We are sad to tell you that Canon Denis McSweeney died peacefully at his home in Flitwick, in the early evening of 21 July after several months of illness. Having reached the milestone of 40 years in the priesthood, Fr. Denis was a man of many talents and interests who dedicated his life of priestly ministry to the diocese of Northampton. He served as parish priest in a number of places.
One of four children born to Owen and Mairead McSwiney of the small country town of Kanturk, Co. Cork, after primary schooling locally he was sent to board at a private school in North Wales. Here his talent for music burgeoned, something that would lead him to one of his great interests in life.
After a period of teaching music and English, Denis discerned his vocation for the priesthood electing to train at All Hallows in Dublin for the diocese of Northampton. Through his talent for music, he was permitted to leave the almost monastic environment of the seminary for his external studies and would often regale friends with tales of his experiences within the confines of the college and around Dublin in the early 1970s.
Ordained on 15 June 1975, he was called by Bishop Grant to join three other priests at the cathedral in Northampton. Here his assignment to care for the hospital set the seal on a very important part of Fr. Denis’s ministry: that of visiting the sick, housebound and those in care homes.
In recent months, he was still maintaining this calling even while unwell. His next appointment as a curate to Kettering and its two communities of Rothwell and Desborough allowed another of his many talents to find expression. Here his sociability and his desire to perform became part of the social life of the communities he served, and a stand-up entertainer was born.
Service with Fr. Bustin in Leighton Buzzard for a further two years led Fr. Denis to his first appointment as parish priest at Coffee Hall in Milton Keynes. Involvement with the Church of the Cornerstone encouraged his desire to work with other denominations and his fraternal friendship with ministers from all the main churches and faiths. Over the next few years Fr. Denis served St John the Apostle in Sundon Park, Fr Francis’s Shefford and then he became Dean of the Cathedral. Along this journey of ministry Fr. Denis had time to be a chaplain to the TA, join The Royal British Legion and pursue his interest in vintage cars and motorbikes.
Four years of intensive work without the benefit of a curate, though with the support of retired priests, started to take a toll on Fr. Denis’s health. A diagnosis of diabetes, which grew steadily worse, led to the advice of doctors to move to a smaller parish. After only a year as parish priest of Beaconsfield, prostate cancer resulted in an extended period of treatment and convalescence.
In 2006, Fr. Denis became parish priest in Flitwick. A visit to his home in Pope Close reveals his interest in collecting the unusual – antique telephones that he made to work, some fine wind-up gramophones, and an eclectic array of artwork. His photographic display featured another of his great loves, his motorbikes, and new parishioners were amazed to hear that he was a biker!
Fr. Denis – simply Denis to many friends – was a man of immense wit, practised comic timing, an accomplished musician, expert in celebrating the Traditional Rite (Latin) Mass, a biker, a caring pastoral priest and a sensitive and participative leader of his parish communities. The Flitwick Town Council has recently conferred on Fr. Denis the award of Honorary Citizen of Flitwick in recognition of his service in and care of the town, its organisations and its people. He will be missed by the whole of the local community and in the many other places he served.