Fr. Owen Sweeney 1985-1992
Every priest in Dublin wanted to go to Whitehall. That was its reputation. So much though I loved Athy where I had been Parish Priest for five years, it was a joy for me to be appointed to Whitehall, to try to succeed Bishop Kavanagh, who had been a close friend for many years.
Always regarded as a model Parish,Whitehall offered everything that any priest could wish for; a Parish with a great tradition, a great variety of people who blended in to a closely-knit vibrant community, in spite of its size, stretching from CollinsAvenue to DublinAirport. It was more than a Parish, with two large Primary Schools on Larkhill Road, four Post Primary Schools, three Religious Communities (Holy Faith Sisters, Daughters of Charity and Christian Brothers), bordering on the new University (the D.C.U.) and the Helix Theatre, two Garda Barracks, the Santry Stadium, Whitehall Colmcille’s G.A.A. Club (the centre of many social activities), the “Boys Club” on Larkhill Road (founded by Fr. Des Williams- later to become Bishop), the Social Services Centre on Collins Avenue (an inspiration for the variety and quality of its services for Senior Citizens) and the spacious Ellenfield Park, - and all that with the City only 20 minutes down the road by the number 3 Bus.
There was from its beginning a variety of distinct “cultures” in the Parish: - Gaeltacht Park (envisaged by Eamonn De Valera as a “Gaeltacht” in the full sense, the residents to be Gaelic speaking Civil Servants), Whitehall, Larkhill and Santry, all of them distinct cultures but blending together to form a closely-knit community. The inspiration of it all came from the magnificent Church of the Holy Child, always regarded as the first “landmark” on the way in from the Airport to the city. It was a living house of prayer with wonderful Liturgies led by three wonderful choirs, inspiring a flowering of welfare services and community organisations.
After my departure came the opening of the new Church in Santry, and the New Parish Centre inspired by Fr. John Fitzpatrick and a wonderful team of dedicated parishioners, which is to my mind the embodiment of all the cultures and services that are flowering in the Parish.
When I think of all the priests (P.P.s and C.C.s) who passed through Whitehall Parish over the past fifty years, I am very conscious that they could have achieved nothing without the support and inspiration of dedicated parishioners. And a Church without a community would have no meaning.
As you celebrate the Golden Jubilee of your Church, I congratulate the priests and people who “formed” your great community.
From Sandymount, - linked to Whitehall by the number 3 bus and the Port Tunnel, I live with happy and inspiring memories.
Fr. Owen Sweeney
Fr. Tom O’Keeffe
I must be the only priest who served in the Parish for two periods. First as a young curate from 1967-71 and then as Administrator, from 1983-86. My friends said I made a come-back because the Parish found it difficult to get on without me while my cynical priest friends claimed that I had to return to clear up the mess I made the first time..
In 1967 it was my first Parish. Prior to that, I had been chaplain in a Technical School. I was full of enthusiasm and new ideas. The people were wonderful. The Parish Priest Fr. Brady (a Cavan man) was one of the old school. He expected curates to do what they were told and if you stepped out of line you were severely reprimanded. I remember him telling me on one occasion that I was very insubordinate. He was probably right! He checked regularly on our movements and I remember well how the three other curates used all sorts of trickery to cover the tracks of a fellow curate who loved to go the annual Cheltenham Racing Festival. Getting Fr. Brady’s permission was a non-runner! Weddings in those days were in the morning – usually at the 10a.m. Mass – and the P.P. insisted that we start the Mass even if the poor bride had not yet arrived. Eventually Fr. Brady moved over to the new parish of Ballymun Road and was replaced by Fr. John Menton – a wonderful warm character with a real Dublin accent.
My saddest memory of those days was the untimely and tragic death of my class-mate and fellow curate in the Parish, Fr. Joe Garrihy who at the age of 34 died as a result of a car accident in Co. Wicklow. Joe was a Clare man, an avid GAA man, larger than life and full of fun and good humour. He was a great loss to the diocese.
Monday nights were very special in the Parish. Dozens of collectors arrived in the Church with their Planned Giving envelopes. They came from every area of the Parish to be greeted by the priests and the Magnificent Seven. These were seven honest upright parishioners who organised and counted this main source of parish income – The Parish Finance Committee. I am delighted that at least two of them are still hale and hearty and living locally, Seamus Mangan and Jim Crowley. Meeting the collectors was pastorally very important to us priests, as these committed people informed us of bereavements, people in hospital and new residents in their areas. Visiting homes was easy in those days and my area was Ellenfield and Beaumont. I got to know the people there very well.
When I returned to the Parish in 1983 Bishop Kavanagh was Parish Priest and his wit, friendliness and common touch endeared him to everyone. There was a very happy atmosphere in the Parish. Early on we formed a Core Group of very talented people who looked at the needs of the Parish – similar to today’s Parish Pastoral Council. Unemployment was very high in those pre-Tiger economy days, and we decided to start an Enterprise Centre called Ballark. It also reached out to Ballymun and this centre provided young adults with valuable training for scarce employment.
In 1983 I was delighted to see that one group, I was instrumental in setting up in the late 60’s had greatly expanded its ministry. Indeed it is still doing wonderful work today. This is the group of married couples who run very successful Pre-marriage Courses for young couples in the area. Many of that group are still some of my closest friends. As well as reaching out to engaged couples the group also formed a community of couples among themselves that proved to be very supportive of their own marriages.
I can truthfully say that my years in Whitehall parish were some of my happiest in the Priesthood. Maybe it was easier being a priest – and being a practicing Catholic – in those days. But the close bonds between priest and parishioners, the fun, the deep faith and the sense of community I experienced were very very special. Someone said that a Parish community is meant to be a family of families. That is a good description of the faith-community in Whitehall that I knew and was privileged to serve.
Rev. Thomas O’Keeffe P.P.
Fr. Joe Kelly
I congratulate Larkhill-Whitehall-Santry on the celebration of their Golden Jubilee of the Church of the Holy Child and I think I can say fifty golden years.
I was privileged to be Parish Priest for five of those golden years. 1992 to 1997. Before I came I had heard a lot about the Parish and was well aware of its high reputation in the diocese and the esteem in which the Priests held it. I came looking forward to the experience but with some anxiety. I need not have worried. I found a Parish highly organized even though it is one of the biggest parishes in Dublin, but even more importantly I found there love and friendship, kindness, generosity and caring. I thank the people and the priests for their support to me during my time there. Larkhill-Whitehall-Santry will always be a part of me.
There were many highlights during my time; one among others I will always remember, the Opening, Blessing and Dedication of the Chapel of Blessed Margaret Ball at Santry, by Cardinal Connell. All had been prepared before I came so I felt privileged to experience this special event in the life of the Parish.
I know that the Parish has gone from strength to strength since I left over nine years ago. The people of Larkhill-Whitehall-Santry can look forward with confidence to the future, sustained and enabled by their faith and trust in Jesus our Lord and Saviour and Friend, who became one of us as an infant, so as to be with us in good times and bad when we are weak and when we are strong.
May they continue to grow as Jesus did in wisdom and in stature and in favour with God and with their fellow men and women.