Fr. Stephen Remembers

Fenor 1996 – Diary of a Parish Community

“Fr. Stephen Remembers”

by Fr. Stephen O’Brien C.C.

On All Souls’ Day [November 2nd, 1996] I was passing Fenor Church but something drew me in. As I picked my way nimbly through the fading light and headstones into the small porch, kneeling alone in the front pew in the dark church with only one small red flicker of light, memories of faces and places began to flood back through me, of my five years among the people of Fenor.

On a bright September morning in 1981 I was told that my first appointment was to a parish called Dunhill and Fenor. The latter name I simply associated with Annestown cliffs where my father had camped in a bell-tent during the war years, cycling each day to work in Waterford. After fourteen years in college institutional life I was glad to have my own house at last, even if it could fit two families. Many people enquired if I had felt this change very traumatic but I honestly did not, perhaps because I wanted to move out of college anyhow and because I retained my teaching connection with the college, three days a week during my first year. This gradually lessened as I became involved more in parish life.

My first initiation into the new ‘parish life’ saw me sitting on a tiny yellow chair at my first Sale of Work Committee meeting one Monday October night in the school hall. I vividly remember spending the night busy stapling what seemed like thousands of tickets together in threes and wondering to myself whether this was the pinnacle of my pastoral involvement! Little did I realise the story of commitment and dedication that I was to be a part of for a few years which culminated each first Sunday of December and which was the focus for so much community activity. Another early memory finds me perplexed, standing perishing, with my knees knocking, in a windswept circus tent, attempting to pull a winning ticket out of a huge drum and wishing I was back with my books. I never won anything in all the subsequent Sales and often committed the sin of jealousy when the parish priest invariably headed off with something, even if it was only a cuddly bear.

All of this great effort was in aid of Fenor School which I soon learned was the centre of community life. Some of my fondest memories are set in that bright place and I could fill pages with joyful reminiscences. I choose simply to remember our first Christmas School Concert. Having just welcomed everyone and introduced the singing angels, and struggling with a plainly over-full schedule, I darted to Dunhill Church to help celebrate a Reconciliation service. Then straight back to Fenor breathless, I arrived just in time to walk out and nonchalantly thank all and sundry for coming out to our concert, only to be told by a small voice after my few words that, ‘Father, you said exactly the same thing as the new Master said just before you’. So much for powers of bilocation.

Christmas and Easter are the high points of liturgical celebration and Fenor Church lends itself so well to the intimacy of such key moments of the year. The thrill of watching the darkened church come alight as tiny flames crept from pew to pew until, finally, the whole gathering is one bright place, will never grow stale for me.

First Communion and Confirmation are also very special moments and I learned to marvel at the extraordinary way small boys and girls today take to using a hand-held microphone and tell their part of the story with consummate confidence. But it also gave me a little sense of how parents must feel when, almost overnight, these same wide-eyed six-year-olds are suddenly Confirmation candidates and heading into those awkward teenage years.

Of course, the staple diet of births, marriages and deaths are the daily bread of parish work. I remember especially the baptisms we were lucky to have at the Easter Vigil, a real live bouncing baby could hardly be surpassed as a symbol of new life and new growth in any parish. Fenor Church lends itself especially well to marriages, the intimacy of the place adding to the joy of a young couple and their families celebrating the beginning of a new parish family.

But it was with the rituals surrounding the end of life’s journey that many of my most vivid memories of Fenor lie. Sadly there were many such ritual-times over the last five years as we said goodbye to dear friends, young and old alike. Never before had I experienced the extraordinary solidarity of a small rural community as it united time and time again to support a grief-stricken family with age-old customs of quiet kindness and compassion. Before the sad news was barely hours old those mountains of sandwiches and home baking would be quietly arriving from the neighbours, tangible tokens of comfort. I can honestly say that the most personally fulfilling aspect for me of being a priest is the great privilege it affords to be allowed to enter that sacred space of family life in times of sad loss and partings when life is stripped back to the bone and we struggle to comfort one another from the well of our Christian faith and hope in Jesus. The soft soil of Fenor graveyard holds too many of those I knew to ever forget their memory and I recalled each one that All Souls’ Day recently as I walked and prayed among their marking stones.

