Funeral Homilies 2002

SMA FUNERAL HOMILIES 2002

Fr Cornelius Clancy SMA
Fr Edward Donovan SMA
Fr Harry Bell SMA
Fr Martin Heraghty SMA
Fr Gerard Scanlan SMA
Fr Paddy Glynn SMA
Fr Frank McArdle SMA
Fr Paddy Gantly SMA

Funeral – 10 December 2002

Fr Cornelius Clancy SMA

Readings: Maccabees 12:43-45
2 Peter 3: 8-14
Matthew 11: 25-30

To die on December 8th, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of Our Lady and the anniversary of the Foundation of the Society of African Missions, is very special. For Fr Con Clancy, who served the priesthood and the SMA with unswerving loyalty for 65 years, it must have been very special indeed. I have no doubt that he waited for this day. For three weeks we had been expecting the call to come at any moment. We had even made special arrangements within the Provincial Council two weeks ago in anticipation of his passing. Perhaps it was part of the Lord’s promised one hundred fold in this life to grant Con this special grace.

Con was born down in the very heart of Cork city over 88 years ago. Eleven days short of 65 of those years were spent as a missionary priest in the Society of African Missions. They were years of rich variety in appointments, as the curriculum vitae on the inside cover of the Mass leaflet attests. They were years mainly characterised by a fierce loyalty to his calling as priest and member of the SMA. Words people have used to describe Con in the past few days and weeks have included fidelity, loyalty, dedication, perseverance, diligence, prayerfulness, generosity, kindness, gratefulness etc.

And so our readings for this funeral liturgy this afternoon would seem to be most appropriate. If there was one characteristic above all others that marked out the clan of Maccabees it was their total dedication to Yahweh, total dedication to Yahweh’s people and unswerving perseverance right to the end, in spite of suffering or danger. In the Book of Maccabees we find the first thought-through Old Testament theology of resurrection. Judas Maccabeus, by his collection for the sacrificial sin offering, attested to his belief in the resurrection. This was some years before Jesus came to confirm that those who die in the Lord are indeed raised to life with him. As the reading puts it, “for if he had not expected the fallen to rise again it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead”. Our faith guarantees that it is far from superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead. So, today we offer this sacrifice of the Mass to pray for the happy repose of the soul of our brother. We do so in the sure faith knowledge that as Con died with Christ in baptism, he will also imitate him in his resurrection.

It seems to me, from knowing a little of the life and character of Con Clancy, that our 2nd reading today, taken from the second letter of St Peter – which was actually the second reading of the Sunday liturgy on the day that Con died – summarises the spirituality on which Con based his whole life. In the Lord’s time-scale one day is equal to a thousand years and a thousand years as one day. In terms of Con’s life, one day is equal to 88 years and 88 years is just like one day. Operating out of that perspective, then, it becomes incumbent on us to “live holy and saintly lives while we await the Day of God to come”. As Peter puts it, “do your best to live lives without spot or stain so that he will find you at peace”. There is no doubt that Con tried to do exactly this throughout his life, sometimes, perhaps, to an extreme degree.

In the gospel Jesus invites all who labour and are overburdened to come to him to find rest. “Come to me, all you who labour and are overburdened, and I will give you rest.” For much of Con’s 88 years he did experience part of life as burdensome, sometimes manifested through physical illness, more often expressed in mental anguish leading to scrupulosity. And for a number of months now Con has been weakened in body through cancer. Thank God he has now finally found complete rest in the Lord.

Much of Con’s early life was lived with his beloved grandmother. His relationship with his sister, cousins and extended family was always very warm, and he regularly took family holidays with them over the years. We are truly blessed today to have his nephew Gerard present for his funeral. It is a great tribute to the affection in which Con was held by the extended family and friends to see how he has been cared for so kindly by you all over all these years, and especially during his time of illness. There was a real gra there, which was reciprocated

The first ten years of Con’s priesthood were spent in the Prefecture of Jos, Northern Nigeria. In this period he was involved in regular pastoral ministry. During this time he developed stomach problems that necessitated medical attention. In fact, these problems persisted pretty much throughout his life so it was a great blessing but somewhat remarkable that he lived to such a good age. He was assigned back to Ireland as assistant editor of the AM and followed this by taking a science degree in UCC. It cannot have been easy for him to return to studies after a thirteen- year gap. But it marked a clear line of division in his career because all his assignments from then on were in education or administrative roles. Science came naturally to him as he always had a fascination for practical and technical things. Gifted with his hands – I’m told he was no mean golfer in his day – he was often called on by his friends to fix this, that or the other apparatus.

Con spent sixteen years as a teacher in Ballinafad College where he is fondly remembered as a sometimes strict but basically kind and dedicated teacher. In fact, at the recent re-union of Ballinafad past pupils many spoke warmly of Con’s contribution to their academic education and life training. His desire to return to Nigeria was granted in 1969 and he was to spend the next eight years there, divided between teaching posts in Ibadan, Kaduna and Jos. I had a phone call this very morning from a St Louis sister offering condolences and saying that in his latter years in Jos the girls often said what a joy and a privilege it was to be in his science class.

Con returned to Blackrock Road in 1977 and worked as Provincial archivist for seven years. He made a very valuable contribution here getting the office back in shape after a vacancy of several years. This assignment was followed by twelve years of happy retirement in Blackrock Road, to be followed by six years of equally happy retirement in Wilton. His service as barber to many of the confreres over many years is remembered with fondness and gratitude.

One of the greatest afflictions in Con’s life was that of scrupulosity. Even as a student he was not free of this plague. It developed further during his priesthood to the extent that a pastoral assignment or any post of administrative responsibility became difficult to bear. Perhaps he would have experienced greater fulfilment in the priesthood if he had been able to risk a little more, or take his responsibilities a little less seriously, but this was not his way. It must have been a terrible affliction but to his great credit he never ceased to apply himself to his task with diligence and his contribution to the mission of the SMA was immense. And he did seem to mellow with the years. Certainly, whatever shortcomings will be shown up on the day of final judgement, lack of fidelity is unlikely to be one of them.

