After less than two years on the job, Father Joel Ireland, 60, is leaving St. Mary’s Episcopal Church and reliable sources said it’s not a change he sought.
His arrival here in August 2012 was heralded by church members. He quickly became entrenched in the Shelter Island community, even joining the volunteer Fire Department.
But Meredith Page, in a letter to the editor of the Reporter, described “a group of bad apples” within the church who made the decision to remove Father Ireland as rector. She said the small group that made the decision doesn’t represent the large number of parishioners who wanted him to stay.
Father Ireland said Tuesday he has been advised not to comment on the situation. It was learned that he will be functioning as assistant to Bishop Larry Provenzano and doing pastoral work in other parts of Long Island. He will be speaking at Union Chapel’s Sunday morning service this week.
One Islander, who asked not to be identified, said the reason Father Ireland is out at St. Mary’s was because some Islanders don’t want to deal with addiction problems. Father Ireland has made no secret that he had completed a rehabilitation program.
Parishioner Linda Holmes said she had heard the issue had nothing to do with Father Ireland’s rehabilitation. She described the process of the rector’s departure as “very painful.”
In the Episcopal Church, there is a vestry, a sort of board of directors of laymen, who work with the clergy in the parish. There was a vestry vote recently of 5-3 to remove Father Ireland, Ms. Holmes said.
The vote, since it wasn’t unanimous, was then mediated by a bishop, Ms. Holmes said, and Father Ireland eventually resigned.
Ms. Holmes said that some people in the parish had a problem with their pastor for being “too dictatorial.”
A lifetime Episcopalian, Father Joel practiced law before turning to religion. He graduated from the General Theological Seminary in the spring of 1981. The Tucson, Arizona native returned to his home parish of St. Michael and All Angels to teach Latin, and Bible and religious classes at a parochial school while preaching as a curate for seven years.
He greeted his arrival on Shelter Island with words of happy anticipation about coming east and leaving the desert heat behind him.
“I think I’ve landed in paradise,” Father Joel said about coming to Shelter Island.
The Reverend Ronald Wickey has been the assisting priest at St. Mary’s. It’s unclear who will succeed Father Ireland or whether he will stay on the Island or seek assignment to another parish.
Ms. Page, in her letter, described him as “a loving human being” and, “He’s not perfect and I wouldn’t want him any other way. He has touched my life in such a way that I can’t just let this action go without letting the community know how wrong this decision is.”
On June 1, Father Ireland threw out the first pitch at the Shelter Island Bucks home opener. He was also providing housing for two Bucks players this summer.