When 20-year-old Conan McGonagle from Limavady was a student at St. Anthony’s P.S. in Bellarena, he never thought that one day he would return to assist at mass in the school that was closing after almost 60 years.
Conan is training to be a priest at Maynooth in Dublin, having just completed his second year in the seminary. He says it was as a young boy at school where he first had thoughts about the priesthood.
“I’ve just finished my second year in the seminary at the end of May and I thought I would come back and celebrate my time at St. Anthony’s at the end of what was an absolutely amazing wee school,” said Conan, speaking to the ‘Journal’ after assisting Magilligan Parish Priest Fr Frank O’Hagan at a packed mass attended by several hundred people.
Conan says his first thoughts about being a priest started when he was at school at St. Anthony’s, but it was only in his teenage years it was something he started to seriously consider.
“I did have thoughts about priesthood at that stage. I suppose this is the birth ground of my vocation. I never thought it would come to pass like this,” he said, candidly.
Looking at old photos and seeing former classmates, Conan: “It’s amazing looking back. It was an amazing time here, and I couldn’t look at a moment and have a negative thought, a really lovely family based school.”
After St. Anthony’s PS, Conan attended St. Mary’s. Limavady. He said former classmates, who are solid friends, and former staff in both schools have always been there for support.
“I have had tremendous support along the way, including my former friends in St. Anthony’s who have been so good to me,” said Conan, who admits the path he has chosen has its challenges. He realises some people may question his vocation at such a young age, given the decline in priests in general in the Catholic Church, but he says this is what he is meant to do.
“It is tough, but when you’re doing what you want to do with your life, and what you feel God is calling you to do with your life, it’s very fulfilling work,” he said, but admits a touch of nerves kick in when he is in front of new people.There is a bit of sacrifice in it alright, but my friends have been very supportive, thank God, and please God may that continue,”
Conan added: “It’s the first time I’ve been back doing anything like this in St Anthony’s, which is pretty amazing.”