In the final words of our gospel today we hear the Lord promising us that “my yoke is easy and my burden light”. Con Clancy now finally knows that this is indeed true.

Ar dheis lamh De go raibh a anam dilis.

 

06 December 2002

Fr Edward Donovan SMA

Reading: Matthew 7: 21, 24-27

A biblical scholar I once read made the rather telling remark that the reason why we know so little about the poorer classes in first century Palestine is that few of their houses have survived. The average Jewish family lived in a mud-brick building with a dirt floor. When the winter rains came, the houses eroded, along with the hillsides on which many of them were built. Thus the people of Jesus’ day would have had no difficulty interpreting the meaning of today’s gospel parable.

We generally live in structures of modern architectural design that do not erode at the first advance of rain. In fact, more and more they could be described as comparative fortresses. It is not as easy for us, then, to immediately catch the meaning of this passage. We don’t always see how foolish we are when we fail to live the word we have heard.

This reading presents an Advent theme. Advent is the great season of expectation and hope. Hope for the Christian is a special concept. People speak of hoping that they will win the lottery. They know that their chances of doing so are statistically [at least for the Irish lotto] about 14million to 1. This kind of hope is as far removed from Christian hope as it is possible to be. Christian hope is a confident hope; it is the hope of the little child on Christmas morning, that Santa will surely come. The child has not yet seen Santa but the possibility of Santa not coming is beyond the child’s capacity to imagine. We carry this hope in our hearts throughout our lives

But this hope has to be reality tested, and such a reality test is provided in the gospel passage. This is the real Advent challenge. It is not enough just to use the words; we must do the deeds. In contemporary jargon this might be put as “there is no point in talking the talk if you cannot walk the walk”.

This passage of Matthew’s gospel comes at the end of the Sermon on the Mount. It is almost as if Jesus himself did a review of what he had said in that sermon and somewhat thought it lacked some bite. The sermon is high on idealism; this passage is high on realism.

Most people procrastinate about one thing or the other: We can cut the grass tomorrow, write that letter next week, get the check-up next month….. Procrastination is not really a very serious failing – but it can have serious consequences.

Most of us procrastinate about our spirituality. We don’t pray very often; we don’t read the bible; we don’t really work at making Christ’s teachings and vision a part of our day-to-day lives. We tell ourselves there is no hurry. We’re not going to die today, so why prepare to meet our Maker? We can reform – later.

Today’s gospel points to the folly of such procrastination. Christ urges his listeners to a state of preparation. He shows that the house built on a rock is impregnable. Those who shun the rock – those who, out of laziness, put God on the back burner – are swept away by catastrophic rains. When we don’t make Christ’s teachings the bedrock of our lives, we’re likely to fall in the face of life’s troubles. We see that the bedrock of faith does begin to crumble around the edges when our focus is on self-concern. If we allow the TV or any other diversion to rob us consistently of the time and energy we might devote to others, or allow ourselves to go on talking about praying, peacemaking and promoting justice without actually doing these deeds, we are building on sand rather than on a rock. We are talking the talk, but not walking the walk.

Christianity cannot be put off. We must live it every day as best we can, giving our time and energy to the poor and lonely, our patience and compassion to our friends and enemies, our anger and indignation to those who perpetuate injustice. We must pray and study Christ’s life and try to understand what is asked of us. We must build our lives upon our God so that, when the storms come, we can face them with courage.

Fachtna O’Driscoll SMA

 

Funeral Homily 5 November 2002 – Roundfort

Fr Harry Bell SMA

Readings: Isaiah 61:1-3.6.8-9
Titus 3:4-7
John 11:19-27

“Every morning in Africa a gazelle wakes up and it knows it must run faster than the fastest lion or it will be killed.
Every morning in Africa a lion wakes up and it knows it must outrun the slowest gazelle or it will starve to death.
It doesn’t matter whether you are a lion or a gazelle. When the sun comes up, you’d better be running.”

I found these lines recently and it seems to me they fairly accurately sum up the life-style of Fr Harry Bell. Perhaps he did not move with the grace of a gazelle or the power of a lion. But until quite recently when the sun came up one could be fairly sure that Harry would cover quite a few miles before the sun went down again. Harry’s movements have finally come to a rest. He has taken his final journey, a journey home to God. Our prayer for him today is that he will rest in Peace.

Harry died just ten days shy of 79 years. 51 of these were lived faithfully as an SMA priest. He was blessed with talents and gifts, and many were blessed through his life and ministry.

In our first reading this morning the prophet Isaiah foretells the mission that Jesus would later claim as his very own mission. To receive the anointing of God’s Spirit in order to “bring good news to the poor, to bind up hearts that are broken; to proclaim liberty to captives; to comfort those who mourn.” This became Harry’s mission too as he sought to fulfil that mandate throughout his life, especially through the call to missionary priesthood.

Harry came from a family of six girls and two boys. Even as far back as his primary school days he developed a desire to serve as a missionary priest. He went to the SMA College in Ballinfad [perhaps somewhat against his parents’ wishes], then on to Wilton, Cork to complete his secondary education and university studies and completed his theology formation at Dromantine, Newry, Co Down. After ordination in December 1951 he was assigned to the Prefecture of Jos in Nigeria [which at that time was larger than the whole of Ireland] and later transferred to the diocese of Kaduna. In all he spent 32 years in Northern Nigeria, years of solid and persevering service.

I will return to that topic in a little while but I want first of all to set it all in its proper context. I think there is a danger in any funeral homily, and, perhaps, especially at the homily of a priest when one records their contribution to furthering God’s kingdom, that one might give the impression that it was this work, on behalf of God if you like, that earned them salvation. Nothing could be further from the truth. This needs to be stated forcefully.

