On Sunday, August 23rd, 1964, the Bishop of Derry, Most Rev. Dr Neil Farren, was presented with a silver key by contractor Mr John Hegarty.
The key symbolised the opening of the newly-constructed Church of Our Lady, Star of the Sea in Desertegney, the Bishop’s own parish.
On that date, hundreds of men, women and children from Desertegney and the Buncrana parish made their way to the Church for its dedication and opening ceremony.
There, they heard Bishop Farren speak about how it was a “special thrill” to officiate at the opening, stating words failed him when he tried to express his feelings on being present.
The tabernacle and altar in the Church were the gift of Most Rev. Dr Farren to the people of Desertegney.
That Tuesday’s Derry Journal, on August 25th, 1954 dedicated its front page to the opening ceremony, heralding how it was the 26th Church or Oratory built in the diocese in 25 years.
This Sunday, many of those who were there that day, as well as the generations who came after, will once again join together in a Mass celebrating the Golden Jubilee of its opening and dedication.
The church, with its prominent bell tower majestically overlooking Lough Swilly, was designed by the renowned Liam McCormick, who is described as the ‘father of modern church architecture.’
It cost £33,000 to build and was done so in ‘record time,’ making it possible to open the Church on the Feast of the patron Saint of the Diocese, St Eugene.
Frank McGonagle and Sons, Carlisle Road, Derry supplied the furnishings and installations, with the wrought iron work undertaken by Thomas Logue, Cranford and tarmac by B Mullan and Sons.
The opening ceremony was a landmark day for the parish and there was a capacity congregation when Dr Farren officiated at Solemn High Mass celebrated by Rev C McGoldrick PP Malin.
A special sermon was preached by Rev W McGonagle, OMI, Superior, St Conleith’s School, Daingean, Co Offaly, a native of Buncrana.
The music of the Mass was sung by a children’s choir under the direction of Miss H Chapman, principal of Desertegney Girls’ School.
Most Rev. Dr. Farren told the congregation how a special significance was attached to the fact the Church was named and dedicated to our Mother of God, Star of Sea.
He said they who had “lived so close to the ocean had experienced frequently what terrible storms there might be at sea and could appreciate what a star of the sea meant to a sailor who was trying, in the midst of difficulties to reach his home port.”
Bishop Farren told the congregation he would like them to learn from they sermon that they were “living in a stormy sea where waves and danger were constant.”
He added that was true even for those at home, “but particularly for those who had to seek their livelihood elsewhere.”
Bishop Farren added that one lesson they would learn from that day’s function and one they would remember all their lives was that “Mary was to be their guiding star.”
In Rev. McGonagle’s special sermon, he told the congregation it was not “merely a day of rejoicing for the people of Desertegney and the parish of Buncrana, but for the Diocese and this country.”
He added: “Let us pray that when our eyes begin to grow dim there will be there that beacon of light to guide us home; that there will be a beacon of light for our sons and daughters who go out into the world, that they will remember this day with love and devotion and that when the tempest bursts around them - as burst it will - they will stand up for their faith and remember that Mary, Star of the Sea, is with them to guide them securely to port.”
The Golden Jubilee Mass will be celebrated this Sunday, at 3pm in the Church of Our Lady. Star of the Sea by Bishop McKeown. Refreshments and entertainment will take place in the hall after the ceremony. Everyone is welcome.