But thankfully there were also many joyful times and the celebrations to mark one hundred years of beautiful Fenor church was certainly the highpoint of these for me. Again, so many vivid memories flood in, but I still remember my unutterable joy when a priest friend arrived into the sacristy a quarter of an hour before the Mass with a big old suitcase full of white vestments, one for each priest in the audience. It was the icing on the cake and indeed I felt that the Lord was truly smiling on us. I certainly won’t ever forget that Mass and the glorious night (and morning) of music and dancing under that huge white and green marquee: ni beidh a leithead ann aris. Nor will I lose my huge admiration for all the many people, and especially the key few, who did such Trojan work to make those days in Fenor such halcyon ones.

On a sunny evening in mid-June last, I arrived back to my big house to find an unexpected voice on my new answering machine. It was that of my bishop! Since that day I have begun to come to terms with a new life and the challenge of a huge urban parish. I am still at the stage of putting up new curtains and making new friends. I am so grateful to the Lord that my first experience of parish was with the communities of Fenor and Dunhill, with Fr. Gerard Purcell as parish priest. And as I gave thanks in Fenor Church that evening recently, I remembered all my friends with gratitude and felt happy that an important part of my life lies in those wooden pews, red stones and kind hearts in Fenor near the sea.

The Purgatorial Society

Fenor 1996 – Diary of a Parish Community

“The Purgatorial Society”

by Bob Rockett

Are we going to let it die? This is a question that can only be answered by the people of the parish. It’s the oldest institution in the parish and probably the only one of its kind in existence but, sadly, the information confirming its origin and history has not been preserved. Worse still is the fact that not too many reading this will know what it is all about.

We are, of course, talking about the Purgatorial Society. We have good reason to believe it was founded sometime in the 17th century and has an unbroken record to the present time. But it is in jeopardy now for want of an injection of an increase in its membership and some young blood to bring it up to date and into the 21st century.

Those who, perhaps, have never heard of it will ask what is its function. It was started to help people in times of distress and, from what we can gather, it was known in its beginning as ‘The Box’. A box was placed somewhere, probably at the church door, and those who could afford it contributed. Funds from this were distributed to those in dire straits through serious illness or death. It was later updated as a means whereby anyone could, by paying a small subscription twice a year, provide something towards the cost of their funeral. There was also the benefit of perpetual Masses for living and deceased members and many of past generations joined just for the Mass benefit.

In this age of social welfare and so many insurances, it’s hard to realise that, fifty years ago, so many people were so badly off. There were occasions when the breadwinner of a family, having been ill over a long period, had died without a penny in the house. If he was a member of the society, the family had only to go to the treasurer and get instant cash. It was considered a great provision against the worry of such a situation arising.

The society served the parish well and it deserves to be continued, if only for its history. Sadly, the records don’t seem to have been preserved. This may be due to the fact that its secretaries were appointed for life and continued to hold office even when they were no longer capable. Also, there seem to have been problems in getting the books handed over. Most families in the parish had an input in its survival down the years. Here are the names of some of them I can recall: James Denn, John Connolly, David Beresford, John Rockett, John Power, Johnny Molloy, and Paddy Flynn, who are all now sharing in the Masses for deceased members. The present committee is composed of Bobby Power, Jimmy Gough, Jimmy Delaney, Denis Hynes, Jimmy Walsh, Bob Rockett, and Michael Flynn. The secretary is Mrs. Mary Power. The subscription – the benefits are £50 on the death of a fully-paid member with sharing the Masses. Those age 25 are eligible to join for the yearly subscription. Others are taken in at the discretion of the committee by paying the equivalent of what they would have paid had they joined at 25 years of age.

Today there are many services, perhaps, filling the role of the society and it may not be so necessary, but its function could easily be updated to bring it up to present-day requirements. The chairman and committee earnestly ask the people of the parish and all its surroundings to give the matter some consideration. The A.G.M. takes place in February, 1997.