That’s why I chose today for our second reading that beautiful passage from St Paul’s letter to Titus. Paul states it very boldly, “it was not because of any good deeds that we ourselves had done, but because of his own mercy that he saved us… and he goes on to say “God poured out the Holy Spirit abundantly on us through Jesus Christ our Saviour, so that by his grace we might be put right with God and come into possession of the eternal life we hope for.” In other words, salvation cannot be bought, it cannot be earned. It is an entirely free gift, given out of God’s infinite mercy. Harry was not saved through anything he did, no matter how many Masses he celebrated throughout his life. He, like every woman and man on the face of the globe, is saved only through the gift of God brought about in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

Harry’s story, like all our stories, is only a partial story. The real, complete story is that of Jesus. Because through Jesus we know that we are people of the resurrection. As we see in our Gospel passage chosen for today’s Mass that powerful response of Jesus to the grieving Martha on the death of her brother, I am the resurrection and the life. If anyone believes in me, even though he dies he will live, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” Resurrection means that death is not the end anymore. It means that our destiny is life. So when we die we do not pass from life to death but from life to life. Death is that extraordinary moment when the Christ who is life can finally take me to himself for ever, when God and I can never, ever, be separated from one another. That is what it means for a Christian to die. That’s what it meant for Harry.

Harry not only lived that faith but he shared that faith for over 51 years as an SMA priest. His ministry, whether in Nigeria or back here in his native Mayo, was marked by his own unique personality stamp.
He began his Nigerian ministry in a regular rural parish in southern Jos. Here he built churches, formed catechists and catechumens, administered the sacraments in far-flung churches and tried to establish community. However, he is best remembered in Nigeria for the work that he took up in the mid 50’s and remained at for the next quarter century in the field of education. He made an enormous contribution to the growth of the church as Catholic Education Adviser to the Northern Nigerian Government, as well as being Education Secretary to the Northern ecclesiastical region. To this work he brought qualities of good judgment, practical intelligence, perseverance, grasp of complexity and especially the art of tact and diplomacy. It is for this latter gift that he will be best remembered. Harry had the facility to befriend the movers and shakers of church and state. He played a crucial role for the Catholic church during the colonial era at a time of suspicion in ecumenical relations. He befriended many of the British government officials to good effect and retained many of those friendships right up to his death. He always felt the name Harry Bell went down better with the British than perhaps a name like Paddy Murphy!

But he was not to be outsmarted when the native government took over education matters. He befriended the Muslim leading classes, the Alhajis, to such an extent that there was almost a seamless movement for the church’s educational outreach from colonial times through to independence. Many even humorously referred to him as Alhaji. And, in this regard, Harry believed himself that his Irishness was a help in befriending the Nigerians as it did not carry with it the colonial baggage of the former rulers.

In the early 1980s he returned to Ireland when the Nigerian climate took a severe toll on his health. He spent the next almost 20 years in valued service in this his native diocese of Tuam. Here at home he befriended thousands of people. For many he was a larger than life figure. A man of solid piety. Always the priest. He made a positive impact on the lives of most he touched. And he made his own little gift to posterity through the focus on his life in one chapter of a 1991 book by Dagmar Kolata called Priests telling it like it is.

Harry, it would have to be said, was not always on the greatest terms with his colleagues and, especially, Society authorities. He possessed an independent streak that at times manifested as downright stubbornness. If he wanted to do something, a thing that a Superior might think not so wise, he would smile graciously at the proffered suggestion and most likely go ahead and do what he always wanted to do anyway. He was at times awkward, but rarely malicious. Like the rest of humanity, his greatest gift often carried his greatest curse on its shadow side. Among the communion of saints that he has entered or will enter soon he will find many like himself. The saints were never perfect. They just lived normal lives in such a way that left an opening for God to bring the perfection. And, by way of reminder of what was said already, success at the end of the day is not what it’s about. Salvation has much less to do with our feeble attempts at loving God as it has to do with our feeble efforts to allow God to love us.

Harry’s efforts to allow God to love him are now taken up in God himself. Ours is not to judge, but to pray.

Ar dheis lamh De go raibh a anam dilis.

 

Funeral Homily 28 October 2002

Fr Martin Heraghty SMA

Readings: Wisdom 11:22 – 12:1
1 Corinthians 15:51-57
Luke 23:44-46, 50, 52-53. 24:1-6

Dietrich Bonhoeffer has been quoted as saying “we must learn to regard people less in the light of what they do or omit to do, and more in the light of what they suffer.” Quite a significant portion of Fr Martin Heraghty’s almost 84 years of life was lived with the sign of suffering. Now his suffering is finally over. In the early hours of last Friday morning Martin yielded up his spirit and breathed his last.

We gather to give thanks, to celebrate a life lived well through infirmity, and to renew our faith and our hope. Martin has been released from the prison of body infirmity and will reclaim that body, then a glorious resurrected body, on the last day. Martin’s death, no more than any death, is not the conclusion of a life well lived. Rather it is the beginning of a new state of life. In the gospel passage this morning the terrified women are told “why look among the dead for someone who is alive”. We believe that through the resurrection of Jesus Martin continues to be alive in the presence of God.

We Christians have been graced with a priceless knowledge, the knowledge of faith. We believe that God raised Jesus from the dead. Jesus passed from death to new life. The resurrection of Jesus means the death of death. As we heard this morning how St Paul put it when writing to the Corinthians, “death is swallowed up in victory” He challenges death “where is your victory? where is your sting?”. Resurrection means that death is not the end any more. It means that our destiny is life. So when we die we do not pass from life to death. Rather we pass from life to life. Death is that extraordinary moment when the Christ who is life can finally take me to himself for ever, when God and I can never, ever, be separated from one another. That is what it means for a Christian to die. That is what it meant for Martin.

Martin not only lived that faith but he shared that faith for almost 60 years as a priest in the Society of African Missions. He was born on March 14, 1919 in Letterkenny, Co Donegal the youngest of a family of eight girls and two boys. Shortly afterwards the family moved to Sligo and so Martin always regarded Sligo as his home. He identified with Sligo and his soul was nourished by all things to do with Sligo. He was ordained an SMA priest in Moyne Park, Galway in December 1942. Due to the war restrictions on the use of petrol his ordination did not take place in Newry as was the custom.

