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New leadership role for Ennis friar

FR Hugh McKenna OFM, Guardian in Ennis Friary, has been elected leader of the Irish Province of Franciscan Friars. Fr McKenna will move to Dublin in August to take up his new post after he was elected the Minister Provincial at a meeting of 90 friars for their provincial chapter in Gormanstown, County Meath recently.
Speaking to The Clare Champion about his new appointment, Fr McKenna said, “It’s a great honour and a privilege for me”.
The 49-year-old was educated in the Franciscan College, Gormanston and entered the order in 1979, making his First Profession the following year. Ordained to the priesthood in 1989, he has served in a variety of ministries, including as formation director in St Isidore’s College, Rome.
Fr McKenna follows in the footsteps of his predecessor Minister Provincial Fr Caoimhín Ó Laoide, also a former Guardian of Ennis Friary.
Fr McKenna, a native of Foxrock in Dublin, has been living in Ennis for the past three years. And while he is honoured with his election, he says there is plenty he will miss about Ennis.
“I’m aware of the amazing work that my predecessor Fr Caoimhín Ó Laoide has done, who was also a Guardian of Ennis. But I certainly would not have aspired to take his place because I like it here in Ennis and I was hoping I’d be left alone here but it wasn’t to be,” he smiled jokingly.
However, he added earnestly, “I’ll be very sad to go away, I’ve been here for three years and I’ve made some very good friends here. I love the town, I love the people and I love the friary here. I will miss a lot of things, the music, the people, the lovely walks. It’s just such a lovely town. I’ll also miss being so close to the coast. Of course, I’ll be close to the Irish Sea but it’s not the same as the Atlantic.
“I’m from Dublin originally so it will be nice to be nearer my parents and I’ll be able to see them more often. But I’ll still miss the west coast. I was in Killarney for five years, in Galway for three and then Ennis for another three. But when the time comes, you have to move on, that’s the way of our life really.”
Speaking about his new role, which he will occupy for the next six years, he explained, “I am responsible for the 135 friars of our province. My main ministry will be to them, looking after them and making sure that things are going well for them. Also in terms of providing leadership for the entire province of friars, of what are we going to be doing over the next three years and addressing any challenges that arise.”
This week, the Franciscan Friars new Provincial Council will meet in Dublin where discussions will include changes to friaries across the country, including the appointment of a new Guardian for Ennis Friary. Fr Joe Condren will be acting as Guardian in Ennis until the new appointment is made.
When asked how he hopes his time as Provincial will be viewed Fr McKenna said, “I would hope my role would be one of encouraging the friars, of supporting them, affirming them and gentling prodding them in some new direction in line with new ministries.”
The need to look at new directions in ministries was discussed at the provincial chapter gathering where Fr McKenna was elected. “In all our friaries, we have the traditional ministries of working in the church, confessions, things like that. At the chapter, there was a strong sense that we need to free up people to go into new areas where there are new needs, such as working with the youth and working with adult faith formation. And in some of our towns, there would be more urgent need with working with the marginalised, particularly working with people who are being described as the new poor, those who are finding it so difficult because of the recession and they very often get left out of the loop. There is a sense that we need to reach out to them.
“One of the major issues we discussed is the need for us friars to get involved with adult faith formation. There is a sense that there is a whole generation, or a couple of generations out there who after they left school haven’t really had an opportunity to deepen their knowledge of their faith and that’s something we as Franciscans are hoping to work on over the next three years, all around the country not just in Ennis. I would like to take an active role in encouraging and promoting this and helping out in any way I can,” he concluded.

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