[ Associations concerned with praying for the dead are older than Christianity. Provision for burial was first made by “La Compagnia della Pietà”, founded in Rome in 1448. – Comms Team. ]

All Souls’ Day

Fenor 1996 – Diary of a Parish Community

“All Souls’ Day”

2nd November, 1996

On this day all those who had died over the past twelve months were remembered with prayers and visits to the church and the graveyard. It was the custom to light a candle for each member of the family who was dead as well as neighbours and friends who had no one left to pray for them. The candles were lighted during the rosary and were left lighting until they burned out. There was always a great fear of the house going on fire and great care was taken by putting the candles in dishes of sand for fear they would topple over and cause a fire.

[ All Souls’ Day was established by St. Odilo of Cluny, France in 1048 – almost 1,000 years ago. – Comms Team.]

Presentation to Fr. O’Brien

Fenor 1996 – Diary of a Parish Community

“Presentation to Fr. O’Brien”

20th July, 1996

Our Vigil Mass on this day was at 6:30 p.m. Father O’Brien returned to say his goodbyes to his parishioners. Presentations were made to Father O’Brien by Willie Hanley and Paddy (Buck) Power on behalf of the parish. A testimonial to Father O’Brien was read by Rita Byrne. In an emotional final address, Father O’Brien thanked the community and Father Purcell for their kindness to him over the past five years and he promised that he would visit us soon and often

Fr. Robbie Grant

Fenor 1996 – Diary of a Parish Community

“Fr. Robbie Grant”

6th July, 1996.

Father Robbie Grant, our new curate, said his first Mass in Fenor Church today.

Parochial House,

Dear parishioners,
I am delighted to have been given this opportunity to thank you for your warm and generous greeting which you extended to me since my arrival in the Parish of Fenor and Dunhill. It is my intention over the next few weeks to visit all the homes of the parish. I would like to assure all that my house is open to any parishioner who would like to call.

Be assured always of my prayers and support and I ask you to please remember me in your prayers. Sincerely yours,

Fr. Robbie Grant.

Peter’s Pence

Fenor 1996 – Diary of a Parish Community

“Peter’s Pence”

A collection was taken up at all Masses today for St. John’s College in Waterford. In former times this was called the “Peter’s Pence” collection, and the money collected was sent to Rome for the propagation of the faith. Each family was expected to contribute one half-penny (old money) per week, which meant that the contribution to this collection was 2s/2d (two shillings and tuppence) per family – about 11p in new money.

[For the sake of those who have known only the euro currency and know nothing of shillings or old pence and new pence, here are some exchange rates:

1 euro (€1) = 100 cents (100c)
1 punt (IR£) = 100 new pence (100p)
1 punt = 20 shillings (20s) = 240 old pence (240d)
1 euro = 0.787564 punt

So that 2s/2d = 11p = 14c
– Comms Team ]

The Fisherman’s Mass

Fenor 1996 – Diary of a Parish Community

“The Fisherman’s Mass”

6th July, 1996

The annual Fisherman’s Mass was celebrated on 6th July at 11:00 a.m. on the beach in Boatstrand by Fr. Burns and Fr. Crowley. It was attended by a large number of people comprising fishermen, residents, both local and from surrounding areas, holiday makers, owners of pleasure boats and canoes, and the Bunmahon Life Boat and Cliff Rescue teams.

The theme throughout the Mass focused on the wonders and dangers of the sea for all who earn their living from the harvest of it. Prayers were offered up for all those who lost their lives tragically during the year, especially Conor O’Grady. The blessing of the boats and canoes took place immediately after it. It was a joyous and uplifting experience, highlighted by the glorious sunshine and friendly atmosphere of all present. The Mass has been celebrated annually for over one hundred years – in fact, since before Dunabrattin harbour was built.

Sharing our Gifts

Fenor 1996 – Diary of a Parish Community

“Sharing our Gifts”

6th May, 1996

A conference of three hundred delegates from every parish in the Diocese of Waterford and Lismore was held in Clonea on Monday, May 6th, 1996. Delegates from this parish were Fr. Gerard Purcell P.P., Father Stephen O’Brien C.C., Patrick Baldwin, Breda Murphy, and Fidelma Curran. The theme of the conference was “Sharing Our Gifts” and the delegates participated in a day of dialogue and listening.