He was assigned to the Prefecture, later diocese, of Jos and spent the next 24 years in very fulfilled pastoral ministry in this area. He spent most of these years in the city of Jos, covering all the range of pastoral outreach. One of the outstations of the central station in Jos at this time was actually in Maiduguri, a mere 367 miles away! Ill health forced a very reluctant return to Europe. The remainder of his life is really the story of how he coped with ill health. He became for many a model and inspiration.

Our reading from Corinthians this morning speaks about our perishable nature needing to put on imperishability and our mortal nature putting on immortality. Martin knew better than most of us what a perishable nature really meant. For ten years after leaving Jos he worked valiantly and well in both Ireland and Britain. He served for four years in Kilcolgan and did a four year spell in the diocese of Lancaster, in the city of Carlisle. Eventually the creeping and unrelenting march of Parkinson’s disease meant that he had to withdraw completely from pastoral ministry. He retired to Blackrock Road in 1977 and has been held in high respect and deep affection by the community there ever since.

Martin bore his sickness graciously, generally placidly and with no little humour. The utter frustration it must have evoked on so many levels of living with Parkinson’s was generally not apparent externally. Whatever inner mental torment was being churned up was not usually visible to the observer.

One word that seems to fit Martin very well is resilient. He overcame many obstacles to become a priest and that he remained in priestly service for 60 years is truly remarkable, given the parlous state of his health for the past 35 years. In more ways than one Martin was truly God ordained. As the Book of Wisdom tells us this morning: “how would anything have endured if you had not willed it? or how would anything not called forth by you have been preserved?”

Martin learned to be at peace with his condition, at peace with others, at peace with others knowing his condition and, most importantly, at peace with God. I was not privy to his internal processes but I cannot imagine that his expression of external serenity would have been possible had it not got its source from a very deep space of internal serenity. The fact that there was the odd occasion when a tough stubborn streak manifested itself does not detract from the overall sense of serenity he exuded.

He had a lovely engaging, almost impish smile. He was easy to warm to. There was always that glint in his eye that suggested some kind of honest devilment being contemplated. He loved to tell jokes and laughed heartily at them even though the sickness meant that it was most difficult to catch what he was saying. Yet, in spite of his speech difficulty he never failed to get his message across.

He enjoyed female company in a very wholesome way. I suppose if you grow up with eight older sisters, you do learn to appreciate and become nourished by the care, compassion and love of women. That he was so cared for and loved by his family, as shown through their frequent journeys to visit him, is a testament to the affection that must have characterised his family of origin. Perhaps it was his sisters also who instilled in him an appreciation for quality when it came to buying clothes or the like.

It was always a fascination to see how he formed relationships with the nurses in the hospitals and the staff of St Theresa’s unit. Here he will be missed most of all. It could be said that he was given preferential treatment in the hospital when he went for his regular check-up. This perhaps was because he always showed gratitude for what was done for him. He also had the simple ability, but ability not manifest in all, of showing that he really enjoyed being attended to and cared for. Martin was never embarrassed to enjoy tender loving care when it was offered to him.

Martin was a kind man, a generous man. I know for a fact that he supported many projects in Africa out of his own resources long after leaving that continent.

Martin liked to make connections. He loved football and especially any football connected with Sligo. He had a life-long devotion to Glasgow Celtic football club. Through this he befriended Sean Fallon and so the Sligo connection endured. But it was not just football people he connected with. Patricia told me a lovely story yesterday of the day he asked her to drive him to a suburb of Glasgow to knock on the door of a person that he had last spoken to sixty years ago.

Martin is making connections now in the heavenly realm. He will be missed down here by his family, his community and his many friends. But all us will take consolation in the blessing it was to have known him.

Ar dheis lamh De go raibh a anam dilis

Funeral Homily 10th September 2002

Fr Gerard Scanlan SMA

Readings: Isaiah 55:1-11
2 Thessalonians 3:7-12
Matthew 25:31-46

“Every morning in Africa a gazelle wakes up and it knows it must run faster than the fastest lion or it will be killed.
Every morning in Africa a lion wakes up and it knows it must outrun the slowest gazelle or it will starve to death.
It doesn’t matter whether you are a lion or a gazelle. When the sun comes up, you’d better be running”

I found those lines on a card from the headquarters of the SMA American Province at Tenafly which Gerry sent to the Provincial some years ago. It was a card to announce his immanent arrival from his latest journey or pastoral posting. Gerry certainly took the above advice to heart himself. He did his fair share of running over the past 82 years and, as has been commented on yesterday, his rather circuitous arrival at this church for burial this morning is almost a metaphor of his life. But Gerry’s running has finally come to a stop. Today we bring him in prayer to his final resting place.

Gerry’s running was not that of a gazelle fleeing capture. Neither was it some aimless running with no end in view. Rather it was very purposeful. It always had a destination in sight and the destination was nearly always reached.

Gerry came from a family of four boys and two girls. He did his secondary schooling in Mungret College where five more future SMA priests had studied around that time. No doubt they had an influence on each other. Gerry was ordained an SMA priest in December 1943. His first mission appointment was to the prefecture [later diocese] of Kaduna in Northern Nigeria. A look at his CV in the funeral booklet will indicate to you that this was only the beginning of a very varied missionary career. I will look at the different dimension of that career shortly but I want to situate it firmly in the context of why he lived that life. Gerry had many talents and he used them well. But he was first and foremost a missionary priest. And it is on that basis that all the rest makes sense.

