Father Peter Sweeney celebrates 60th anniversary as a priest

Celebration Flickr/ Brandon Fick

Raised on a farm two miles from the Atlantic with mountains, rivers, and lakes, he was born in Kerry, Ireland. He was the 11th kid. The 84-year-old priest described becoming a priest in Washington, D.C., before taking up flying.

People who saw what Jesus accomplished in the Bible were astonished, he said. “Amazing is a wonderful word in the Scriptures,” he remarked, marveling at his personal experiences.

Father Peter Sweeney used the word "amazing!" many times in an interview on his 60th anniversary as a priest, reflecting on his priestly vocation and down-to-earth experiences in parishes, as well as his avocation of flying aircraft in the skies above Alaska and other states.

The priests returned, excited about their next assignments. He described them as "amazing recruiters."

Father Sweeney Priesthood

He was motivated by visiting Irish missionary priests who told him about their experiences in Asia, Africa, and Latin America when he was in the minor seminary.

Peter Sweeney was yet to be assigned to a diocese and had no idea where to go for a priestly assignment. Then his sister Margaret, who was working in Boston at the time, informed him that Washington, D.C. was in desperate need of clergy. He said, "Then I applied here and got accepted." “I was amazed,” as the Bible often states.

The Archdiocese of Washington ordained Father Peter Sweeney in 1962, a year that saw the inauguration of President John F. Kennedy as the nation's first Catholic president and the installation of then-Archbishop Patrick O'Boyle as the nation's first Irish archbishop. President John F. Kennedy, the nation's first Catholic president, and then-Archbishop Patrick O'Boyle had Irish roots.

The priest's first assignment was as a parochial vicar at St. Bernard of Clairvaux Church in Riverdale (now Riverdale Park), Maryland. He described a highly social society where everyone chipped in to assist, including erecting parish structures.

His second parish assignment was at St. Gabriel in Washington, where he claimed there were a lot of young professionals, and he recalls parishioners bringing food to the needy.

He was a parish vicar of Holy Family Parish in Hillcrest Heights, Maryland. His early priesthood coincided with the Second Vatican Council and its reforms, such as Masses in local languages and increased laity participation in church life. 

Father Sweeney was the archdiocese's director of Propagation of the Faith from 1974 to 1981, supporting missionaries and their missions who had inspired his vocation to the priesthood years earlier.

The former pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Landover (now Largo), Maryland, where he claimed parishioners shared his passion for helping people and socializing, from 1981 until 1989.

His next pastorate was in Damascus, Maryland, where a new church was constructed in 2002 following years of preparation. “We did it,” he added, applauding the kindness of the locals. Father Sweeney was pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish in Silver Spring from 2004 until 2012. 

Father Sweeney retired in 2012 and has been living at St. John Neumann Parish in Gaithersburg, Maryland, ever since. The priest said he felt at home in the parishes he served since his homeland Ireland drew people from all around. His connection with fellow priests known as FBI - Foreign Born Irish made him feel at home in the Archdiocese of Washington.

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