One of Coleraine’s most popular clergymen, Father Charlie Keaney, is leaving his native parish of St John’s at the end of August

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His spiritual journey will take him deep into the heart of Texas.

Popular Coleraine priest, Father Charlie Keaney is to leave his beloved St John’s Parish this autumn to take on a ‘sabbatical of renewal’ in the United States.

His destination is the Oblate School of Theology, a Catholic graduate school for theological studies in San Antonio, which is run by the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate.

“I’ll be 66 and while many people think of retirement at that age and putting their feet up, I’m not”, reflected Fr Keaney this week.

“Instead, I’ll be doing a sabbatical course in sprituality and theology in San Antonia - a renewal if you like.

“And when I come back home I will go wherever the Bishop sends me to be a curate for my remaining days.”

Founded in 1849, The School’s initial goal was to educate young men to serve as Oblate missionaries in Texas, New Mexico, Louisiana, Mexico and the Philippines.

Today, it prepares men for priesthood from many dioceses across the United States and a number of religious communities.

For Father Keaney it will represent a new chapter in his 41 years in the Catholic clergy. Saying goodbye to St John’s where he went to school, will not be easy.

“I’ll finish in the parish at the end of August which means I’ll have been in St John’s for 12 years and seven months.

“It’s been a privilege to have been back in my home parish as parish priest and I have many very, very happy memories of here.”

Fr Keaney served in several churches across the north west over those four decades but he has had a lifelong connection with the west of the Bann and St John’s in particular.

He said: “I grew up in the Heights and lived in Churchlands Road and went to St John’s school.

“From there I went to St Columb’s College in Derry and then to St Patrick’s College in Maynooth.”

Following his ordination he spent five years from 1976 at St Eugene’s Cathedral - the Mother Church’ for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Derry, as well as the parish Church of the parish of Templemore.

He stayed in the city to serve a further eight years in Shantallow, followed by a year in Omagh, six years in Limavady and Ballykelly and then six-and-a-half years in Buncrana before returning to Coleraine.

During his time as PP, Fr Keaney devoted himself to his parishioners but also sought to build positive cross-community links with other churches.

In doing so he struck up a close friendship with Rev Bert Ritchie of the Church of Christ in Coleraine.

“We built good relations with churches like Macosquin Church of Ireland and Articlave Presbyerian Church and that has been very good, rewarding and uplifting. We are all children under one God after all.”

He sought to develop and promote an inclusive ministry at St John’s and in his homily during the funeral of Catholic father of four, Kevin McDaid, in June 2009, he spoke on behalf of Mr McDaid’s widow, Evelyn, to plead for no retaliation and called on the community to “put aside the prejudices of the past”.

He also officiated at the funeral of monk Veder O’Kane, a member of the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance - also known as Trappists - at a traditional monastic service in Dunboe Church, Castlerock in February 2013.

Fr Keaney also treasured his close links with local schools, chairing the Board of Governors at St John’s Primary and also representating the Department of Education on Loreto College’s Board of Governors.

And he was an enthusiastic supporter of Coleraine’s Street Pastors scheme, founded by Coleraine SDLP councillor, Stephanie Quigley.

Speaking of his decision to leave St John’s he added: “We have had a lot of changes not just in our own parish but in St Malachy’s as well.

“It’s time that a younger man comes along and takes charge of it. With all the pastoral duties running a parish is a big responsibility now.

“So I felt I needed a wee change, a rest and then when I come back from America, a lighter role as a curate