Our three readings this morning say something about the kind of priest Gerry tried to be. Our first reading from the prophet Isaiah captures the very essence of Gerry’s ministry. This is a beautiful poem addressed to God’s chosen people that illustrates clearly the bountiful generosity of God. It affirms that God’s abundant graces cannot be bought or earned; they simply have to be received. “Come to the water all you who are thirsty…… buy without money….” And the wonderful thing is that this is an everlasting covenant. God never reneges on his agreement. “See, I have made you a witness to the peoples……. you will summon a nation you never knew and those unknown will come hurrying to you”. Gerry answered God’s call to be a witness to the nations and those previously unknown came hurrying to hear the liberating message of the Gospel. What is this liberation? It is simply this: we know that what Isaiah tells us is actually true, i.e. that “our God is rich in forgiving” for his thoughts are not our thoughts and his ways are not our ways. Gerry gave his whole life trying to spread this message in his own inimitable way. He was privileged to be invited to preach God’s word to people and God’s word never returns empty without succeeding in what it was sent to do.

I chose our 2nd reading from Thessalonians because I think it fits the man well. It reminds us that we are all asked to do a solid day’s work. Paul says those who refuse to work should not be given food. Gerry’s conscience would be clear on this one. He was adequately fed….. and he deserved to be. He could never be idle. He was always busy about something or other. Even in his retirement years he kept active. He was engaged in more pastoral supplys than anyone I’ve ever known. It was fitting, I think, that he died while on one such assignment. He worked hard himself and also supported colleagues in their work.

A check on his mission history certainly highlights how effectively he fulfilled the mandate of today’s Gospel. All his priestly life was dedicated to this vision. “In so far as you did this to one of the least of these brothers/sisters of mine, you did it to me”. Gerry’s first 24 years of missionary life in Kaduna had two main foci. His administrative skills were hewn through a succession of secretarial postings: as secretary to the bishop; diocesan education secretary; director of the regional catholic secretariat which he himself established. His other focus was as a builder. He was the supervisor of buildings in the Kaduna diocese for 18 years. His buildings were noted for their high quality finish. He built schools, churches, hospitals. Perhaps his pride and joy was the hospital in Kaduna which bears his own name, St Gerards. And he personally trained locals in the different skills of building, which, I understand, he learned from his own father. So the gospel mandate to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick was more than adequately fulfilled. Not only did he carry this out on a personal level, but his buildings assured that such Christian care would be a lasting reality.

The Nigerian civil war exposed him to some horrific experiences of mindless killing which made it difficult for him to continue ministering in this environment. And so in 1969 he moved out of Nigeria and took up an assignment in the mother house in Rome as Bursar General and Procurator. Over four years he gave great service to the whole Society. But the call to the pastoral scene was heard again and he spent the next six years in very fulfilled ministry in the city of Detroit, USA. This was followed by eight more years in secondment to the American Province of SMA where he became the first SMA pastor of Queen of Angels parish in Newark, NJ and later as a missionary in the Bahamas. In all these assignment he used all his skills and talents for the building up of the church. No doubt the fact that his younger brother, Kevin had been Provincial of the American Province for some years had a bearing on this move to collaboration between the Provinces.

The above recitation of his missionary career says little about the man’s character. Some aspect of the face of God is revealed in every character and Gerry’s character was certainly varied. Like every one of us here in this church he was not without his faults but such faults were far outweighed by his solid goodness. He was pleasant, often charming, courteous. Three aspects of his personality stand out:
a] his love of travel;
b] his ability to network and maintain friendships;
c] his love of the Irish language, local history and Irish culture in general.

His travelling exploits are legendary. Having entered his ninth decade when many men would be thinking of putting up the feet Gerry set off on a voyage on the QE2. For all his travelling I suspect he never really enjoyed the flying bit so much so the QE2 must have been a welcome change. But the travel opened up great avenues for networking and meeting new friends. One of his classmates tells me that on that QE2 trip he got the names and addresses of 75 couples that he has been corresponding with since. And Declan, his nephew, told me the other day that on his recent trip to the US he brought a typed list of 200 names of people he intended to meet or at least phone during his stay. And he probably did it.

But for me the most impressive of all is the networking that he obviously did within his family and neighbours. Yesterday’s Mass in Carrig showed how highly he was regarded among his own people. It really is a great tribute to the esteem in which he was held that so many of his nieces and nephews went to visit him over these last few weeks while hospitalised in Wales. Indeed the SMA is very grateful to you for the love and care you showed your uncle and for the great work done last week to arrange the transfer of his remains here.

His love of the Irish language, local history and culture seemed to grow with the years. I’m told that in his early days in Nigeria he liked nothing better than to sit in the bush on an African night trying to learn Hausa while his radio played some Ceili music in the background. In more recent years he was a regular participant in Cumann na Sagart meetings.

Gerry was generous and known to be a good host. On a light note I might recall one incident when he visited us in the house in Maynooth. Evidently on one occasion we had no ice for his little drop of whiskey so the following visit he brought me an ice making tray for the fridge. As I was thanking him for his fine gesture he said “make sure you use it now”.

So Gerry has run his final race. He now knows that the vision dreamed by the prophet Isaiah nearly 3000 years ago is indeed true. He has worked hard all his life to share that vision with others. The Sabbath day of total rest has finally dawned.

Ar dheis lamh De go raibh a anam dilis.

Funeral Homily 31 July 2002

Fr Paddy Glynn SMA

Readings: Isaiah 25:6-9
1 John 4:7-11
John 11:19-27

Fr Paddy Glynn SMA went home to the Lord in the early hours of last Monday morning after a long illness. His final days were lived with the aid of a life-support system. The Lord saw that the time was right and he called him home.

Monday was the feast of St Martha. For me there is something appropriate in the fact that Paddy should die on that day. Martha is the quintessential woman of the house. Paddy, in a sense, was a man of the house. For the last 30 years he was something of an institution in the community house at Blackrock Road. He was one of the great characters. His presence will be missed.

Two of the readings this morning I have chosen from the feast of St Martha because they are so appropriate to our theme.

In our first reading from Isaiah, coming 700 years before Jesus Christ, the prophet proclaims a hymn of faith that death will eventually be conquered. “The Lord will take away the mourning veil…… he will wipe away the tears from every cheek; he will take away his people’s shame everywhere on earth, for the Lord has said so. ….. this is the God in whom we hoped for salvation”.

