‘Fr Chris is a class act’ - Limerick youths in campaign to keep priest

Young people start petition and tweet Pope Francis over Fr Chris O’Donnell leaving city

Fr Chris O’Donnell of the youth ministry at the Limerick Diocesan Pastoral Centre. Image: screengrab from iCatholic.ie.

Fr Chris O’Donnell of the youth ministry at the Limerick Diocesan Pastoral Centre. Image: screengrab from iCatholic.ie.

 

Hundreds of young people in Limerick have appealed to Pope Francis not to move an “inspirational” priest from their diocese.

Fr Chris O’Donnell, of the youth ministry at the Limerick Diocesan Pastoral Centre on Denmark Street, is due to be relocated to Dublin later this year after about 12 years in the city.

A host of tweets have been sent to @Pontifex, the pope’s official Twitter account, under the hashtag #keepourhero trying to stop the move. A separate online petition asking the pope to keep their “favourite priest” in the city has been supported by more than 1,200 people.

Fr O’Donnell (43), a former primary school teacher, is moving to Dublin this September for up to a year to help write a primary school religion book.

The Adare native said he was not on Twitter and has not seen the campaign but that “I’d probably be mortified, I’m sure” if he had.

“The young people I work with are great. It’s a gift and a privilege to work with them,” he told the Limerick Leader. “As much as they love me, I love them, and I think that the reaction in the last few days is a reflection of the work we do in the youth ministry as much as the personalities involved.”

The petition says that “Fr Chris has touched the lives of many young people and has been an integral part of youth development in Limerick.

“Limerick can not afford to lose this amazing man and we must petition together and try to keep him,” it states.

Faith and life

Fr O’Donnell has been praised for raising the profile of the church among young people in Limerick as well as for his work in programmes providing experiences in faith and in life. Pilgrimages to Lourdes were regularly over-subscribed and there was a waiting list for the Anois leadership programme for second-level students.

Fr O’Donnell said he had to be open to new challenges, which was “the life of a priest. I’m not being sent against my will or forever, but I will miss the daily contact with them.”

Bishop of Limerick Dr Brendan Leahy said he had “certainly noted the response of young people across the diocese” to Fr O’Donnell’s departure.

“To see such an outpouring of affection for Fr Chris speaks volumes about his relationship with them and the connection that young people can have with their church and priests,” he said.

Other supporters of Fr O’Donnell contacted Bishop Leahy, highlighting the decline in priests in the Limerick diocese in recent years “and more especially young priests who can relate to the youth.”

“Fr Chris is a class act and is likely the primary reason that many of us are returning to the Catholic Church,” one young person wrote.