In 2021 interview Fr. Patrick McIntyre reflected on six decades as a priest

Sharing his story with diocesan magazine ‘The Net’ in May 2021 Fr. Paddy McIntyre recalled a journey spanning over six decades that his working class childhood in Derry and Donegal in the 1930s had prepared him well for.

One of nine children born to Anne (née Doherty) and Charlie McIntyre, he spoke of having four sisters and one brother, with his mother losing three children “because of the poverty of the people”.

Though born and bred in Derry, where his father was reared, Fr Paddy’s roots are firmly planted in Inishowen, with his mother having come from Buncrana and his father’s parents both born on Inch Island.

“I was baptised the day I was born,” he noted, remarking: “The maximum you would have waited back then was three days, and you could get baptised any day of the week”.

Fr. Paddy McIntyre

Crediting his parents with being the most influential in the nurturing of his faith, Fr Paddy also spoke of the impact of the administrator of St Eugene’s in his youth, Fr Hugh Browne, saying: “He was tall and a very fine bearing man, who was very much in charge of the Women’s Confraternity for years. There was something special about him. There would have been an aura of awe about him, but that really would have been the case for all the priests at that time.”

Describing himself as growing up in “a very ordinary Derry family”, he recalled: “My parents would have gone to Mass every Sunday without fail and we had the practice of saying the Rosary every night in the family home”.

The first religious vocation in his family, Fr Paddy was about 16 years old when he felt an early call to the priesthood, and he recalled hearing priests speak about vocations during his final years at St Columb’s College, where he was struck by the example of Fr Kelly, whom he described as “a good, gentle, holy man”.

“At that time, when you decided you wanted to be a priest, the practice was that you did a Bishop’s Exam. There were about 18 of us and eight, including John Hume and Joe Coulter, were chosen for the Diocese. If you were not going to Maynooth for the Derry Diocese, then you went looking for a seminary where you would be accepted and I was accepted in the Kilkenny seminary. So, after finishing at St Columb’s, I went to St Kieran’s College, the diocesan seminary in Kilkenny. A lot of priests from the Derry Diocese went there in following years. Priests normally didn’t come into a diocese unless they had attended the seminary in Maynooth or Rome, but later they were allowed to go to Kilkenny”.

Describing his six years in the seminary as being very formative, he continued: “It was strict and challenging. I was never allowed into Kilkenny City unless when I was going home on holidays. We had our values at home too, we were brought up to be honest and truthful and respectful”.

Amongst the 35 others who were ordained at the same time as Fr Paddy were Tom Burke, Danny Canning, Malachy McKinney, and Jim McAleney, who all went through St Columb’s together.

Ordained in St Mary’s Cathedral, Kilkenny, on June 5, 1960, by Bishop Patrick Dunne, who was the Auxiliary Bishop of Dublin and Titular Bishop of Nara, Fr Paddy explained: “The Bishop of Salford had adopted me during my training in the seminary, as was the practice, so after I was ordained I went to minister in the Salford Diocese, in Greater Manchester, in July 1960.

“Salford took in all the mill factory areas – Bolton, Blackburn, Rochdale, Oldham and many others besides. I was appointed to St Mary’s Heaton Norris Parish in Stockport, which was small compared to St Eugene’s. The parish priest was Fr Jim Murphy, from Redcastle. The people were very kind and welcoming and I was there for eight quite happy years. I was sad when I left it.

“Stockport was a satellite city of Manchester. The streets were pebbled and at that time many homes had no electricity. We had the lamplight. It was a very working class area and there was quite a lot of poverty there.”

He added: “I moved from there to Patricroft, to the Holy Cross Parish, which was very much working class as well. I was there 16 years, from September 14, 1968, until September 1984, during which time I became the parish priest. Again, the people were very warm and welcoming.”

Fr Paddy’s priestly journey took a different path in 1984, when the new bishop of Salford, Bishop Patrick Kelly, who was from Southport but whose family came from Donegal, sent out a letter asking if anyone wanted to go to the Missions.

“I volunteered to go to South America,” he said, adding: “I was about 47 years old at the time. My mother had died that year, and my father had died previously, and when a priest’s parents die he is like an orphan. I also felt that it was time to move on from the parish I was in. I had done what I had to do, and when I responded to the Bishop’s letter, I got permission to go to South America. It was meant to be for five years and then you went back to your Diocese, but I was there for 30 years through the St James Society, which was founded over 60 years ago by the Cardinal Archbishop of Boston, Richard Cushing. I had friends who had gone there, so I decided to go”.

Founded in 1958, The Missionary Society of St James the Apostle is an international organisation of diocesan missionary priests who volunteer for a minimum of five years to minister in Peru, and previously in Ecuador and Bolivia.

