Funeral Homily of Con O’Driscoll

Fr Con O’Driscoll SMA

Funeral Homily – November 23rd, 2005

(Preached by Fr Fachtna O’Driscoll SMA, Provincial Superior)

Readings: Wisdom 6: 12-16
1 Cor 15: 20-28
John 14: 1-6

Con O’Driscoll was vested in alb and stole ready to celebrate Mass with his beloved Knights of St Columbanus when he was taken suddenly ill and died just after 3pm on Sunday last, the Feast of Christ the King. For all of fifty-six years Con had lived his missionary priesthood with a passion that was both exemplary and inspiring. I have no doubt were one to ask Con for his choice of dress at death he would have chosen none other than what he was wearing. He may not have dared to hope for this. But it looks awfully like God’s way of saying “well done my good and faithful servant”. This is surely but a part of that hundredfold that the Lord promises in this life to those who serve faithfully and well. And few could have been as prepared as Con to enter effortlessly into the Father’s embrace when the final call came so suddenly. Sunday was also the eve of the Feast of the Presentation of Our Lady. For a man who had such a strong devotion to Our Lady there was surely a symbolism in this timing also.

Con’s passing came so suddenly and unexpectedly that even four days later we still find it hard to take in. Only on Sunday morning he seemed just as keen as ever to enter into a hectic day of pastoral and evangelical outreach, just as he had done on countless Sundays before. But he has gone from our sight, to accompany us no more on this earthly plane. He will be sorely missed by his wide extended family, spanning four generations. He will be sorely missed by his friends and colleagues in so many kingdom-building endeavours in this city and well beyond. And he is and will continue to be a huge loss to us his brothers in the SMA.

While Con would recognise and affirm the natural human sense of grief and loss that accompanies his death, he would want us quickly to move beyond the tears to a consideration of the deeper questions. Con’s was a life absorbed by these deeper questions. And he was vehement in his response to such questions. For him there were no doubts, buts or maybes. It was all a seamless Yes. Not for Con the questioning of Thomas, “how can we know the way?”. Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life. Jesus is Lord and in him we find the fullness of life. Death on the earthly plane is but a stage, a transition point, on the greater journey back to God. At death life is changed, not ended.

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God still, and trust in me. There are many rooms in my Father’s house”. How often Con must have repeated those words of Jesus to console grieving relatives of the dead. One can almost hear him speaking them right now. He had no doubt that Jesus had gone and prepared a place for him and that he would return to take him with him. Jesus has now returned and our faith assures us that he has brought Con with him into one of those rooms in the Father’s house.

Many of you will recognise our second reading this afternoon as being the second reading of last Sunday’s Mass. St Paul theologises for the people of Corinth on the significance of Christ’s death on the cross. “Just as death came through one man in the same way the resurrection of the dead has come through one man. Just as all people die in Adam, so all will be brought to life in Christ”. We see here that death and life are at the heart of God’s plan for the world, with life always winning out. While death is part and parcel of the life of each human person, so too is life beyond death. But these are mysteries not so easy to grapple with. In an age when our various cultural expressions seem to be moving us towards the denial of death it is imperative that we do not concede ground to such illusions. Con O’Driscoll had no truck with such illusions. During the last fifteen years, when such illusions were gaining greater popularity, Con devoted his life to countering them. Whether in the parish of West Green in London, or through Legion of Mary, Knights of St Columbanus, Simon community, various Marian prayer groups or other outreaches Con never failed to preach in season and out of season the eternal values and creeds of the Christian gospel.

Con was a genuine seeker after Wisdom. For this reason I think the opening reading today is quite appropriate. It is true that he did seek news, sometimes even gossip. And his range of interest was wide. But the search went much deeper; not for things at the superficial level only but for the wisdom of God. In fact, you could say that wisdom befriended him. As the reading puts it, “wisdom is found by those who look for her”. One of Con’s innocent quirks was to begin a conversation with a query about some person or something. One quickly learned that this was Con’s none too subtle way of telling you that he was privy to information that you did not have yourself. This was an innocent enough trait that hid no malice but it could be a little irritating at times, especially if it carried the further tone that somehow you were failing in your duty by not knowing what he knew. Sometimes, just for a tease, it was interesting to bat back with a point that was slightly revolutionary and vaguely heretical. Con would chase such a point to the end like a greyhound after a hare.

