FR NOEL KEHOE: ‘Dundalk is the new Paris’, was my quip back!’
Fr Noel Kehoe CSsR Adm is part of the Parish clergy at St Joseph’s Redemptorist in Dundalk
Tell us a bit about yourself?
Well, I’m originally from Newry so not so far away. My mother’s people were from Ravensdale and Carlow and my father’s from Faughart and Dromintee. They settled in Newry where my father started a car business that is now run by my brothers. I was the youngest of 6 children and our world was very much family and work. I still think they are important values for me today. When I finished school, I went to college to study business and languages (an obvious choice I thought) and after I started training to be an accountant. But at 25, I took a mad leap of faith and decided I’d try out the Redemptorists to become a missionary in Africa or Brazil or some other exotic place. So, 23 years later, here I am in Dundalk. 12 miles from home! It’s been an interesting 23 years though, with appointments in Dublin, Brazil, Limerick, Cork and Belfast.
What are your impressions of Dundalk people?
Dundalk was always a familiar place for me growing up, so I feel very much at home here. It’s wonderful to meet people whose names I grew up hearing about or passing places that were connected with my parents or grandparents. Or old haunts where I used to socialise! I still have a lot of relations around, so it means now I have to be on my best behaviour! But there’s an easiness and friendliness in Dundalk when I meet people which I really appreciate. Of course, Dundalk has changed a lot in 30 years and it is now quite multicultural. That brings new challenges, but I really enjoy seeing how integrated people are in the life of the town, especially among the younger generation. With the presence of DKIT and so many international companies, there’s a real buzz and a sense that something is happening. Last week, a friend from Newry sent me a message asking what is going on in Dundalk? His brother was relocating from a lovely suburb in Paris to Dundalk for work … he couldn’t believe it! “Dundalk’s the New Paris” was my quip back! So in short, I like it here, and have been made very welcome by Dundalk people.
St Gerard's Novena is of huge importance to local people, can you give us an insight into the preparations and organisation involved each year?
Well, I should start by saying that my connection with the Redemptorists comes through St. Gerard’s Novena here in Dundalk. The Novena is a time to gather to celebrate life really… and that’s important to everyone. They estimate that about 8,000 people attend the Novena and nearly 300 volunteers and staff were involved last year! So you can imagine that such an event requires a lot of time and organisation. I have to admit that a lot of the heavy lifting is done by a really committed group of staff and volunteers, some with over 50 years of experience. Last year, we put together a project plan, listing out all the tasks to be completed … it was a long list … from rota for preachers, confessors, collectors, readers etc., media interviews, extra seating, fire safety and safeguarding training, traffic control, ordering in books, candles, and a lot of food for the troops! It really is an amazing experience of community. Last year, we opened up the new facilities which meant the relocation of the reception and hall and new safety regulations being implemented. That brought a bit of extra stress, but it’s done now and the new facilities are really wonderful.
The extended parking both at the front and back took an extra 120 cars off the streets, so I think our neighbours and local businesses were happy too! So there’s a lot of preparation but it’s worth every bit of effort as people get so much from it spiritually.
Can you give us an insight into what your average day involves?
There is no average day really as a ministry, in general, and my role as Rector and Parish Administrator, in particular, bring a lot of unknowns. A cousin once admitted that he thought all I did was say mass, and I suppose that is an understandable perception.
So, as Redemptorists, we live in community, so twice a day, we gather for prayer as a community and we have set times for lunch and tea. Fr. Derek allocates the duty rota for masses and confessions and so, in one sense that’s the predictable part of each day. St. Joseph’s is a busy church and parish and although weddings and baptisms can be planned, funerals are a big part of our ministry here and some weeks there are a lot. For example, there were four in the week after Christmas. These are very sensitive moments and we try to give a lot of time to families. Luckily, as a religious community, we share this important ministry, as well as meeting people who come to seek spiritual guidance or share difficulties they are facing. These too are privileged moments for us.
The monastery requires a lot of administration which can be quite demanding. Like any charity or business, we have to ensure that we meet statutory requirements for finance, employment, health and safety, and church requirements. For me, this means a good bit of desk work and lots of meetings. Planning for ministry is another big part of my work there. After the Novena, we prepare for November, then Christmas, then Lent, then Easter. Together with the pastoral council and leaders of the different ministries, we meet to plan these out and see how we can build a good faith community.
So, every day can be a busy day, and I am fortunate to have a lot of good people around me in the monastery and the parish. But if I’m not careful, it can take over your life and you can burn out. Like many people, I have to work on that work-life balance and so make time for exercise, healthy living, family, friends, prayer, time out. Since I came to Dundalk, I’m trying to build more of that into my life, especially exercise. So I do a few days a weeks at a gym and bought myself a bike … and it’s paying off!
What do you like about Dundalk town? Any dislikes?
As I said above, I feel at home here. A place is only as good as its people and I like the sense of community and how people really look out for each other, especially in difficult or tragic times. I was struck over these past months by the generosity of Dundalk people, especially to local charities that play an essential role in the community. We are so fortunate to have a town with good facilities and also to be on the doorstep of so much beautiful nature.
Aspects that I don’t like are certainly not specific to Dundalk. There is a very disheartening undercurrent of violence right across the country, and every tragedy and every crime impacts on the community. I have spent a lot of my ministry working with young people, and I hate to see young people’s lives being ruined through drugs or criminality. There needs to be a lot of joint up thinking to address this.