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Unsung Hero: Father Jeremiah McSweeney.

The Irish priest changing lives in West Virginia

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Unsung Hero: Father Jeremiah McSweeney.

It has been two years of celebration for Father Jeremiah McSweeney who was awarded the 2012 Bishop’s Cross, in recognition of a life’s service and who also celebrated the 40th anniversary of his ordination, and his 70th birthday.

McSweeney, originally from Cashel, County Cork, is still in active ministry in the St. Michael Parish School, in Wheeling, West Virginia, where his boundless energy and faith is changing lives. The beloved priest is extremely proud of his Cork roots and decades spent in West Virginia, something he shares with the famous Monsignor Thomas Quirk, the “circuit rider,” who rode his horse between parishes in West Virginia.

Before he arrived at St. Michael's, Fr. McSweeney had served in eight parishes in West Virginia including St. Anthony in Follansbee, St. Francis de Sales in Beckley, St. John in Mullens, St. Catherine of Siena in Ronceverte, Ss. Peter and Paul in Oak Hill, St. Luke the Evangelist in Cheat Lake and St. Patrick in Weston.

Members of McSweeney’s congregation and his friends are brimming over with pride at the selfless work he has undertaken in his pious and humble career thousands of miles from home.

Speaking during the celebrations of his anniversary one of his closest friends Reverend Sam Sacus said the wonder of McSweeney is his ability to connect.

He said “One of his greatest gifts is that he listens to people with complete openness.
“He’s very compassionate and is known for his generosity and humility. I tell people, ‘Fr. McSweeney is the person your mother hoped you’d turn out to be.’”

McSweeney’s life’s work has been speaking the Catholic faith and encouraging all he encounters to learn about their faith. His lifelong devotion to teaching children won him the Bishop’s Cross Award.

The Corkman’s gift of charm and language earned him the reputation as a poetic priest with a natural eloquence and gift for teaching. One article on the priest said he understands the “power of words power to lift the spirits of parishioners who are sick, to encourage people who have lost hope and to challenge all of us to be better Christians and better people.”

He once said himself “A priest is not a priest for himself; he finds his true identity in love and service of God’s people, whom he is privileged to know, love and serve as God’s anointed one.

“A priest’s life, his preaching and teaching the good news, always points to Christ who is “the same today, yesterday and forever.”

McSweeney has also proven himself to have a savvy financial mind fundraising to manage all the parish’s needs including a successful drive to renovate the historic structure and paying off its debt. In fact it was one of McSweeney’s sermons that was so good a visitor, Gary West, donated $500,000 to the church.

Despite his achievements in the parish the humble priest insists that it is the strength of his community that has enabled him to continue his work. McSweeney recently endured heart surgery and a grueling four months of recovery. Throughout his trial he was calm and insisted that God and the prayers of his friends and family would see him through.

He recently said “The people’s faith and faithful love of Christ and his Church always inspire me as a pastor of souls. To minister to them and work with them for over 40 years has been a great joy for me and a continual source of blessing every day of my life.”

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