A farewell mass will be held for Father Garry McKeown on January 15 before the Catholic Parish of St Mary and St Joseph’s priest leaves for Lithgow.
Father McKeown arrived in Orange from Mudgee for his second tenure in 2015 to replace Father Paul Devitt when he moved to Bathurst.
Just on two years later, Father McKeown will fill another vacancy, this time for the retiring priest at Lithgow.
He said the size of the Orange parish, which spreads as far as Molong and Cumnock, had been a challenge and he looked forward to taking care of a smaller congregation.
“It’s an unknown territory for me because I’ve never lived around that area,” he said.
“Lithgow is around a third of the size.”
St Joseph’s Church recently received a facelift with a fresh coat of paint, while the stealing of the contents of five of the six collection boxes in late 2016 was a low point, but Father McKeown said it was the volunteers and community spirit which set the parish apart.
Orange is blessed with our volunteers, not only just in the church, but in the community.Father Garry McKeown
“For a priest to come into a parish, you really need the help of so many people and they have an important role to play in wider outreach, St Vincent de Paul, the Vinnies van and we have a really vibrant social justice group,” he said.
“Orange is blessed with our volunteers, not only just in the church, but in the community.”
He said he had also valued the relationships built with James Sheahan Catholic High School and Catherine McAuley and St Mary’s Catholic primary schools and looked forward to establishing a similar bond with Lithgow’s La Salle Academy.
Father McKeown believed life had become more secular in the 45 years since he was ordained and he and other priests had a crucial role to play.
“We are far more educated these days and I feel at times the more secular world in which we live means a lack of spirituality,” he said.
“It’s not absolutely essential for happiness, but religion gives some support through difficult times.
“As a priest, you’re very privileged to be involved in the journey of people’s lives – marriages and births as well as the sadness of death and loss and disappointment that all families experience.”
Father Gregory Bellamy will replace Father McKeown as of January 21, supported by Father Pius Khaoya and Father Ephrem Thadathil.
Tea will be served after the farewell mass.