Fr Thomas Furlong SMA – funeral homily

Fr Maurice Henry, SMA Provincial Councillor, was the Principal Celebrant at the Funeral Mass for Fr Tom Furlong on Thursday, 9 October 2014, at St Joseph’s SMA Church, Wilton, Cork. Assisting him were Fr Dan Cashman SMA [representing the Wilton community where Fr Tom spent nearly all his retirment years] and Fr Don Burke [fellow Waterford man and who also worked in Lagos Archdiocese, where Fr Tom spent 36 years]. More than 30 other priests also concelebrated. Fr Angelo Lafferty was MC and Cantor. A grandniece of Fr Tom’s also sang during the Mass.

The following is the homily preached by Fr Henry

The first Reading from Ecclesiastes tells us that there is a time for everything, a time to be born, a time to die; a time for laughter and a time to cry and that God has made everything suitable for its time. (Eccles.3:10).

The late Fr. Tom Furlong whose life and death we mark today was a man who not only knew that there was a time to die but showed that the time for parting should be celebrated. He retired to Wilton in 1995 after an active life, and in April this year, he moved to Blackrock Road of his own accord but not before he organised a party in Wilton to mark the transition. He was preparing to go to his eternal home, the ultimate destination of our faith. He knew that in His Father’s house there are many mansions and that the Lord had gone to prepare a place for him. This was the belief on which he based his life and which he had preached many times during his priestly ministry. It was the measure of his faith and of his submission to God’s will that the final transition to Blackrock Road was a cause for celebration. Many resist the final transition but Tom embraced it.

Tom was born in 1924 in Ballybricken, Waterford City. His faith, so vividly demonstrated at the end of his earthly life, was nurtured in his home in Ballybricken Parish, a faith handed down from his parents Stanislaus and Alice Furlong. That faith was further developed in the De la Salle schools in Waterford where the seed was sown of a vocation to the missionary priesthood. While he began his secondary education in Waterford, he completed it at Ballinafad and Wilton.

After his seminary studies, he was ordained to the priesthood in 1950 and was immediately assigned on mission to Lagos Archdiocese, Nigeria. For the next thirty-six years he worked as a missionary priest mainly in the present ecclesiastic jurisdictions of Lagos, Ibadan, Abeakuta, and Ijebu-Ode. While his missionary career was fulfilling and life-giving, yet it was punctuated by long periods of ill-health. After each home vacation, he had to struggle to get medical clearance before returning to resume his missionary work. In 1980, after an extended period in Ireland due to ill-health, he wrote to the then Provincial Superior, Fr. Con Murphy: “I’m so happy to be back. This is my home”.

When asked, on the occasion of his Golden Jubilee, what gave him the greatest joy in Nigeria he replied, “Travelling to so many outstations trying to spread the Word of God”, and he might have added the words of the second reading: “and they will never have a preacher unless one is sent” (Rom.10:15).

An article in the “African Missionary” in 2000 by Fr. Bernard Cotter stated that “his service to the people of Lagos was marked by devotedness, dedication and fidelity, qualities of a man of strong character and great will power. Neither did he lose his love of Irish music, song and dance and he was a strong advocate of the Legion of Mary.

More recently, on hearing of the death of Fr. Tom, the Archbishop emeritus of Ibadan, Most Rev Felix Alaba Job, who lived and worked with him as a young priest said: “he will be forever remembered for his pastoral services and his promotion of the Legion of Mary in the Old Lagos Ecclesiastical Province”….. The retired Archbishop continues: “little did I know that we were having our last chat at Blackrock Road last April (2014). We recalled his days as pastor of Lafiagi, Lagos, Ibonwon and Ado Odo. The Sacrifice of the Mass will be offered for the eternal repose of his soul in all the parishes where he ministered in Nigeria. May he rest in peace”.

When health permitted, his life was an active one, one which was motivated by a strong prayer life as may be gleaned from a reflection he was asked to give on the lives of priests: “I decry priests rushing into the Church to say Mass and rushing out after Mass without adequate preparation and thanksgiving. It is important that priests have definite times each day for their spiritual exercises. They are essential for every priest, especially for missionary priests. What kind of priest is he if he’s not a man of prayer?!” He was disappointed when his appraisal of the lives of priests on the missions was not published in the SMA Newsletter of the day.

In 1986 and after a losing battle with ill-health, he had to leave Africa and continue his mission and priestly zeal in three dioceses in England where he spent the next nine years of his life before retiring to Wilton in 1996. In spite of his health problems Fr. Tom celebrated his ninetieth birthday in August of this year. He was blessed with long years of active witness especially during nineteen years of retirement which concluded on Monday last, October 6th,

May he rest in peace.