Function planned for incumbent Parish Priest ahead of retirement

September 5, 2016

Ahead of the impending retirement of Crossmaglen parish priest, Fr. Joe McKeever, later this month, a special Mass and function is being organized to mark the occasion.

After 17 years in the Parish of Upper Creggan, Fr. McKeever is to retire on health grounds and will leave the parochial house to live closer to his family in his native Ballyhegan.

Ordained in 1991, Fr. McKeever was appointed as curate in Crossmaglen to the then PP, Fr. McGeough in 2000 before becoming his successor six years later.

Over the last two decades, he has been actively involved with the community and has chaired the Boards of Governors of St Joseph’s High and St Patrick’s Primary schools.

During his 16-year tenure in St Patrick’s, he and his fellow governors have worked with three successive principals to consolidate the highly successful nursery units as well as introducing the now fully established Irish-medium section of the overall school, which has in excess of 100 pupils.

In St Joseph’s, where he has been Chaplain for over seven years, he has spent the past two years working with the other governors to oversee the project board in preparation for the long-promised new build, which is scheduled to commence next year and will take around 24 months to complete.

As trustee, Fr. McKeever has also been involved in school development plans for primary schools in both Clonalig and Glassdrummond.

During his years as PP, Fr McKeever recruited a new Pastoral Council, which is still ably led by Mrs Rosemary Barry and others from across the whole parish.   He also helped set up the very active Parish Finance Committee to advise on all aspects of parish finance especially major repairs at our three parish churches – St Brigid’s, Glassdrummond, where further work is imminent; Sacred Heart, Shelagh which in recent years was fully re-roofed and renovated and a new marble sanctuary fitted; and finally, in the last year, a huge project to re-roof, insulate and renovate the mother-church of the parish, St Patrick’s, Crossmaglen where two new statues of St Patrick and Our Lady of Lourdes now overlook the front piazza.  Extensive upgrading has also taken place in St Patrick’s Cemetery, with the help of our two curates, Fr King and Fr McKinney; along with a total renovation of the parish rooms.

Fr McKeever says none of these projects would have gone so well but for the energy and enthusiasm of the finance committee and fundraisers. The St Patrick’s project drew in voluntary help from well over 100 parishioners across a wide age range and more than 1,000 donors across the parish.

Until recent years, he travelled regularly on the parish pilgrimage to Lourdes, and has also, along with Fr McKinney and Fr King, overseen the coordination of the popular annual Novena each autumn.

During his tenure Fr. McKeever nominated three parishioners to receive the Bene Merenti papal award and thirty members of the parish received the St Patrick’s Diocesan Medal for their services to the church.

A native of the Ballyhegan/Portadown area of Armagh, where his family are steeped in the traditions of the GAA, Fr. McKeever’s late father played senior football with the county and many of his family have featured on various county squads, perhaps most notably his nephew Paddy – a member of the squad which brought Sam Maguire to Armagh in 2002.  Indeed Fr. McKeever says it was his great privilege to offer Mass with the squad at their training base on the very morning of that historic day, at the invitation of then manager Joe Kernan.

Having formed a close affiliation to Crossmaglen Rangers, again he often offers Mass on the mornings of major fixtures and is anchored as a somewhat “informal associate” of the backroom team.

Having celebrated the silver jubilee of his ordination earlier this year, Fr. McKeever says it is with regret that he will leave the parish “where a large part of his heart will remain”.

Following the celebration of planned leaving Masses towards the end of September, he will bid farewell to Upper Creggan and retire to a small bungalow, close to his family in Ballyhegan.

Fr. McKeever is keen to point out that his new home is “already over furnished and equipped” and while acknowledging the customary generosity of his parishioners, he politely requests that people do not purchase farewell gifts, mementos, pictures or ornaments for him.

Meanwhile, the organisers of a celebratory Mass and function, which will be held in the Rangers Hall in the coming weeks, will be distributing envelopes at churches this weekend.  The envelopes are to facilitate donations from which Fr. McKeever intends to contribute to organisations within the parish.  Organisers have also expressed a wish that as many parishioners as possible will attend the event to mark the occasion.