There was shock and sadness in Tullamore this week when news emerged that one of the most popular and best-loved curates in the parish, Fr Shane Crombie, is set to leave the town after 14 years to take up a new position in Navan.
An emotional Fr Shane made his announcement to parishioners at the 10am Mass in the Church of the Assumption on Wednesday morning of this week, and said it was “a great privilege” to have been given the opportunity to serve in Tullamore for such a long time.
Fr Shane said he can clearly recall the day in 2005 when he was told by former Bishop Michael Smith that he would be coming to Tullamore.
“It was my first appointment and I remember I was replacing Fr Gerry Boyle who had been in the parish for 17 years, and I was thinking to myself ‘how in God’s name could anybody spend so long in one place?’ and here I am now going into my 15th year in Tullamore, so time flies” said the affable curate this week.
Fr Shane admitted that he did a lot of his “personal growing up” in Tullamore as he arrived in the parish as a 25 years old and is leaving going into his 40th year, “so it was a formative time for me both in my own personal and in my faith life.”
When he was was told by Bishop Tom Deenihan that he was being transferred to Navan, where he will serve as one of the four curates in the parish, Fr Shane said he realised that not only is he leaving his place of work, which is the parish, but he is also leaving his family, the parishioners.
“This is my first time to be moved, so it’s a bit like leaving home and moving away,” said Fr Shane, who adds that when you become a priest “it is always somewhere there at the back of your mind that you are going to have to move somewhere else at some stage, but that’s what I signed up for and you have to be open to change, and a new challenge, in life.”
He said he had intended “briefly mentioning” the fact that he was moving to Navan at the 10am Mass on Wednesday, but when he looked out at the familiar faces of his parishioners he became “a bit emotional” as he regards them as his extended family.
“I have learned some great lessons from the people of Tullamore, and one of the things I have come to realise is that the parish does not belong to the priests, it belongs to the people, if we have no parishioners then we have no parish,” pointed out Fr Shane, who says he is leaving his ministry in the town with “a great sense of gratitude.”
Describing the parish as being “very diverse and very vibrant” Fr Shane Crombie says any priest who is appointed to Tullamore is very lucky as it enjoys “wonderful lay involvement and support” and he is very confident that this will continue into the future.
“Any new appointment to a parish requires a lot of patience” he laughs “the priest has to get used to his new parish and his new surroundings, and the parishioners, in turn, have to get used to a new Priest, so it is a learning curve for everyone.”
Although he was born in Tullamore hospital in 1979, and grew up just seven miles away in Rahugh, outside Kilbeggan, Fr Shane Crombie had no other involvement with the county town until he moved here, and his lifelong support for the Westmeath Football team has often been the subject of much lighthearted banter in the parish!
With his boundless enthusiasm for his ministry, and his infectious energy, the young curate quickly became one of the most popular members of the parish team in Tullamore, and not only was he the driver of many new initiatives in the parish, but he also fully immersed himself in the life of the town by becoming a member of Tullamore Amateur Dramatic Society and appearing on stage in numerous plays and also a number of charity events.
As chaplain to three schools in the town, Coláiste Choilm, St Josephs and Scoil Eoin Phoil, Fr Shane was in constant contact with young people in the parish and had a great rapport with them, and he is also Vocations Director for the Meath Diocese.
During his time in Tullamore, Fr Shane said he was “privileged” to journey with many parishioners during the most difficult times of their lives, and he mentioned in particular, his friendship with the late Josephine Pender, whose daughter, Fiona, has been missing since August 1996.
“Josephine was an exceptional lady, and I was very privileged to get to know her and her son, John, and to witness their great dignity, even in the midst of the the great tragedies they had to endure,” said Fr Shane, who adds that he meets “the face of Christ in the people I meet every single day, and I am very grateful for the job I do.”
In moving to Navan, which has a population in excess of 40,000, Fr Shane Crombie said he will face a number of challenges. “Saying goodbye to the many friends I have made in Tullamore is one challenge, and starting afresh in a totally new environment and building up new friendships is another challenge, but the only reasons Priests do what they do is to be of service to others, and I really do hope I have been of some service to the parishioners of Tullamore during my time here” he said.
Fr Shane said he has been “very lucky” to have lived so close to his parents, Sean and Ann, during his time in Tullamore, and to also have been in constant contact with his two brothers, David, who lives in the town, and James, who lives with his wife, Ann and their four daughters in nearby Ballycommon.
He is delighted to have developed a very close bond with his four beloved nieces, Hayleigh, Anna, Chloe and Sarah, and says he will have to make an extra special effort to see them as often as he can now that he will be living 76km from Tullamore!
One of his proudest achievements during his time in Tullamore was the recent 'Footprints Through Lent' initiative during which guest speakers spoke of their own personal experience of mental health and suicide at the Friday evening Mass during Lent. “This arose from a Night of Hope Mass we organised last December after an exceptionally difficult year for the parish in terms of suicide, so we wanted to find some way to give hope to our parishioners and the Footprints initiative was a great success” stated Fr. Shane.
The beloved curate is due to celebrate his last Mass in Tullamore parish at the Durrow Pattern Day on June 9 next, and will take up his new appointment in Navan later in the month.
The name of the Priest who is to replace Fr Shane Crombie will be revealed next week when the list of new Diocesan appointments is announced.