The gospel takes up this theme again and delivers it even more clearly. We see now that the God in whom the Old Testament peoples hoped for salvation has come in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus states very affirmatively: “I am the resurrection and the life. If anyone believes in me, even though he dies he will live, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die”. Then Jesus puts the tough question: “Do you believe this?”

That is a question that each of us has to answer for ourselves. I have no doubt what answer Paddy Glynn gave throughout his life. It would have been a simple and clear “Yes, I believe”. It was this simple but no less solid faith that sustained Paddy throughout some very difficult years.

Perhaps the key to that simple faith is found in the 2nd Reading from the first letter of St John. The focus here is on love. And Paddy knew through his own life experience, perhaps better than most of us here in this church this morning, that we can only be saved ultimately by love.

They say, and I have no doubt but that it is true, that to know redemptive love one has to have endured considerable suffering. One has to know that one’s being loved by God has absolutely nothing to do with one’s worthiness; nothing to do with achieving greatness so as to earn it; nothing to do with deserving it. But it has everything to do with being loved simply for the reason that God is love. Can it be stated any clearer than St John states it in that second reading: “this is the love I mean: not our love for God, but God’s love for us when he sent his Son to be the sacrifice that takes our sins away”.

Paddy Glynn battled with the illness of alcohol addiction for a fair bit of his life. For the last 30 years or more this illness gripped him so completely that it almost totally obliterated his ability to respond. I have no doubt that the spirit was willing. He would have wanted to respond. His body simply could not. Knowing him to be a man with a brilliant mind one can only imagine what mental torment this inability to respond must have created. But did God love him less because of this? St John certainly would give a very categorical No. I like to think that Paddy through his illness experienced the love of God at a more profound level than many of us because he knew that it was simply a free gift, it was not earned. Sometimes when we are good and respond well we can be seduced into thinking that we are actually earning God’s love.

That reading from St John is also telling in another dimension of Paddy’s life. His illness meant that sometimes he could be quite obstreperous. He was not always accommodating. But through all this he was held in deep affection and love, especially by the staff of St Teresa’s unit. “let us love one another since love comes from God and everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God” St John tells us. Paddy we know was a big man but his gentlemanly disposition and generous spirit meant that he was not afraid to allow others to care for him and, indeed, love him. Perhaps this was his true gift: by allowing others to care for him and love him, he enabled them to know God.

Paddy was ordained in the Sacred Heart College, Moyne Park, Galway in 1942. World War II meant a rationing of petrol so the ordination could not take place in Newry as was the custom of the time. I’m told that he was a good singer and no mean footballer in his younger days. Later he was a keen Irish scholar and was particularly interested in the meaning of place names.

After ordination he took a science degree in Botany and Zoology at UCC, followed up a year later with a Masters degree. He then spent the next eleven years in Ireland teaching in Wilton and Ballinfad, where he became Rector and was responsible for some of the building programme there. I understand that he found this a difficult period and the tasks formidable.
He moved to Ibadan, Nigeria in 1957 and spent the next fifteen years there, largely again in the field of education, particularly as a science teacher. His name will forever be associated with Fatima College, Ikire. Then in the early 1970s the illness had already struck and he had to come home for medical supervision.

When confreres speak about Paddy Glynn they frequently speak with sadness of the underachievement due to his illness. But this quickly passes on to a memory of a funny story connected to Paddy’s life. He was blessed with the ability to laugh at his own folly.

Stories abound about his witty sayings. These were uttered in a multiplicity of settings and on various occasions. He could be sharply critical when things were not to his liking. Everyone will have his/her own memory. My two recent ones are precious: some months ago I visited him in the room at St Teresas and he had a complaint about the strength of his nightly drop. As he held up the glass to me, he said “How could anyone be expected to drink that!” As I was leaving the room he said “can you do anything about that?!” Then just two weeks ago down at the South Infirmary hospital he found the beds not altogether to his liking. He said “you’d want a course in mechanics to know how to get in and out of these beds”.

So, Paddy’s long life of 60 years of priesthood has come to an end. It was a life, as I have stated, of highs and lows. But the one thing our faith assures us is that now he has the consolation of knowing, as Isaiah tells us, that “the Lord has taken away his people’s shame everywhere on earth….. because the Lord has said so”.

Paddy, may your gentle soul rest finally at Peace.

FUNERAL MASS FOR FR FRANK McARDLE – 11TH JULY, 2002

I welcome you all on this feast of St Benedict, Patron of Europe to this funeral Mass for Fr Frank McArdle SMA.

Today we say our final farewell to our brother. Frank lived a very long life, just four months short of his 90th year. And over 65 of those years were lived as an SMA priest.

Frank’s death is a cause of joy as well as sorrow. The Nigerians among whom he lived for many years would celebrate this occasion. And so do we. Certainly his death – as Billy reminded us last night – released him from quite considerable suffering of recent months and perhaps years.

I feel sure that his sudden death last Tuesday late afternoon would have been Frank’s own preferred way to go.

I welcome especially Frank’s brother, Bertie and his wife, Mamie.
Today, too, we remember his sister Nan Richardson who resides in England but due to ill health cannot be with us. We pray, also, for his deceased parents and eight other siblings.

I welcome his dear and loyal friend, Mary O’Shea. They met almost 50 years ago when Frank visited the Bank of Ireland as part of his duties in Blackrock Road. It is lovely today that we can celebrate a friendship that has lasted all these years. Mary visited Frank almost on a weekly basis. Mary, we are grateful to you for being such a warm friend to our brother.

I welcome all the Sisters of Our Lady of Apostles, who have come as usual in such fine numbers to offer their support and solidarity. [And I welcome all the other Sisters and laity who have come here this morning.] And I welcome Sr Rosalie and the nursing staff from Blackrock Road who take such great care of our sick confreres.

I welcome all my confreres in the SMA who once again have shown their loyalty to the Society and affection for a confrere by turning up in such large numbers here this morning. A special word of gratitude and welcome to all those on holiday from Africa and other missions.

