Standing in the family's hardware store on Main Street in Carrick-on-Suir, Fiona Hearn remembers how Fr Richard Geoghegan gave her son First Holy Communion 15 years ago.
Today, Geoghegan is no longer a priest, following the Vatican’s decision to issue a laicisation order, with the history of the story up to that point a subject of disagreement.
The former parish priest at Ballyneale and past curate at St Nicholas Parish in Carrick-On-Suir announced on Twitter last week that he had been officially “dismissed by Rome” on January 7th.
“My Bishop was happy to dispense me. I’m a good man. And he talks about the shortage of vocations,” said Geoghegan, who entered the seminary in 1987 aged just 19, and he was ordained six years later.
The Bishop of Waterford and Lismore, Phonsie Cullinan, whose diocese extends over both the borders of Tipperary and Cork, has rejected Geoghegan's charges.
Geoghegan had petitioned Pope Francis for laicisation last March and it was granted on December 15th, said the bishop: "I wish to acknowledge and thank Richard for his pastoral ministry over the years and wish him well for the future."
Geoghegan came under fire from conservative Catholics following an appearance on hotelier Francis Brennan's RTÉ show Grand Tour of Vietnam in 2017, wherein he performed in drag as singer Shirley Bassey, wearing a blonde wig and lipstick.
The TV appearance might not have done him any favours, Hearn accepts. “He is only human at the end of the day. He is well loved here in town. We’d love to have him back. I’d have nothing but deep respect for him,” she says.
“He is a real people’s person. Some older priests could be aloof. You couldn’t meet a nicer, more down to earth man. I think he has been pretty hard done by the Pope and the bishop.”
Hearn is not alone in her feelings, with many members of the tight-knit Catholic churchgoing community in Carrick-On-Suir and surrounding districts still shocked and disappointed by the turn of events.
Despite the bishop's declaration that Geoghegan had himself applied to be laicised, the Association of Catholic Priests' Tim Hazelwood describes his treatment as "inappropriate, unreasonable and unacceptable".
In 2020, Hazelwood accompanied Geoghegan to a meeting with Bishop Cullinan, and his secretary.
“It was obvious from the meeting that he wanted Richard to apply for laicisation,” Hazelwood says. “That’s when Richard said he would have liked to be a curate…Richard found it difficult being on his own in a parish. He needed support,” Hazelwood adds.
“Obviously, the bishop had made up his mind,” says Hazelwood, “I was shocked, really because the majority of bishops would be supportive, but what I was hearing was really a put down.”
Geoghegan declined to comment when contacted.
Former parishioner, John Nolan said, "The Church is crying out for priests and is leaving a good man go. He was friends with everyone, an absolute gentleman. Anyone having a wedding here would look for him. I think it is all down to Bishop Phonsie. "
Describing him as “a fantastic priest”, Carrick-on-Suir butcher Morris Whelan says was a great man. “He knew everyone by name. You’d meet him once and he knew your name forever. He was involved in the parish in every part of it.”
Local Sinn Féin councillor David Dunne remembers Geoghegan's kindnesses during his mother's illness.
"Everyone recognised him for the programme he did with Francis Brennan…It was fairly flamboyant and wasn't in keeping with the Church, but it was typical of Fr Richard," said Cllr Dunne, "He was always friendly, outgoing and is well-regarded. It is a major loss."
Describing the former priest's ability to engage, Luke Foran says: "One of my favourite memories of him is my brother's Communion where he had all the kids gathered around and Richard's phone rang, and who was on the phone only 'Jesus'.
“You should have seen the kids’ faces drop. It was brilliant and he enthralled and captivated the whole place. He was ahead of his time. Richard humanised the priesthood and was a breath of fresh air,” he said.
Besides the memories, there is anger, too. Ashling Ní Fháthaigh said: “When he was saying mass the church was a lot fuller with a younger congregation. (He) was liked by so many and was punished for that.”
Believing that the church's hierarchy has questions to answers, Margaret Croke says: "A church without compassion and understanding who can so readily dismiss a person who was so dedicated for so many years to its flock and to God really needs to change."