Youth of Raphoe Diocese “on fire for the faith” and one man’s story to getting there

Youth of Raphoe Diocese “on fire for the faith” and one man’s story to getting there Pictured here is Keith Kelly with his family based in Donegal.

We might hear a lot of doom and gloom when it comes to faith in Ireland, in particular when it comes to young people and their involvement, but various pockets of Ireland are “on fire for the faith” according to one youth minister in Donegal. The diocese of Raphoe has been one of those communities. While many involved in spearheading the Raphoe youth pastoral ministry are responsible for this, one man has been recognised for not just being able to connect to the youth but also his story in getting there. Keith Kelly’s life could have materialised very differently from what it has become. According to him, it is all due to “God’s providence”. Keith Kelly experienced a youth that was characterised by mischief and issues with the law. It was a court case, with the likely threat of a prison sentence, that was the turning point for Keith. An experience at Medjugorje, during a pilgrimage, led to a reversion for Keith during the summer of 2005, just prior to the court case. Following this, Keith explained to the judge, in a case that wasn’t materialising in his favour, that he had experienced God in a way that he hadn’t before. He explained that this would be the starting point to what would be a radical change in his life. Judge Mary Devins gave Keith the second chance he asked for and he felt the mercy of God.


Keith would eventually find himself in Athenry “working with youngsters on and off”. It was in Galway where he met his wife. Finding themselves in Donegal with their family was not something they expected but Keith believes the plan was in place before he could object. There are multiple forces at play that are responsible for the success of the Raphoe’s Pastoral Youth ministry but Keith puts it down to two things… trust and authenticity: “I would say, there are multiple factors responsible for the success of Raphoe. Faith is about relations. The trinity is about a community of persons and we have seen during Covid-19 how much we are social beings. In terms of strategy, it is important to spend quality time with them (young people). During a pilgrimage to Medjugorje, you would get to spend quality time with them. A week with them really solidifies their faith. If they trust you, they are more likely to share more and be more vulnerable… it’s better that way… trust is the foundation. They are more likely to trust if they see there is a relationship of authenticity… this is the foundation… even if you butcher it (a presentation), they don’t care. If it’s too smooth, young people are less likely to pay attention to it. Those working in the Raphoe Pastoral Youth Ministry have an authentic faith and an interest in youngsters. They provide a safe environment, quality time, trust and with this they (the young people of Raphoe) trust you. My previous employer, Fr Brendan Kilcoyne, has a successful podcast and he always talked about the importance of being genuine.’


Keith also recognises the capabilities and virtues of his colleagues who are spreading the good news in Raphoe: “Our leaders are not too old… and they just have a strong relationship with the Lord… their faith is alive and strong… they have a heart for youngsters.”

The youth pastoral ministry also organises a range of quirky activities that often have a faith lesson incorporated into them and this helps them stay engaged. Moreover, the more physical activities that the ministry organises have also been a hit: ‘We’ve brought them to a surf school in Westport, outside laser tag and white-water rafting… We have a lot of young guys here that are interested in sport.”

On top of this, Keith credits the enthusiasm of young people in the Raphoe diocese. He sees this as characteristic of young people in the Church across the world also: “Young people want to be challenged these days… you have to be prudent as well… an element of care has to be there.”

A lot of young people we work with, do in fact come from broken homes and faith can offer a healing element”

The Church has been subject to much friction over the last number of years and Keith has much to say about this as he has seen a cohort of young people who do express possibly more conservative views in relation to their faith. Asked if he thought there was a yearning amongst young men to experience male guidance given his own relationship with his father was so fractured, he said: “I think there is a ‘Fatherless’ crisis. If the father is in the home, they can often be emotionally absent. Parents are the primary agents when it comes to conferring identity on children, if they have no relationship with their children, it creates a vacuum. A lot of young people we work with, do in fact come from broken homes and faith can offer a healing element.”


Keith was asked what he thought the future held for the Church in Ireland and abroad: “I’ll be honest about where we are, the Church could theoretically die in this country. I don’t think the Church will die but we have to do our best to spread the faith. I would even have huge hopes… some pockets in Ireland are on fire for the faith. And we have a great Marian and Eucharistic tradition in this country.”

It became apparent that a lot of kids have no faith culture at home… often their last confession was when they were preparing for their Holy Communion”

Despite his innovative style of ministering to young people, Mr Kelly remains a fan of the charisms and believes in their value and effectiveness despite their diminishing popularity: “During Confirmation retreats… it became apparent that a lot of kids have no faith culture at home, often their last confession was when they were preparing for their Holy Communion.’

Keith remains satisfied that he discerned out of the priesthood and into marriage. He really enjoyed the community life of the priesthood but enjoys the same at home with his family in Donegal.

Despite the raucous that four sons can cause in the house, Keith remains hopeful for himself, his family, the youth of Raphoe and the Church in Ireland: “There are pockets in Ireland just on fire for the faith!”