WEST JORDAN — What is hurling?
"It is an ancient Irish sport. It is a very fast, physical, and skillful sport. It is fabulous and competitive. You have to start when you’re young because it’s hard to pick up the skills in adulthood," said Father Patrick F. Carley, pastor of Saint Joseph the Worker Parish in West Jordan, who seems to know everything about all things Irish.
He was born in County Tipperary, Ireland, where he was educated by the Irish Christian Brothers. They instilled in Fr. Carley his love for faith, country, and history.
He said he joined the seminary because he enjoyed the company of fellow seminarians and the sporting activities.
"I was more into playing sports than anything else," said Fr. Carley.
He was a prominent hurling and soccer player, but as he spent more time in the seminary, his attention deviated from sports to the priesthood.
"I like being involved in people’s lives: helping them, giving the sacraments, and sharing laughter," he said.
Fr. Carley was ordained June 7, 1969 at St. Patrick’s Seminary in Thurles, his hometown, after six years of education in Philosophy, Theology, and Scripture.
That same year, he arrived in Utah, where he asked to serve.
"I encountered very friendly and welcoming people. The children, especially, were a delight. They were open, free to express, and free to engage with the priest," said Fr. Carley.
His first parishes were Saint Vincent de Paul and Saint Ambrose, both with schools and in Salt Lake City.
"I enjoyed it a lot. I liked to run, play, and chase with the kids forever," he said.
Fr. Carley might not be able to keep up the kids anymore, but he has found other venues to feel young. Since he arrived in the United States, he has earned a master’s degree in Social Work and a Law degree from the University of Utah.
"I did it just to see if I could. I love new learning, the high pressure, the good feeling when you do well, and the start of a new semester with new teachers and new books. It is a place to stay young," said Fr. Carley.
He will probably go back to school when he retires to explore new areas and to "flesh out the shortcomings in my education," he said.
As Fr. Carley celebrates 40 years in the priesthood, no one in his community wants to think about his retirement, quite the opposite, they look forward to sharing many more years with him. During his anniversary celebration in the pastures of St. Joseph Parish June 7, friends and members of the different parishes where Fr. Carley has served expressed their respect and appreciation for the priest.
Just like when you throw a pebble in a lake and it makes ripples, "the legacy of Fr. Carley will still be strong and growing," said Andrew Airriess, member of St. Joseph Parish and a Knight of Columbus. "He makes an impact wherever he lands. Look around. You’re testimony of his love and dedication to his community."
As a tangible representation of the community’s love for the priest, Ann Kurek, parish secretary and administrator, presented Fr. Carley with a book of pictures, memories, and letters, mostly from Utah, but also from Florida, Missouri, California, and Ireland.
"We couldn’t spend a lot of money, but this book is priceless," said Kurek.
"If you ever have any doubt of the work you’ve done in these 40 years, these letters are evidence of how everyone here loves you and respects you," she said.
John Welsh, of the Hibernian Society of Utah, said that when he and Fr. Carley met in 1970, they became combatants right off because Fr. Carley was bringing a more liberal side of the Catholic Church. But over the years, "(Fr. Carley) has become my best friend and personal hero," said Welsh, who then read a letter from the son of one of Fr. Carley’s best friends in Ireland and presented the priest with a congratulatory plaque from his hometown.
Then Fr. Carley expressed his gratitude and said that to Irish priests and other priests who are away from their countries, the community becomes their family.
He blessed everyone present with an invitation to embrace community.
"St. Joseph is a hidden jewel. It is a deep, true community that is growing," he said.
This is why he has been working to raise funds for a new church building.
"The current building is old and outdated. It has physical problems with the heat and the light. It is in decay," he told the Intermountain Catholic.
Although more fundraising is needed, groundbreaking for the new church is expected to take place in December 2009.
"Any donation will be most welcome," said Fr. Carley.
The community has done well raising funds, but might be close to hitting the wall, he said.
"I hope we pull it off, but we might have to rely on the kindness of others."
He remains optimistic and persistent, among other things.
"Fr. Carley is very enthusiastic about things. He loves the community and the Church," said Terrie Booth, member of St. Joseph parish.
If he had the opportunity, Fr. Carley said he would choose to be a priest again.
"I can truthfully say that at whatever parish I’ve been, I’ve liked the people there. I have friends in my heart from every parish."