjoyable memories I shared with you.

Go raibh míle maith agaibh go léir.

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About this record

Written by Francis Mitchell

Published here 03 Nov 2022 and originally published 1996

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