Con was born in the parish of Aughadown in the heart of West Cork – a great SMA stronghold – almost 83 years ago. He did his secondary schooling in St Fachtna’s, Skibbereen and always spoke warmly of his years there. As a young man he had a keen interest in sports, especially athletics. He was once presented with a pocket-watch for being the best all-round athlete in the school. He also played Gaelic Football with some distinction at the local level. Towards the end of his life I would not have considered him to be sports minded but perhaps it was these early endeavours that sparked the enduring interest in how his grand and great-grandnephews and nieces were performing in their chosen sports. And I understand that he was not slow either to deliver some tactical advice and propose physical exercise programs.

Con never lost his love for his native place. He went back frequently to West Cork, in more recent times probably mostly for the funerals of his contemporaries. Regularly during these trips he would wander back to the place of his birth and gaze out to sea. He must have derived great spiritual sustenance from the contemplation of his roots. He had a tremendous sense of pride in his native place and in the O’Drisceoil clan.

After ordination in 1949 Con was appointed to the Mid-West of Nigeria and served in Asaba-Benin Vicariate, Benin City Diocese and Warri Diocese. He was known to have a facility as a builder; one of his proudest feats was to have the old marble altar from Drimoleague church transported to Nigeria and set in the new church he had built in Ashaka, and it is still in use to this day. But Con will perhaps be best remembered as an administrator. He served as Vicar-General of the diocese of Warri during a turbulent time in the State of Nigeria and the Church in Warri. [Fr Dan Cashman gave a very moving testimony to that period of Con’s life last night] He coped admirably during the Civil War years that affected the missionaries in Warri closely. The absence of the Bishop during much of this time meant that the weight of responsibility fell on Con’s shoulders. This took a severe toll on his psyche and physique. Simultaneously with the Civil War a climate of mistrust was also to develop in the Church at Warri. This was to add to the burden of office resulting in Con’s needing to return to Europe for some needed recuperation. He spent two years in Ballinafad and over four years in the Diocese of Clifton. This was followed by twenty wonderful years in secondment to the British Province working in their parish of West Green, North London. Con really flourished in this environment; the spirit that seemed to have been sapped and sucked out of him through the difficulties in Nigeria returned with gusto and he was to enjoy a very rewarding pastoral experience in West Green parish. Many parishioners there hold him in very fond memory and it is good to see some of them with us today.

When Con retired from West Green in 2001 we all assumed he came home to rest. It is dangerous to assume anything. Con’s talent and skill to befriend people meant that it was all but impossible for him to sit and rest. He needed to be active. In the last two days I have found the following little gems of wisdom in my daily calendar, almost as if written with Con in mind. The first says, As you grow older, you’ll find the only things you regret are the things you didn’t do. It seems to me Con was intent on proving there would be few things he would regret. The second says, When one has a great deal to put into it, a day has a hundred pockets. On that calculation Con must have had about a thousand pockets.

An impairment to his sight meant that he had to forego driving a car. But this he could see as gift as it meant that others now were drawn into his missionary endeavours. And I don’t think any of his numerous chauffeurs really objected to being co-opted in this way. He had extraordinary energy for a man of his years. And, of course, he proved the rule that the only one to ask to do a task was a busy person. Con was never to be found wanting when some chore was required by the community. He loved working in the garden; this, I understand, was a relatively late interest for him, an interest deepened by his relatives’ regular gifts of books on gardening matters. His apostolate to the Legion of Mary – whether to Praesidium, Curia, Comitium, Concilium – was persevering. Within the last month he hosted a group of young people on Legion of Mary outreach to the natives of Cork. He was especially proud of the part in played in the work of the Knights of St Columbanus, and the wonderful new structure of Bru Columbanus just here beside us was a genuine source of pride to him. He led several pilgrimages to Knock or Medugorge, and he was already planning to return there this coming June; he took part in numerous prayer groups, especially those with a Marian flavour; he promoted devotion to Divine Mercy and was a devoted rosary man. Each evening he prayed the rosary with the men in St Theresa’s before his own silent Holy Hour for the missions.

Con’s missionary career has now closed. But his spirit will remain with his family, Society and colleagues as we work to bring about God’s reign in our world. His inspiration is a fond legacy.

Ar dheis lamh De go raibh a anam dilis.