by PETER GRACE
After 20 months as parish priest in Morrinsville, Fr Mark O’Keeffe has returned to England.
Fr O’Keeffe told NZ Catholic that he came to New Zealand a few years ago to stay with his dad and sister in Rotorua.
He stayed for six months, doing supply work in that time. Then, about two years ago, he had the opportunity to leave his parish of Newquay in England and come to New Zealand again.
At the time, there was a possibility that his stay might be permanent.
He came in April 2013, he said, and stayed at first with the Tyburn nuns’ community at Ngakuru, south of Rotorua.
Then, in June, he took over as parish priest at Morrinsville.
People had shown their appreciation hugely, he said. “They are lovely people. I have really enjoyed all my time here.”
It seems Fr O’Keeffe will be sorely missed.
According to Deacon Stuart Young, who is presently based in Morrinsville, Fr O’Keeffe will have a large house in Paignton, Torquay. When the pupils at St Joseph were asked if any of them would visit him in England if they could, “they all put up their hands”.
“Bishop Denis would be very happy to have him back, and I guess Bishop Steve [Lowe] would too,” Deacon Young said.
Parishioner Maree Heathcote told NZ Catholic that Fr O’Keeffe has a lovely way with people. “He has a sense of humour and is popular. Everywhere I go, people, especially non-Catholics,
ask about him,” she said.
His period in the Piako district coincided with the coming to fruition of plans to demolish the almost 50-year old St Joseph’s Church and build a smaller but more suitable replacement.
People only had to be in the old church in the middle of winter to know why a new church was needed, Fr O’Keeffe said.
Now though, his bishop in Plymouth had said he had a job back there for him as parish priest at Paignton — near Torquay. And his sister, who he is close to, had returned to England.
Fr O’Keeffe was officially farewelled at Sunday Mass at St Joseph’s Church on February 8. His first Mass in Paignton was expected to be the vigil Mass on February 28.