In our Mass now we ask the Lord to receive Frank into the full fellowship of his Kingdom.

Funeral Homily – 11th July, 2002

Fr Frank McArdle SMA

Readings: Ecclesiastes 3:1-8,11
2 Timothy 4:6-8
John 17:24-26

John Ayscough is quoted as saying, “Death is but a sharp corner near the beginning of life’s procession down eternity.”

These words seem very appropriate in attempting to preach the word at the funeral of Fr Frank McArdle.

Two things stand out for me in knowing Frank for the last seven years:
– sharp corners became increasingly more difficult for him to negotiate;
– being just 4 months shy of 4 score and 10 years one tends to forget he was really only at the beginning of his journey into eternity.

Our opening reading from Ecclesiastes reminds us that in God’s plan there is an appropriate time for everything – .. born/die… mourning/dancing.. silence/speaking. God has made everything suitable for his time. We can grasp neither the beginning nor the end.

Ultimately our time is only a participation in God’s time.
Frank, in his own quite, unfussy way recognised this.
Thus, his return to the Lord last Tuesday was without fanfare, without fuss, graceful, peaceful.
He, as it were, simply went home into God.

Our 2nd. Reading gives us Paul’s statement of faith in his letter to Timothy. One can almost imagine these words being uttered from the lips of Frank – though never in public, I would guess – “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”

Frank knew that the crown of righteousness was reserved for him: not because he had earned it; neither because he deserved it; but simply because it is the Lord’s free gift to all those who long for his appearing.
Frank’s funeral – as any funeral – is a beautiful reminder to us all that the crown of righteousness is reserved for us too provided we continue to long for his appearing.

The Gospel reading hammers home this same crucial message – the very core of our faith – the reason we gather in this church this afternoon – that it is God’s wish that we be with him; that he has chosen us to be with him; that the very love that the Father has for his Son, Jesus is really in us as Jesus is in us.
When we know that to be the case, death can never hold any fear for us.

Christians are people blessed to know that they are loved by God and that they have been created to be loved by God.
And Priesthood is about living and proclaiming that awesome mystery to the world. Fr Frank McArdle lived that mystery in his own unique way for over 65 years.

Frank was ordained in December 1936 and spent the first 22 years of his priesthood in the Prefecture and Diocese of Jos, Nigeria. He ministered in such famous places as Shendam and Kafanchan. His preferred mode of transport was the bicycle. He must have traversed the laterite roads of the Plateau of Northern Nigeria for over thousands of miles. One remarkable feature of Frank’s story is that he never learned to drive a motor car.

During these early years he suffered from a severe ulcerous stomach complaint. This actually necessitated the removal of 2/3rd of his stomach. It is truly extraordinary to realise that he lived a further 45 years with such a physical impairment.

From 1959 to 1972 he lived and worked in Blackrock Road as Provincial Procurator, Vice Superior and Bursar. During this time he was given responsibility for construction work on the old Rest House.

One year of pastoral and chaplaincy assignment in England was then followed by two more years in Blackrock Road, this time as manager of the African Missionary.

In 1976, forty years after his ordination, he returned to the Diocese of Jos and remained there for a further 15 years.

His last ten years were spent in retirement in Blackrock Road.

That is something of his history. What of his character ?

Frank abhorred the use of bad or foul language, especially taking the Holy Name in vain. I understand he was not alone among his family in that regard.

He was a man of great regularity: regular about his prayer life; regular about his duties; regular about his timetable; and regular about relaxation. This regularity of life was both a blessing and a gift. But, like all gifts, this too had its shadow side.

Frank guarded his own space and time with very great care, sometimes, it has to be said, to a fault.

Frank was a man of robust independence in both thought and action. It would not be unkind to say that at times he could be quite stubborn. Particularly regarding issues related to the care of his health. This was especially noticeable in his later years. He was quite obviously suffering and when one remembers his serious surgery back in the mid 50s, this is not surprising. He shuffled rather than walked. Yet he refused to avail of any aid, either from persons or by way of a walking stick or wheelchair. Frank, no doubt, would have seen such aids as a sign of weakness…. when, in fact, the opposite would have been the case.

Frank did not get carried away by any flights of fancy. He regarded any show of anything more than mild enthusiasm with deep suspicion. And, in his own quite way, he let his views by known.

Frank had a passionate interest in sport of all kinds. He was a very keen and capable footballer in his younger days. His class-mate, Fr Bob Molloy, tells me that he was a very difficult opponent to master. In later years he became a great devotee of the radio and there was hardly a sports event on the entire globe that he would not have been able to give you the result of. No doubt, he would have listened avidly to next Sunday’s clash between his native Kildare Lilywhites and the Dubs.

Frank was blessed with a razor sharp memory. I’m sure he would have counted it his greatest blessing to have preserved his mental faculties right to the end.

Frank will be missed. Especially by the community in Blackrock Road. His presence there was a quite presence. But an important and a valued presence. Our lives have been the richer for having known and lived with him.

Ar dheis lamh De go raibh a anam dilis.

Funeral Homily 9/1/2002

Fr Paddy Gantly SMA

Readings: Job 19:1.23-27
Corinthians 4:14-5:1
Luke 12:35-40

It is most apt and appropriate that Fr Paddy Gantly died on the Feast of the Epiphany. The Epiphany that we celebrated on Sunday is about the unveiling of the baby Jesus as the Christ, i.e. the messiah or saviour of all people. Paddy spent a good deal of his life unveiling for us the charism of this Society of African Missions through his inspiring writings on our Founder and early history. Through his painstaking work we are better able to see how God used and still uses our Society in our day to unveil Christ as the Saviour for all people, especially for the peoples of Africa.

The true significance of Jesus for the whole universe could only be accurately understood in the light of his later resurrection. And Paddy’s life too can only be accurately understood and evaluated in light of the resurrection.

Every funeral puts before us the mystery of life and death. For priests who proclaim these mysteries on a daily basis it is no different. The priest’s life too is confronted by the same mystery.

