By Shauna McNeilly
ST. Mary’s Church, Rasharkin celebrated the official installation of their new Parish Priest on Friday last, October 11.
The new P.P. appointed to the region is Fr. Oliver McStravick, originally from Aghagallen, County Antrim.
He was preceded by Fr. John Fitzpatrick, from County Down, who recently retired having served as Parish Priest in Rasharkin for the past 12 years.
A special concelebrated mass and ceremony was held at St. Mary’s Church with Bishop Anthony Farquhar of the Diocese of Down and Connor (who attended the seminary with Fr. McStravick). Joining in the celebration of the mass were two personal friends of Fr. Oliver’s, Fr Alex McMullan VF of this deanrey of North Antrim and Fr John McManus, Rector of St. Malachy’s College, Belfast.
Ordained on June 6 1965 at the age of 27, Fr. Oliver entered St. Kieran’s Seminary, Kilkenny following his second level education at St. Colman’s College, Newry.
His ministry over the past 37 years has seen him as Curate in the parishes of Kilcoo, Kircubbin, Castlewellan, Kilkeel, Lower Mourne, Newcastle, Downpatrick and penultimately appointed as P.P. of Ballygalget in 1992, he joked “I just seemed to rotate around the foothills of the Mountains of Mourne.”
His travels have taken him further afield down the years having taken summer sabbaticals in Florida. Fr. Oliver also regularly participates in the National Conference of Priests of Ireland which has been hosted by the Carmelite Convent, Dundrum and the Columban Missionary Fathers.
Leaving a parish which has been your home for 10 years and moving to a new environment takes some adjusting, Fr. Oliver commented, “when you leave a parish where you have been for a considerable length of time part of you seems to die as you leave behind friends and familiarity.
“Re-settling takes time. It’s only natural to go through the emotions of wondering how you’ll be received, will you be accepted, you’ll be compared to those who have gone before you... It takes time to settle and get your bearings about you, but the people of Rasharkin have given me a wonderfully warm welcome and I appreciate that.”
The duties of Parish Priest are manifold: conducting church services, guiding and counselling parishioners, participating in community and church projects, enhancing community relations, administering to the sick and the dying - a part of his ministry where Fr. McStravick finds great satisfaction - and ultimately leading people to God.
With every Parish Priest that Rasharkin has had parishioners have always raised the question ‘what are they going to do for the young people?’
In response Fr. McStravick offered, “there are youth movements already afoot and I plan to develop other initiatives. I am open to suggestions where we as a parish can offer activities that will give satisfaction to young and old alike.”
A keen golf and soccer fan and GAA enthusiast himself, Fr. Oliver is willing to give of his experience where sport is concerned.
Rasharkin has a parish community of 1,750 people. Within this number there are many individual needs and perhaps people with ideas that could be developed to the benefit of others. Fr. McStravick is “delighted” that even in its dilapidated state community groups still make use of the Parochial Hall as a gathering place.
Down the line Fr. Oliver hopes to modernise the Parochial Hall on its existing site, in order to make it a more functional and accessible building to the parish. Having conducted the renovation of buildings at his previous parish he is well aware though “these things take time and money.”
The new Parish Priest acknowledged the legacy of Fr. Fitzpatrick in the tremendous refurbishment work he carried out both at the church and the parochial house commenting “it is a wonderfully maintained plant. I am enjoying the benefits of what he has established.”
As stated, the role of a priest is multi-faceted, but ultimately their main role is as a spiritual guide. Drawing from the current advertising campaign ‘The Power To Change’ Fr. McStravick said “simply, that is what it is all about, helping people realise they can change to be better people, in order to witness to Christ and be one of His.
“I would love to see a community of worshippers living prayerful lives and setting good example to others.”
In respect to Rasharkin being his new home Fr. Oliver said, “any priests who have visited the parish have commented on how warm and welcoming the people are and how much they want you to be yourself.
“I’ll just be myself for the parishioners and do my best for the parish and I’m sure I’ll be very happy here.” With such an approachable, down-to-earth attitude it would be difficult for parishioners not to reciprocate.