Fr Pat will leave his grand plan

Fr Pat O’Connell. Picture: PETER MERKESTEYN
Fr Pat O’Connell. Picture: PETER MERKESTEYN

DID you hear the one about an Irish priest sent to an empty paddock the year man landed on the moon?

Poor man, he had nowhere to lay his head, let alone say Mass.

They thought he’d string up a hammock between the gum trees in the moonlight.

But Fr Pat O’Connell had a bigger vision for Lavington.

Within nine years, he’d built a school, a hall and a church and the place was thriving.

And he never seemed to want to leave, until now.

Tonight Fr O’Connell, 84, will be laughing at Irish jokes and singing the hymns of old Ireland when his parishioners farewell him at a tribute concert.

He will retire from parish duties in three weeks after 57 years in the priesthood and 36 years at Holy Spirit parish, Lavington.

“The time has come, but I’ll still be living in Lavington,” he said yesterday.

He is the oldest priest in Wagga diocese and one of the oldest in Australia.

Bishop of Wagga Gerard Hanna will celebrate Mass before parishioners honour their favourite Irishman.

There’ll be Irish music and dancing and country music by Korey Livy, all proceeds going towards their Christmas appeal to help 300 struggling families.

Fr O’Connell’s physical legacy of buildings is large, but in spiritual matters he has had an enormous influence over generations of laity and clergy alike.

Padraig O’Connell was born in County Mayo, Ireland, one of 11 children.

After being ordained in Ireland, he migrated and arrived at St Patrick’s parish, Albury, in 1949 as a shy young curate.

He was parish priest at Mulwala and Barooga in 1969 when Bishop Francis Carroll decided Lavington was growing fast and needed a new parish.

Nothing was ready for him when he arrived, but he rented a fibro house to use as a place for daily Mass, a home and an office and began his “grand plan”.

Fr O’Connell’s successor will be Fr Peter Murphy, of Tumbarumba.