Reflecting on the proceedings, a number of things stood out for the bishop:

  1. The need to listen and to dialogue to see where people are coming from, what their hopes are, and what their concerns are.
  2. The richness of the contributions today. There is an energy, a talent in our diocese that is wonderful to experience.
  3. The emphasis on prayer, the centrality of the Eucharist and, of course, the central place of Jesus Christ in all our lives.
  4. The need to create communities where all can belong and feel welcome.
  5. The need for prayer and liturgies to speak to and celebrate in a meaningful way the experience of life today, especially for young people.
  6. The need to respond to our youth.
  7. The need to address women’s issues.
  8. The need to create new structures to enable involvement and partnership in parish life.

The bishop committed himself to carry forward the work: “I want to commit myself to carry forward the work of the conference into all parishes of the diocese through some concrete steps”.

  1. The working group which planned the conference, and to which I am so grateful, will be extended to include some participants of the conference.
  2. A report on the conference will be circulated to all priests of the diocese and to all who attended the conference. There will be copies for parishes as well.
  3. Representatives from every parish, who were present at Clonea, should meet to discuss future plans and initiatives.

Mission Memories

Fenor 1996 – Diary of a Parish Community

“Mission Memories”

by ‘De La Rochelle’

21st April, 1996

Today was the start of a week-long mission in the parish given by the Capuchin Fathers, Father Christopher Twomey from Ballyvourney, Co. Cork, and Father Alexis Healy from Skibbereen. Father Christopher, who is based in Carlow, was our missioner for the week, and we grew to love him in that short period of time. Please God he will visit us again soon.

Mission Memories.

Away back in the first half of this century the announcement of a forthcoming mission was greeted and accepted with enthusiasm and was looked forward to by priests and people, perhaps not for the same reason. My first experience of a mission was away back in 1930. The preachers were Fathers Antonine and Cyril from the Franciscans in Waterford. Father Antonine was prior in Waterford at the time. He was a big, fairly stout man who played the organ and sang beautifully but, somehow, his preaching wasn’t considered exceptional. He wasn’t able to command the same attention as his colleague, Father Cyril.

The mission opened in Dunhill and went on for a week there. The exercises consisted of Mass each morning at 7:30 followed by a short instruction on the sacraments. The evening ceremony consisted of rosary, sermon and Benediction on alternate evenings. Although I was very young at the time, that mission left an impression on me that still remains to this day. The preacher used a text such as one of the Commandments or a passage from the Bible or some phrase that would command attention. Indeed, I can recall vividly the text of my first mission sermon as that man, small in stature with closely cropped hair and fringe down almost over his eyes, that was Fr. Cyril, opened his sermon with the text, ‘Mane, Teckle, Faraes’. It had an instant impact on the congregation. From that moment to the close of the mission he had those who were listening in the palm of his hand. He then went on to explain the meaning and origin of these three Latin words taken from the Old Testament. I have spoken of this latterly to clergy and laity and most of them never heard of it. So for the benefit of those, I will try to convey as best I can its meaning and origin.

King Balthasar of one of the Biblical countries, having proclaimed himself beyond the power of God, was mockingly feasting with great joviality and depravity, desecrating the sacred vessels that were used at the offering of sacrifice to God, and also denying the existence of God. When the revelry was at its peak, the fingers of a hand came forth against the wall and wrote, as if on sand, the words ‘Mane, Teckle, Faraes’. The king and his cohort were terrified and mystified as no one present knew their meaning. The king commanded that anyone who could translate their meaning should appear before him, but no one seemed to be able to translate their message. However, a young captive in the land came forward and revealed their meaning, which was that the king was to die and be replaced by one of his most deadly enemies. There was a great poem in the Old Testament of the event and I remember my father reciting it for us the following day. The proof of its impact must surely be that it has never been erased from my memory.

