Fr Martin McAlinden: Running priest who gave his all for charity and forged links with other denominations
A Craigavon priest renowned for his ecumenical and charitable work, as well as developing programmes to equip lay members of the Catholic Church with a deeper understanding of their faith and theology, has died at the age of 51.
Fr Martin McAlinden, who passed away at the Northern Ireland Hospice earlier this week, will be buried after a Requiem Mass at St Peter's Church in Lurgan today.
He was ordained at St Peter's on June 24, 1980, by the late Bishop Francis Gerard Brooks, Bishop of Dromore, to serve as a curate in Newry.
By coincidence, on the same day and at the same time, a Church of Ireland clergyman with whom he was to form a long-lasting friendship was also ordained. The now Rev Canon Terence Cadden was ordained by the then Bishop of Connor, Rt Rev Samuel Poyntz, at St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast on that date, alongside the first two female priests in the Church in Ireland.
The two clergymen first met in 2002, when Rev Cadden was serving in Gilford and Fr McAlinden was appointed curate of Tullylish after returning from two years of study in Chicago.
It was during that time spent in the US that Fr McAlinden felt called to work more closely with clergy from other denominations. On his return to Co Down, he joined the fellowship group of local clergy in the Tullylish area.
The friendship and respect between Fr McAlinden and Rev Cadden grew when they were serving in overlapping parishes in the Craigavon area - Fr McAlinden as parish priest at Moyraverty and Rev Cadden as rector of Seagoe.
Rev Cadden and his wife Alison paid an emotional visit to Fr McAlinden at the NI Hospice. In a Facebook post after the priest's death, Rev Cadden wrote: "Something I admired so much in Martin was his grace and courage in entering into potentially difficult situations of difference in an attempt to bring healing and reconciliation.
"I know that he was hurt on a number of occasions by comments and snubs, but nevertheless he continued. May we in thanking God for Martin's courage follow his example."
After graduating from Maynooth with a BA and BD, Fr McAlinden undertook post-graduate studies in pastoral theology at Loyola University in Chicago and supervisory practice at Milltown Institute and the University of Wales.
He served in the parishes of Drumgath, Newry, Saval, Tullylish and Seapatrick before going to Moyraverty and then Dromore. He also served as chaplain to Newry Hospice.
During his time in Craigavon from 2004-12 he became known as "the running priest" because of his fundraising marathon runs. He used to practise by running around the lakes in Craigavon, and the money raised went toward local charities and ecumenical work.
In 2014, he was appointed director of pastoral theology at Maynooth.
The president of Maynooth, Monsignor Hugh Connolly, said: "Fr Martin McAlinden has departed this life after an extraordinarily courageous and inspiring struggle with terminal illness.
"Despite being a member of the Maynooth faculty for a comparatively short time, he made an enormous contribution to the Pontifical University and National Seminary as director of pastoral training."
Sister Margaret Rose, who worked with Fr McAlinden at Drumalis Retreat Centre in Larne, said: "The faith development programmes he developed proved to be very successful and popular. He was very caring and a man of great vision."
Fr McAlinden is survived by his parents, Barney and Mary, and a sister, Linda.
His remains were in St Anthony's Church in Craigavon last night, where parishioners organised an all-night vigil.