Northern Ireland news

Several Catholic parishes in Down and Connor left without a resident parish priest under clerical changes

St Bernadette's Parish in the Rosetta area of Belfast is one of several parishes which will no longer have a resident parish priest. Picture by Ann McManus
John Monaghan

A number Catholic parishes in Down and Connor will operate without a resident parish priest under the latest clerical changes announced by Bishop Noel Treanor.

The diocese says the move, which take effect from Friday August 23, do not represent amalgamations and are a replication of the arrangements already in place in some parishes throughout the diocese, with a declining number of available clergy.

Under the changes, Fr Kieran Whiteford will become the parish priest of both Cushendall and Cushendun, while Fr Conor McGrath has been appointed as the parish priest of Glenravel and the administrator of The Braid.

In addition, Fr McGrath will also provide chaplaincy services to schools in Ballymena and St Killian's College in Carnlough.

Elsewhere, two neighbouring parishes in Belfast will share a parish priest, with Fr Brendan Hickland moving from St Teresa's in the west of the city to become the parish priest of both Holy Rosary and St Bernadette's in the south.

The change has been prompted by the retirement of the respective parish priests in each parish, Fr Patrick McKenna in Holy Rosary and Fr Paul Armstrong, who has served single-handedly at St Bernadette's for the past 16 years.

St Bernadette's was opened in 1967 to help with the growth in the Catholic population in the area and was a part of Holy Rosary Parish until it became a parish in its own right in 1988.

Assisting Fr Hickland in St Bernadette's will be Fr Michael Spence, who has been appointed as the curate and will continue to provide chaplaincy services in St Malachy's College, Belfast.

His move from St Malachy's marks the end of an era as he was the last full-time serving priest on the teaching staff at the north Belfast school.

Fr Spence had been in the post for 25 years and the change means that for the first time since its foundation in 1833, St Malachy's will not have a priest amongst its teaching staff when it reopens in September.

Principal Paul McBride said: "Fr Spence is a highly respected, esteemed, committed and talented teacher.

"He will be particularly remembered for his dedication to the guidance and formation of all students and his warm, humble, gentle, supportive presence alongside teacher colleagues."

There is also a change in personnel at the chaplaincy at Queen's University, where Fr Gerard Magee will be replaced by Fr Dominic McGrattan, who will also be the priest in residence at St Brigid's in south Belfast.

Fr Magee has decided to return to his religious order, the Cistercians, at Our Lady of Bethlehem Abbey in Portglenone.

Fr Ciarán Dallat, who stepped aside from ministry for a year in 2015 following allegations of a relationship with a woman, is to return to parish life, having been appointed the parish priest of Loughinisland in Co Down in addition to his current role as prison chaplain.

Bishop Treanor paid tribute to all retiring priests and those affected by the changes, as well as the Mill Hill Fathers, who recently departed St Mary's in Chapel Lane, Belfast.

"Undoubtedly, the increasing age profile of clergy and declining numbers of available priests has created its own challenge in fulfilling the Church's mission and ministry, a challenge which our clergy respond to on a daily basis with generosity and faith-filled dedication," he said.

"I assure all parishioners of my commitment to meet the sacramental and pastoral needs of the diocese, notwithstanding that this, at times, involves the establishment of new structures of administration and the reconfiguration of pastoral and sacramental services and ministries within our Pastoral Communities."

Full list of Down and Connor Clerical Appointments

Very Rev Paul Armstrong, to retire and to assist in partial ministry as Pastor Emeritus in St Mary's Chapel Lane

Very Rev Liam Blaney SPS, to retire and available for cover and supply

Very Rev Raymond Fulton, to retire and assist in partial ministry as Pastor Emeritus in Ballycastle

Very Rev Aidan Kerr, to retire and assist in partial ministry as Pastor Emeritus in St Mary's on the Hill, Glengormley

Very Rev Patrick McKenna, to retire and assist as Pastor Emeritus in Ballymena

Very Rev Sean Rogan Pastor Emeritus, to assist in partial ministry as Priest in Residence in

Carryduff

Very Rev Timothy Bartlett, to be Adm. St Mary's Chapel Lane and Episcopal Vicar for Diocesan Forward Planning

Very Rev Darren Brennan, to be PP Dunloy

Very Rev Ciarán Dallat, to be PP Loughinisland, in addition to Prison chaplaincy

Very Rev Brendan Hickland, to be PP Holy Rosary and PP St Bernadette's

Very Rev Gabriel Lyons, to be PP St Teresa's

Very Rev Brian McCann, to be Adm. Derriaghy, in addition to PP St Luke's.

Very Rev Damian McCaughan, to be PP Ballymoney

Very Rev Conor McGrath, to be PP Glenravel and Adm. The Braid and to provide chaplaincy services to schools in Ballymena and St Killian's College, Carnlough

Very Rev Luke McWilliams, to be PP Rasharkin

Very Rev Francis O'Brien, to be PP Larne

Very Rev Kieran Whiteford, to be PP Cushendall and PP Cushendun

Very Rev Michael Spence, to be CC St Bernadette's and will continue to provide chaplaincy services in St Malachy's College, Belfast

Rev Dominic McGrattan, to be Chaplain to Queen's University Belfast and to assist as Priest in Residence in St Brigid's

Rev Brian Watters, to assist in St Mary's Chapel Lane, in addition to CC St Peter's Cathedral

Rev W?odzimierz Dziduch S Chr., to be Chaplain to the Polish Community residing in St Malachy's

Rev Aloysius Lumala, to be CC Ballymena

Rev James Madden O Prem., to assist in St Mary's Chapel Lane, in addition to part-time Prison chaplaincy

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