[ This was the original “writing on the wall” from the Book of Daniel, Ch 5, 1-31. The writing (מנא ,מנא, תקל, ופרסין) is in Hebrew and should be written right to left then top to bottom. In Rembrandt’s picture, the painter mistakenly painted it bottom to top then right to left. Only Daniel could discern the meaning, which was “God has numbered the days of your kingdom and brought it to an end; you have been weighed on the scales and found wanting; your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians”. – Comms Team. ]

Then we had a mission in 1935 but I cannot recall anything about it. We had a mission in 1940 which I find easy to recall and, when it was announced, I remember how those of my age group considered it would interfere with our pursuit of the pleasures that were uppermost in the minds of young manhood and perhaps womanhood also, and some of us were devising ways of escaping from the preaching that might spoil the enjoyment of the pleasures of youth. But it was essential to attend the first night as our absence would be noticed. So, reluctantly, we went along and were hooked under the spell of that preacher. We attended all the exercises and felt edified and enriched by them. It was considered a very successful mission as acrimony between families and neighbours was healed by the sanctifying grace that seemed to encompass the parish and appeared to flow from every spring or well. There was also a sad tragedy that added further emphasis to one text used during the mission, when a man named Pat Power, better known as Pat Carroll, who had been to Mass and Holy Communion that morning, was gored to death by a bull when he went to collect the cows for evening milking. The parish was stunned. The sad occurrence left an impression of that mission never to be erased from the memories of those who were witness to it. I might add here that the text used at the opening of the mission was, ‘Watch ye therefore, for ye know not the day nor the hour’.

That mission was given by the Passionist Fathers. There was a mission in 1950 but, somehow, it doesn’t seem to have left an impression of any significance. Latter-day missions don’t seem to have the appeal of the missions of long ago.

The attendance at missions and their impact seemed to wane after Vatican II. Changes were taking place and the Church was changing its emphasis. The devil was getting less publicity now and was having to take a low profile. It took some of the punch out of preaching, and having no renegade or thief to chastise left the preacher somewhat short-changed and we all liked to see the devil getting hell.

[ The second Vatican Council took place between 1962 and 1965. – Comms Team.]

The mission of 1996 will scarcely have left the same impression or have had the same impact on an eight or nine year old as my first mission had on me at that age. It was a lovely mission but the attendance left a lot to be desired. One was sorry for those who, like those in the parable of the Marriage Feast in the gospel, were too busy to take part in the feast and had other things to attend to. The contrast between the missions of 1940 and 1996 was very marked. In 1940 the mission would be the topic of every conversation for days before and weeks after taking place whereas, in 1996, many parishioners seemed unaware it was taking place.

However, in today’s climate, it would be unwise to judge the depth of people’s faith by attendance at church or religious practices as many of today’s people choose other ways and means to serve their God and find fulfilment.

Golden Jubilee

Fenor 1996 – Diary of a Parish Community

“Golden Jubilee”

6th April, 1996

Fr. Jim Kavanagh

Fifty years ago on this day, Fr. Jim Kavanagh of Ballyleen, Dunhill, was ordained by Dr. John Charles McQuaid at Clonliffe College in Dublin along with twelve other Augustinian Fathers. Father Jim celebrated his first Mass in Dunhill Church on April 7th 1946, assisted by Fr. Daniel Morrissey P.P.
His first appointment was to the Augustinian Church in Limerick City and, in 1948, Fr. Kavanagh was sent to the Australian Mission where he served until 1990. Since his return to Ireland he has spent some time in Callan, Co. Killkenny, and is at present in Wexford. Fr. Kavanagh was son of the late Michael and Brigid Kavanagh and nephew of the late Bill Cullinane.

[ The following obituary is from the Waterford News & Star of Friday, 2nd August, 2002. ]


Three weeks ago, Fr. Jim Kavanagh of Ballyleen passed away in a Dublin hospital. He was the second of twelve Kavanagh children, who was born in 1920 and attended Dunhill National School and later went on to St. Augustine’s College, Dungarvan. He joined the Augustinians and was ordained a priest in 1946. Two years later he was missioned to Queensland, Australia, where he worked for forty years.

Pioneering work in the diocese at this time was extremely difficult, setting out lands for the building of schools, convents etc. In 1989 he returned to Ireland and was once again assigned to the parish of the Dubles Ferry, NY. Subsequently, he was missioned to Callan and later to Grantstown, Co. Wexford. There he was instrumental in building thirteen new homes for the elderly. He had planned to build a further eleven homes but ill-health forced him to leave that work to another.

He then returned to the Augustinian retirement home in Dublin where he passed away about three weeks ago. All one can do is to thank God for men like Fr. Jim. Sincere sympathy to all the Kavanagh families in our locality and to his nieces and nephews. May God have mercy on his soul.