Published: 29 April 2010
by JOSIE HINTON
TO his congregation he has been a “father, uncle and brother all rolled into one,” and to many homeless and vulnerable people with drink and drug addictions in Camden Town he has been something of a lifeline.
Now, Father Dominic McKenna’s parishioners have been left distraught at the news he is to leave Our Lady of Hal Church after more than a decade of loyal service.
The 59-year-old priest, who came to the Arlington Road church as a student in 1991 before steering the parish for 13 years, has been asked by the Diocese of Westminster to move to Borehamwood, Hertfordshire, where the priest has been forced to leave the ministry to care for his sick parents.
He will be replaced by Monsignor Jeremy Fairhead, the former Catholic chaplain at Oxford University, who has more recently served the Pope in Rome. Fr McKenna said he was “grieving” the loss of his current role, but looking forward to the challenges ahead in his new parish.
But members of the congregation have refused to accept the news, with some even writing an anonymous letter to the New Journal asking for help to prevent him leaving.
One parishioner described how Fr McKenna helped her deal with the problems of an abusive relationship and financial hardship. “I had no one to turn to until I started going to Our Lady and Fr Dominic helped me no end,” she said. “Can you help us keep this special man? We don’t know what we will do once he’s gone.”
Fr McKenna said telling his congregation he was leaving was one of the hardest things he has ever had to do. “It’s very difficult to leave,” he said. “I look at the mass at each congregation and we’ve walked through so many things together. I look at faces I’ve baptised, or the face of someone whose husband or brother I’ve buried.
“You get instated into people’s lives and it’s very difficult to say goodbye. But at the same time you make a promise when you are ordained to be obedient to the diocese and you have to fulfil that. It would be easier to stay, but that’s not why I went into the priesthood.”
Fr McKenna decided to swap the classroom for the pulpit at a time when the next step in his career as a teacher would have been a move to management.
“I felt I was making a difference in the teenagers’ lives but I wanted to extend that to entire families,” he said. “I was becoming more serious with my faith and I felt the message of the gospel was totally relevant to today, and I felt I could put it across.”
Highlights of his time at Our Lady have included setting up services for the homeless and trips to Legoland and the seaside, as well as St Patrick’s Day celebrations. He admits to being nervous about being the “new boy” at another parish, but is also relishing the challenge.
“People say it [Our Lady] won’t be the same,” he said. “Well, of course it won’t be the same, but that doesn’t mean it will be bad. Everyone wants to put their stamp on a place and the new priest will want to do that too.”