And when we interpret a life journey in the light of the resurrection it means that all of life’s events are not just significant in themselves but are significant in terms of the whole. They must be interpreted in terms of this overall perspective. There is no doubt that Paddy Gantly’s whole life was lived out of a Gospel vision. All that he did was motivated by a desire to make Christ better known. And his personality style was to do this in quite a forceful manner.

In our opening reading from Job we heard the words “would that these words of mine were written down, inscribed on some monument with iron chisel and engraving tool, cut into the rock for ever”. Can’t you almost imagine Paddy with his strong character forming those words himself. Over many decades Paddy had thousands of his words written down. But no words of his were as important as these: “Ah, I know that my Avenger lives…. and will set me close to him… and these eyes will gaze on him and find him not aloof”. Paddy lived his whole life with that faith. Our faith assures us that Paddy is now gazing on the Lord and is finding him not aloof.

The second reading from Corinthians reminds us that there is no weakening on our part … and the troubles of this life are slight and short lived and their purpose is to train us for carrying the weight of eternal glory. Paddy never seemed to give in to weakness and he seemed to approach life with the attitude that it was indeed only a training ground for eternity.

A similar theme is taken up in the Gospel. See that you are dressed for action and have your lamps lit. In hurling parlance we might give this a free translation as “make sure you are fully togged out and have your hurleys ready”. Being well prepared could be a motto for Paddy’s life. He was always standing ready. I am fully convinced that Paddy was ready for the call on Sunday morning last. He was fully togged out for the most important call of all. He would not have been caught unprepared.

By any standard of measurement Paddy Gantly was a colossus. In my early years in the SMA I knew him only by reputation. It is interesting that a phrase often used about him was used in a quote about him the other day after news of his death reached us. “By God, he was a tough man”. This was sometimes spoken in admiration; sometimes in fear.

As is so often the case in the mystery of life his strength was at the same time his weakness. His toughness was indeed his strength, his gift but in a paradoxical way it was also his weakness. If you wanted to use words to describe him you would have to say he was dedicated, persevering, disciplined, fearless, committed, giving 100%….. but you would also have to say, to give the true picture, that he could also be stubborn and sometimes opinionated. Perhaps his weakness was that he did not fully appreciate that not everyone could reach the same degree of toughness that he demanded of himself.

Any life is much larger and more complex than a five or ten minute summary can portray. But for neatness sake I hope it is fair enough to look at Paddy’s life from two perspectives:

  • Paddy the hurling man
  • Paddy the SMA man
    [I hope that Paddy the family man, youngest of four girls and four boys will be recognisable somewhere in these two]

As a hurling man Paddy was a legend. He was not just a good hurler; he was a great hurler. Good judges of hurling who saw him play put him in the same class as Christy Ring, Jack Lynch and Mick Mackey. And you can’t get higher praise than that. Paddy was a member of the first Connaught team to win the Railway Cup in 1947. I believe he played under the name of Paddy Gardiner at that time. In 1946 and 47 he won two County titles here in Cork with St Finbarr’s. In fact, had he and Fr Brendan Hanniffy, another Galway man and fellow SMA who joined him on the ’47 team, not left Wilton in ’48 and thus were unavailable the Barrs might well have won the three in a row. When they were knocked out in an early round in ’48 one local wag was heard to say “they died without the priests”. I believe with the Barrs Paddy assumed the name Ignatius Gallagher. In the 1950s Paddy turned to coaching and trained the Galway team that beat Kilkenny in 1953 and lost the final to Cork in very controversial circumstances. He managed an all-Ireland selection against the combined universities. He served as Chairman of Galway County Board of the GAA and was a member of the Galway team of the millennium and inducted into the Galway hurling Hall of Fame.

I could go on but I need to turn to Paddy the SMA man. His CV on the second page of your booklet shows what a varied career he had within the SMA. It divides nicely into three prongs, as it were:

  • two stints of four year terms in Nigeria working in the field of education;
  • two stints in student formation: the first as a Director of Formation; the second as a teacher of Church history;
  • years committed to researching and writing SMA history.

Many SMAs here present will have lived under him as Director of Formation during his nine years in Cloughballymore, Kilcolgan, Co Galway. By all accounts he was indeed a tough man. But he was a man of his time and any judgement has to be framed in terms of his overall life purpose that I spoke of earlier. It was an era when weakness of any kind was frowned upon. Paddy tried to toughen people up. Africa was going to be tough was the thinking and so only the tough could survive. Were some people hurt through this approach? Yes, they were. But no matter what approach one uses some people will be hurt. If there were excesses in Paddy’s approach, we must let God be the judge. And God, we know, is ever merciful.

Paddy later spent twelve years in the Missionary Institute in London, three of these as President of the Institute while continuing to teach Church history.

Within the SMA I believe he will be best remembered for his contribution to an understanding of our history. I mentioned earlier that he unveiled our Founder to us. His contribution was truly enormous. He has made our Founder, Melchior De Marion Bressillac real for us; he has put flesh and blood on a monument; he has put fire in our bellies to follow in the footsteps of this man who had a powerful mission vision. Paddy’s output was truly prodigious. He had an enormous capacity for work. And he was clearly in love with his subject. Over a thirty five year spell, with five major books to his credit, Paddy has done more than anyone to help us understand who we are. His work is noted for the depth and solidity of the research and for its ability to inspire.

Over the past few days I have received many messages of condolence from different international wings of our Society. They are all full of appreciation for Paddy’s great contribution in this area. And he was working right up to the end. Just a few weeks ago he gave me a new manuscript that he had just completed on the co-Founders, De Bressillac and Planque. And I believe that he was still hard at work on an essay on the Virtues of the Founder for our Generalate in Rome.

So, Paddy Gantly through his sporting prowess, through his teaching and through his writing enhanced the quality of life of many and made an enormous contribution to the Society of African Missions.

Paddy was a hard man…. a tough man… but above all .. a very good man.

Ar dheis lamh De go raibh a ainm dilis.