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A Day in the Life: Fr John Kenny

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HOLY WATER Fr John Kenny pictured at Old Head beach, near Louisburgh, on his stand-up paddleboard. Pic: Paul Mealey

MY Christmas Day starts the evening before with what we call a Family Mass here in Partry with a real emphasis on the children. It’s a magical celebration because the children are in a very expectant mood for Santa as well as baby Jesus and the fact we gather in the darkness of Christmas Eve, it adds to the celebration of the Lord, with a real sense of family, community and getting together.
I have a ritual on Christmas Eve where I have a little Santa Claus on the altar and it sings ‘Santa Claus is Coming to Town’ and everyone joins in. I’ve had the little gadget about ten years now and I’ll keep it going until it stops working.
On Christmas Day I’m up at 8.30am – a sleep in for me – and the first Mass is at 10am in Partry. You may have a different congregation around you than the night before as a lot of families have had their celebration, so the morning people are in their best gear. Some might even wear the odd Christmas jumper! But usually the numbers are high with people home on holidays and it’s great to see the extra faces.
I then go to my other Mass in Tourmakeady at 11.30am and at that stage the congregation is even bigger. Because they don’t have the Vigil Mass, the emphasis again is on the children and they would be there with their toys, Christmas jumpers and even antlers, and it’s great to see that sense of fun as well as the celebration of birth.
We’re always conscious of people visiting loved ones that are in their thoughts and prayers and we have a tradition here where we light the tree in the ground of both our churches. And over Christmas we have a tridium – three Masses – one on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day, to the memory of family, friends and all the community.
After Mass I head off to visit my Mum in St Attracta’s Nursing Home in Charlestown for the afternoon, with my brother and other family members, before we go off to have dinner in the evening.
Christmas last year was my first that wasn’t at home because there was nobody at home – Dad passed away two years ago and Mum is in the nursing home, so in that way I celebrate it with friends. The usual; meal and chat, but I don’t wait out too late because when St Stephen’s Day comes around, I take the day to visit relations and friends. After that, the wedding seasons starts – I’ve two over Christmas and a baptism ceremony.
I’m celebrating my 30th Christmas as a priest this year. I grew up on a small farm in Tooreen and for a time I went to study to be a teacher as I wanted to do something in connection with people. But then I decided I would give the priesthood a checkout. I felt a deeper calling in the space of about seven years and I changed from Galway to Maynooth to study theology and then made the commitment to become a priest.
When I first started out I was trendy and all that, going to discos and the night club in Castlebar back in the ‘80s. My philosophy, if you like, would involve trying to meet people so far as I could where they’re at, as opposed to where I’m at. So if people can’t come to church and liturgies, I made the extra effort to meet people out and about, whether that’s the side of a football pitch or a dancehall, not so much nightclubs now!
I’m an outdoor type of person and I love stand-up paddle boarding, which I teach. I also helped set up a Latin dance club in Westport that is still holding its own after 18 years. Another hobby of mine is photography and when I take photos for a wedding, I always include a selfie at the end for a laugh. It’s probably a trademark at this stage. It puts people at ease. You have to do the celebration respectfully and gracefully, but not to the exclusion of peoples’ enjoyment.
It can be overdone too. I certainly wouldn’t be encouraging people to be going Facebook Live when they’re at a ceremony!
I’m also involved in a lot of fundraisers for different causes, such as the Cannonball. I’ve been doing it every year since they started. Because I don’t drive a fancy car, I dress up as a novelty for a laugh and the children love it. I drive a Mini Countryman, it certainly doesn’t have the same magic as a Ferrari though!
One of the challenges facing the church is the fact that the number of priests has declined, so we have to find new ways of ‘being church’ and ministering to each other as ‘church’. I don’t know how well that’s been addressed. We’re trying so far as we can to provide the same level of church services, but that’s not physically possible. The energy being put into that is great, but sometimes the energy put into that is taking away from finding new ways of ‘being church’.
In the lead up to Christmas I talk to the congregation about the commercial and material side, which has to be acknowledged too so long as it doesn’t overshadow or take way from the deeper meaning and importance of family and community.

In conversation with Ger Flanagan

Factfile
Name: Fr John Kenny
From: Originally from Carton North, Tooreen, living in Partry.
Occupation: Priest

Quickfire Questions

If money was no object, what would you do all day?
Visit the capital cities of Europe, starting with Rome!

Tell us something about yourself we don’t know?
I don’t like mince pies or heavy metal.

What’s the most unusual thing you’ve eaten?
Shark fish.

Where’s your favourite place in the world?
The Wild Atlantic Way.

What makes you angry?
All forms of injustice.

First hero?
Dad.

Name three things that are always in your fridge?
Cheddar cheese, oranges and Connacht Gold strawberry flavoured milk.

What makes you nervous?
Heights.

Favourite TV show?
RTÉ Nationwide.

Who’s the most famous person you’ve met?
Saint Mother Teresa.

Best holiday?
A wedding in Sicily.

What do yo miss most about being a kid?
Going to town shopping with Mum and Dad.

What’s your most prized possession?
My stand-up paddle board.

Best advice you ever got?
Do your best and let God do the rest.

Describe yourself in three words?
Loyal, trustworthy and friendly.

How do you unwind?
I go stand-up paddle boarding, take a walk on the beach or a cycle on the Green Way.

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