Dr Christy O’Sullivan

Dr Christy O’Sullivan
Homily at Funeral Mass on 3rd February 2010

Readings for the Mass
Isaiah 25: 6-9
Revelation 21: 1-7
John 14: 1-6,23-26

When the renowned scripture scholar, the late Raymond Brown, was once asked if he intended following the writing of The Death of the Messiah by a similar work on the Resurrection he replied, ‘I would prefer to research that topic face to face’. This sounds to me like an answer Dr Christy might give to a similar question. And, indeed, today Christy has the answer to the question. The Christian community gathered here in support of Mary, Liz and all the extended family believe that Christy will rise again and that we will all meet each other again in the final resurrection in the fullness of time.

One of the great consolations of our Christian faith is our belief that all the ties of friendship and affection which knit us together in life do not unravel at death. This is such a comforting statement of faith for all who lose a loved one. Christy’s family and many friends can take comfort in this faith today.

Thank God Christy was blessed with a long life. Just at the end of August last we had a nice birthday celebration when he attained the age of 90. While it is true that his physical and mental capacities had dimmed from their earlier acute brightness in the final years, he still retained his dignity and due in no small way to the loving care of the staff of St Theresa’s here in Blackrock Road he was able to live out his days in relative comfort.

We have an opportunity to celebrate his life today. Many wonderful stories have been told over past days. Christy was quite a character and there were many amusing incidents recalled with affection. It is right that we celebrate that good life today but we do so in a special context. We do so in the context of the celebration of Eucharist. Our gathering here today is special. This is no ordinary remembering. We remember Christy today at Mass which is the very special act of remembering. At Mass we gather around the table of the Lord to remember the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. And we believe that this action is not simply the mental recollection of a past event. We come hoping to be forgiven, to be nourished, to be challenged and sent forth; and we believe that our act of remembering is a means through which God enters into and transfigures our lives.

Faith, and the Mass in particular, was very important to Christy. The readings chosen for today’s Mass were ones admired and meditated on by Christy himself. They speak to us of death and afterlife, and, perhaps, more importantly, they speak to us of how we ought to live the invitation to be citizens of God’s kingdom. The first reading from Isaiah is a familiar one at funeral liturgies. An image often used by the writers of the Hebrew Scriptures – the Old Testament – when trying to picture a life beyond the present physical one was that of a banquet. They really hit the nail on the head because the image chosen was one very often used by Jesus himself to describe the same reality. The prophet Isaiah almost gets carried away when picturing what the banquet will be like – a banquet of rich food to be enjoyed by all; a space where tears will be wiped away and mourning will be no more; a space where shame will no longer burden us. Such an image is helpful to us all as we come today to bury Dr Christy. The sadness of his passing is real as we will miss his lively presence – his family of course will miss him more and will even miss their daily visit to St Theresa’s; but the sadness is tempered by our hope of eternal salvation and that we will meet again in the after-life. Isaiah’s banquet is the guarantee that our hope will not be in vain.

And the second reading from Revelations is equally full of hope. John speaks of the new heavens and the new earth replacing the old and finite one. ‘Here God lives among people. He will make his home among them; they shall be his people, and he will be their God; his name is God-with-them.’ I think it would be true to say – and this is not in an attempt to make Christy out to be overly pious but – that Christy lived his life from that perspective. He trusted and he believed that God was present to him in all the actions of every day.

Christy was born on 28 August 1919. He belonged to a family of six boys and three girls. No doubt living in such a family knocked the rough edges off him from an early age. He was a good student and also enjoyed all sports, in latter years enjoying fishing and hunting etc. In school he was a keen rugby player. I well recall a story the late Fr Sean O’Mahony SMA often told of the day Presentation College Cobh won their first and only Munster senior schools cup in 1937. Christy was on the opposing side and Sean always claims that Christy was responsible for a leg injury he sustained that day. In later years they were to become the best of friends. He qualified as a medical doctor in 1946 and served first in Ballineen, West Cork. He then spent some years specialising in Hammersmith Hospital in London under the supervision of the famous Dr Ian Aird. He was at the forefront of many developments taking place in Ireland during the 1950s and into the 1970s. He was the first airport doctor of Cork airport; he worked with Irish Shipping, Cork Shoe company, Irish Distillers, An Garda Siochana etc. Christy was known to be kind to anyone who was unwell, irrespective of whether they were his patient or not, and was kind to the poor and respected when they might not always be able to pay for his services. He had a roguish temperament and liked to play practical jokes on people. And he wasn’t adverse to sometimes trying his medical solutions on members of the animal kingdom!  I don’t know if he had any great speciality for throats but it is interesting that we bury him on the day of commemoration of St Blaise.

He was a mature man when he married Mary and the joy of both their lives was the birth of Liz. He was a devoted father and took special pride in his son-in-law and grand-children

For the SMA of course we know him best from his almost 40 years of noble service to us as our medical practitioner. He gave true and sterling service in these 40 years. He was always known as a very good diagnostician and it is interesting that Liz would say that many times travelling in the car with him she saw him take note of somebody on the street or in another car and diagnose some ailment they would have. His connection to the SMA also included his cousin, Fr Maurice Walsh SMA who later died in England.

In recognition of his long and faithful service to SMA Christy was received as an honorary member of the Society in June 1990. This was a special occasion for the SMA, an opportunity to say thanks to a loyal servant and friend. But I know too that it was an honour that Christy deeply appreciated. From that day onwards he often wore the SMA emblem on the lapel of his jacket. At his acceptance speech the day of the conferring of the honour by the Superior General he said that he would cherish the memory to the end of his days. He spoke of his boundless admiration for the men who toiled in Africa, especially those who did so at great cost to their personal health. Men of ‘vision and valour’ he called them. He admired their rugged individualism and the diversity of gifts. Many of them became life-long friends. In fact this is probably the outstanding characteristic of that honorary membership. Christy was in a real sense coming home.

And even more so was the wonderful privilege that we in the SMA received when we could receive Christy for the past three years to be a full member of our community. He now truly was in a very real sense ‘coming home’. It was a privilege for us to be able to ease him gently into the darkening days of his life. As I mentioned earlier, his health was frail but his presence, and the visits from his family, were important and significant. Indeed, he may have lost much of his intellectual powers but had lost little of his roguish temperament, sharpness and directness. I recall a funny incident one afternoon while walking through St Theresa’s. I encountered Christy walking the corridor seeming lost. I encouraged him to take my hand to return to his bedroom and he duly did. On his bedside locker was a beautiful picture of Mary and himself. I simply asked him who was in the photograph. That’s Mary my wife, he said. And then sharply he said to me “are you married?” And on receiving my answer he asked another question, “is there something wrong with you?”.   

All these nice things we say of Christy are true. But today we put all this goodness in its proper perspective. Our trust in his resurrection is not on account of his deeds but rather on account of the wonderful love and unconditional mercy of God. The gospel that was special to Christy’s heart brings this out very well. ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled… because I am going to prepare a place for you’. That is the position that all of us rely on; God’s fidelity, not ours. ‘If anyone loves me he will keep my word’. Christy like the rest of us did his best to respond to the love of God. We have mentioned some of those ways here during this homily. Our goodness should always be seen as a response to God’s love and not as an insurance to salvation. Christy, like the rest of us, will be saved by the unconditional love of God.

On the occasion of his honorary membership Christy quoted from the poet Longfellow and perhaps it is appropriate to finish with those lines:

      “for age is opportunity, no less than youth, though in another dress.

        And as the evening twilight fades away, the sky is filled with stars invisible by day”

Ar dheis lamh De go raibh a anam dilis.