BISHOP of Limerick, Dr Brendan Leahy has reassured young people in Limerick that the ever popular Fr Chris O’Donnell will be back in Limerick again after his ten month stint in Dublin to write a religious schoolbook.
Responding to the overwhelming reaction and online petitions, Bishop Leahy said that Fr Chris would be moving to Dublin to work on a sixth class religion book but would be returning within ten to 12 months.
News of Fr O’Donnell’s pending move away from his work with the Limerick Youth Ministry, sparked young people in Limerick to tweet pleas to Pope Francis in a bid to halt the relocation of the “inspirational” priest.
Fr O’Donnell is due to be assigned to the Dublin diocese after 12 years in the Treaty City where he has been a familiar face and friend to many young people who have expressed their shock at the proposed move.
@Pontifex, the pope’s official Twitter account, has been bombarded by appeals marked with the hashtag #keepourhero.
In his message to Pope Francis, Olly Deegan wrote, “It is not often a priest has such an impact on young people so please ask the bishop not to fix what’s not broken”.
Fr O’Donnell’s youth work is just one aspect of his ministry that has prompted calls for the Pope to stop his transfer to Dublin.
1,500 people have supported an online petition to keep their “favourite priest” in the city.
A native of Adare, the 43 year-old priest is a former primary school teacher and is moving to Dublin in September for up to a year to help write a primary school religion book.
Although not on twitter, Fr Chris is aware of the favourable attention he is receiving and said it was a privilege to work with the great young people in Limerick.
However, he has assured them that he “will not be gone forever and will face his new challenges”.
The online petition, called “Keep or Hero Fr Chris O’Donnell”, is hosted at www.thepetitionsite.com. It states that “Fr Chris has touched the lives of many young people and has been an integral part of youth development in Limerick and is known for bringing different branches and sections of the youth together in the most amazing and multiple ways.
“Limerick can not afford to lose this amazing man and we must petition together and try to keep him.”
“The only reason I have been to mass in the last 4/5 years is when Fr O’Donnell does it”, one wrote.
Another kept it simple by advising Pope Francis that he was “sick of seeing #Keepourhero all over my feed, will you just be sound and leave the lad alone, cheers m8”.
Bishop Brendan Leahy said he had noted the reaction of the youth who interact so well with Fr Chris with one subscriber calling the 43-year-old a “class act” amongst the declining numbers of young priests.
“Fr Chris’s work in youth ministry in Limerick has been exemplary, to a degree that his talents will be lent to a national role later this year for ten to twelve months. At the end of this he will return to Limerick Diocese.
“To see such an outpouring of affection for Fr Chris speaks volumes about his relationship with them and the connection that young people can have with their Church and priests.
“But they can rest assured; he will not alone be coming back to us within a year but will also continue to stay in touch with some elements of youth ministry work in Limerick during his time in Dublin.
“Admittedly, we have also to make sure we don’t make too many demands on him.
In his temporary new role, the popular Limerick priest will be helping write the sixth class religion book that will be part of the very successful programme produced by Veritas, Grow in Love.
This book will be used by many children in preparation for Confirmation, Bishop Leahy said adding “It is a very important book and given Fr. Chris’ many talents, including the fact that he was previously a primary school teacher, he is well placed to contribute to this book that will also be of benefit to many children in Limerick in the coming years.