Northern Ireland news

Buncrana pier tragedy priest Fr Paddy O'Kane to take sabbatical in US

Fr Paddy O'Kane blesses the remains of the five family members killed in the Buncrana pier tragedy. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin
Seamus McKinney

THE Derry priest who ministered to Louise James after her family died in the Buncrana pier tragedy is to take four months' leave from parish duties.

Fr Paddy O’Kane said his decision to undertake a retreat in the US had nothing to do with the difficulties of the last year when his elderly father also passed away.

However, the Ballymagroarty parish priest urged Irish bishops to do more to help diocesan priests cope with the pressures of their vocations in the face of falling clergy numbers.

He said he hoped the retreat would help ensure he did not have a recurrence of the depression he suffered two years ago.

One of Derry’s best known priests, Fr O’Kane came to national prominence last March after Sean McGrotty (48), sons Mark (12) and Evan (8), the boys’ grandmother Ruth Daniels (58) and their aunt, Jodie-Lee (14), died when the family car slid on algae into Lough Swilly.

Mr McGrotty and Ms James's baby daughter Ríoghnach survived when her father passed her to Donegal man Davitt Walsh who swam out to the sinking car.

Fr O’Kane said he will leave his parish on Thursday to travel to San Antonio, Texas. Five other Irish priests, including fellow Derry cleric Fr Charlie Keaney, will also take part in the retreat with clergy from around the world.

He hopes to return in May in time for First Holy Communions in his Holy Family parish.

Fr O'Kane said he felt the time was right now to take a break and the retreat would provide a holistic course which would help him in body, soul, mind and spirit.

“People don’t realise the stresses that diocesan clergy face as numbers fall. They deal with lots of issues and often bottle up pain, returning to a cold dark home in the evening. I think this must be addressed and I would like to see the bishops address this,” he said.

Clergy serving on missions and in holy orders receive proactive care and often their superiors will demand that they take a sabbatical, but Fr O’Kane said this did not happen with diocesan priests.

He said that after almost 45 years in the priesthood he felt the time was right to be “refreshed”, having been unable to take time out before because of his father's illness.

“I would like to renew my whole priesthood and re-commit myself to the Lord once again.”

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