Fr Paddy recalled: “I went to Bolivia for a six-month language course to learn Spanish, and at the end of that the director asked me where I would like to go – Ecuador, Bolivia or Peru. I said Bolivia, because I knew Fr Phil McKenna and Sr Maureen Coyle, who were both from St Eugene’s Parish like me, were already working in Bolivia and I had met them during my time there. However, he then told me that I was going to Ecuador, which is the one I didn’t want to go to because of the heat. So, I was sent from language school to Ecuador. It was very hot on the coast, where I stayed for a couple of weeks before I was sent to the Andes, to a height of 10,000 feet, where it was cool and springlike all year round and the area was surrounded by snow-clad mountains.”

He went on to speak of the struggle of that first year: “It was very difficult, but I had a very good Bishop. At that time, there was no heat, no water, no sewerage, no church, no house for me to live in, and the roads were desperate. That didn’t matter so much to me as my mother’s people had come from a rural area where there were no toilets. It wasn’t the poverty, it was the culture and the language that was tough. Our Society’s motto was to seek out the poorest of the poor. I rented a couple of rooms when I first arrived, which didn’t have a bed or a lock on the door. I later discovered that it was a dangerous place to be staying in.”

He continued: “Initially, I was sent to work with another priest, who was from Scotland and his first language was Gaelic. After three years, I moved across to the other side of the mountain to La Santa Cruz...another Holy Cross Parish. You could say that all my priestly life I sheltered under the Holy Cross.

“I had a CB radio to communicate with,” said Fr Paddy, “and had arranged to contact my Scottish priest friend at 8 am every morning and again at 8 pm in the evening, but he was never there when I called, morning or night! I was the only priest in La Santa Cruz, which served around 30,000 people, and I had to begin the whole build up of a parish.

“Before I arrived, a priest would have come every few months to visit or say a Mass there. There were Catholics and the nucleus of a parish was there, but there was no ecclesiastical parish set-up. I would have been the first parish priest. There were well established parishes side-by-side to the poverty where I lived, which were run by the Salesians, Dominicans and Franciscans, etc. I started a building plan from the day I arrived there and, within the first two years, I had a house and a church, and eventually built about six other smaller chapels in other parts of the mountain”.

Learning very quickly that there were groups that would help Missionaries to do the things they needed to do, he said: “The money came in different ways. I applied to two German Catholic organisations and they would have been the mainstay of the financial aspect. Funds also came from people in my former parishes in the Salford Diocese, and from my home parish of St Eugene’s. The Germans really did give the bulk of the financial help, but I also got assistance from organisations like The Little Way Society, CAFOD. and Trócaire.

“You just began your begging to get money for the building of the house, chapel, school, college, nursery etc. The people in the parish could see what I was doing and were open to helping, but they had no money. They were living in very difficult situations. I got in contact with engineers in the capital city, Quito, to help with the development, and there was a Jesuit priest from Spain who was a wonderful help to me.”

“For the first two years,” he continued, “we said Mass outside, with the mid-day sun beaming down on us. It was a very colourful existence. We lived at 10,000 feet and rising, higher and higher into the Andes, and two or three times a year I went up the mountain; it was quite a climb! Thousands of people came in from everywhere and were squatting on the land of the rich.When I built a parish church, it became the centre and so the people came there. There were weddings every week and I had baptisms every Saturday of the year. On Holy Saturday, there could have been 40-50 baptisms, but on average there were about six baptisms every week. The mortality rate was very high. I will never forget one particular occasion. I wasn’t there too long when one night, while celebrating Mass, a family arrived out of nowhere with a cardboard box and inside was a new-born baby that had died. I was burying a lot of children that did not survive, but that would have been the case for many families in Ireland at that time as well; that was a reality of life then”.

He continued: “We were really building practically from nothing. There was a skeleton presence of a religion. The people had been baptised and knew that they were Catholics, but that was about it.

“Their children went to school, but extremely few were going to university. However, it was a growing experience. Everything was changing from day-today; the water came, then the electricity, and then the roads began to improve”.

Aged 77, Fr Paddy retired in October 2013 and returned to live in Derry. During his 30 years in the Andes, he came home every two years for a couple of months. And, as part of the mission with the Society, to help raise funds, he went to Boston to give talks in parishes about the mission work.

Fr Paddy said: “All my priesthood was complemented. I gave the Salford Diocese 24 years and South America 30 years, and it was a very joyful and challenging time. I am delighted that I had the English experience and the experience of South America was more like a rebirth in every way. I couldn’t even speak the language at the start. There was a lot of humour and fun along the way and I was sad to leave, but I realised that I was old, living in a young continent and was not one of their own. We needed someone to come in who was one of their own and that has happened”.