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Priest who comforted community during Covid-19 retires

A TYRONE parish priest and his housekeeper, who provided spiritual support and comfort for the people of Badoney Lower throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, have retired after a term of 13 years in the rural locality deep in the Sperrins.

Father John Forbes and Kathleen Casey bid an emotional farewell to their friends in poignant last services held in St Patrick’s Church, Gortin and also St Mary’s Church, Rouskey, both areas covered by the parish.

Clare Conway, an active member of the parish committee, said the pair were widely-admired during their time in the area. She added this was because their work only began at the altar.

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“They worked tirelessly to embed themselves in the community from the day they settled in the parochial house in Gortin.

“Fr Forbes had vision of more involvement and ownership among the laity in the Parish,” Clare
said.

“In pursuit of realising his vision, lay committees were established allowing parishioners to get involved in pastoral care, Badoney Lower revived old traditions like the station mass, and an active youth group was formed among other things.”

But it was when Covid-19 hit that Fr Forbes and Katheen made what was possibly their greatest contribution to the parish.

VERY SCARY

“The world turned into a very scary place,” said Clare. “People realised the virus was impacting on their health and their outlook on life.”

With his finger on the pulse of the parish, Fr Forbes could feel the blood pressure rise.

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Clare said, “As a community we needed a focus, an avenue to seek reassurance, guidance and structure.”

Fr Forbes and the parish committee wanted to provide structure and guidance, but with conventional masses and gatherings out of the question, they had to get creative.

“To address the despair and anxiety that pervaded among parishioners, Fr Forbes committed himself to daily mass and evening prayers. People of every age were invited into the Parochial House via Facebook and then YouTube.

She continued, “Fr Forbes provided stability, reassurance and comfort to so many in the parish. 

“The loneliness many felt was relieved by Fr Forbes’ online services.

“Those services were made all the more special with the lovely music provided by Kathleen,” added Clare.

“In her responses to prayers and the Rosary, Kathleen was our voice, our representative and with each warm welcome to the Parochial House, parishioners felt that personal connection and that feeling of support and togetherness that they all needed.”

Clare concluded, “It is with a heavy heart and a great sadness that the Parish of Badoney Lower say a fond farewell to Fr Forbes and Kathleen and wish them both a long and happy retirement.”

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