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New priest calls for ‘open and honest’ clergy

Castleconnell man Fr Ger Fitzgerald in Ennis Cathedral.  Photograph by John KellyENNIS’ newest priest has spoken about the “hurt” caused to people in the light of “terrible” recent reports into abuse allegations and has urged the clergy to be “open and honest”.
Fr Ger Fitzgerald, who was ordained in June and has recently been appointed to Ennis Parish explained, “This is a worrying time, not only for myself as I am starting off here and wondering if I will be ok. But you’d also be worried about what’s happening in the church at the moment with all those terrible reports coming out, just being aware of how much the church has hurt people and our, almost lack of, response as well.”
“We can’t be just up on the altar preaching. In my opinion, we have to do what our Lord did. He totally emptied himself of all that authority and all that power and he was there with the people when they needed him most. He was open with them and he was as honest as he could be. I think if we have any chance of recovery then I think we have to be as open as honest as we can,” he added.
The 31-year-old will be the youngest priest in the country until this weekend, when 28-year-old Ger Jones will be ordained in Killaloe.
“There are not many young priests at the moment, which is a pity. however when I left Maynooth, there were 75 students in training and the majority of them were young so there is a new generation on the way,” he said.
Fr Fitzgerald was ordained by Bishop Kieran O’Reilly in his native parish of Castleconnell, Limerick, the only parish in County Limerick in the diocese of Killaloe.
“It was really lovely to have all my neighbours, family and friends there who supported me all the way up along, people I have known for years who helped me when I was in Maynooth,” he recalled.
Born to Patrick and Mary Fitzgerald on December 21, 1979, Fr Fitzgerald is the youngest of two sons and has an older brother, Anthony.
He explained that joining the priesthood is something he has wanted to do since the young age of seven when he was a student in Castleconnell National School.
“The idea came into my head when I was about seven. I saw priests at home in Limerick and I thought I’d like to be like he is. It kind of stayed with me through primary school and then it went to the back of my mind when I was going through secondary school in St Mary’s Convent, Newport, Tipperary.
“I left secondary school in 1997 and went working in hotels mostly but it was still there lingering. The best way I can put it is I just kept putting it off and putting it off until 2005 when I said sure, ‘I’ll chance it and see if it works out and if it does it does and if it doesn’t it doesn’t’. There was no big enlightening moment, I just decided it was the time.”
Fr Fitzgerald said his family were very supportive of the move, particularly his father. “They kind of knew it was something I always had been thinking about but at the same time, they still went, ‘are you sure?’
“They were all really helpful and supportive and that stayed with me all the way up along through Maynooth and all of the training. If I ever needed them, they were only ever a letter or phone call away and there was no pressure put on me. They always told me if it’s for me then it is and if not there is no problem. The one that was most supportive of all was my father, my mother passed away in 1992 and my father helped me through the whole of my training,” he said.
He said he is delighted he made the decision to follow his path to the priesthood, , “It’s a wonderful opportunity to share the faith, this wonderful faith that we have, with people. Not only at mass but also at the most important times of people’s lives like weddings or even hospital visits where a relation maybe ill or dying. We are really privileged to be in a position that we can be with those people and help them even in some small way.”
Ennis is Fr Fitzgerald’s first parish and he replaces Fr Martin Blake for whom he has high praise.
“I am overwhelmed with the warmth of the welcome I have received. I’ve been in a number of parishes before on pastoral placement and I’m really overwhelmed by the welcome. People are stopping me on the streets and saying ‘hello’ to me. And the people in my pastoral area have also been really welcoming and really warm. That’s really helped me a lot because I have an impossible job to replace Martin. He was a huge help to me. last year I was here for a month and it was Martin who showed me where to go and what to do. If I could be half as pastoral minded and half as spiritual as Martin I’ll be doing well,” he added.
“At the moment I’m beginning to find my bearings around the place but the one thing I would ask of the people of Ennis would be to have a bit of patience. As I said in my first homily, I miss Martin, I love Martin but I’m not Martin and I’ll take a bit of getting used to.”
Fr Fitzgerald is set to work with Holy Family Primary School and Ennis Community College and he is hopeful he will have more opportunities to work with the youth of the parish. “I am looking forward to my future here in Ennis,” he concluded.

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