Funeral Homily of Dan Daly

Fr DANIEL J DALY SMA

Funeral Homily – 14 July 2005

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

Readings: Ecclesiastes 3: 1-8,11
Hebrews 12:18-19.21-24
Matthew 11: 25-30

The date 12th of July is associated by one community in Ireland with joy, by the other community with sadness: by one community with victory, by the other with loss. For Fr Dan Daly SMA this was the day he finally heard the invitation to accept victory over death and cross over into new life. For some time now he had enjoyed the status of being the oldest member of our Province. For someone who lived 95 and a half years – and indeed would sometimes claim that his recorded date of birth denied him another year – it was perhaps fitting that he should die on such an historic date. He was born at the very tail-end of the first decade of the last century and last millennium at Caherhayes, Abbeyfeale, Co Limerick. And he was to spend almost an entire century devoting his life to the promotion of God’s reign. Almost seventy years of this life was lived as an SMA missionary priest. So, we gather in thanksgiving this afternoon to pray that like Jesus Dan too will be resurrected into new life.

Many of you will recognise that this afternoon’s Gospel passage was the passage read at yesterday’s Mass, the Wednesday of the 15th week of the year. This passage speaks directly to Dan Daly’s lived faith experience. I would describe his faith as simple but solid. It was built on the twin towers of devotion to the Eucharist and devotion to Mary. This Gospel passage reminds us that we have no claim on divine revelation. Whatever is revealed of the mystery of God is pure gift. “I bless you, Father, Lord of heaven and of earth, for hiding these things from the learned and the clever and revealing them to mere children”. Human intelligence – intellectual knowledge – is no gateway to understanding the mystery of the divine. Only the stance of solid faith opens us to the possibility of receiving whatever is gifted to us of the mystery of God.

Our opening reading from Ecclesiastes shows us that there is a time proper to everything. “A time to be born, and a time to die; …. God has made everything suitable for its time; but although he has given us an awareness of the passage of time, we can grasp neither the beginning nor the end of what God does”. Over the course of a century Dan must have had a keen awareness of the passage of time. Just imagine the enormous changes that he witnessed throughout his 95 years, changes becoming ever more accelerated in latter years. But he was even more keenly aware that we can truly grasp neither the beginning or the end of this incredible process. And he devoted his life helping people come to an awareness of this mystery, both in Africa and in Ireland, as missionary priest.

Our Hebrews reading speaks of fear before the mystery of God. A scene so terrible that even Moses himself was struck with trembling and fright. But what else would one expect to be struck by when introduced into the very presence of God himself. Our belief is that today Dan is experiencing God’s presence in greater fullness than heretofore. And before that mystery the only right response and attitude is one of wonder, of not knowing, of serenity before the mystery. The fear we speak of here is no ordinary fear. This is biblical fear. A fear not sourced in threat to one’s very being but rather sourced in awe before the presence of God, fear sourced in wonder, in amazement, in acceptance of not knowing and yet believing. Dan Daly knew this kind of fear. And he learned over the course of a long and sometimes difficult life to accept it with serenity.

For Dan Daly, vocation to priesthood was not the first call. His first desire was to work as an agricultural instructor. And so he spent some years at agricultural school with the Salesian Order. But a vocation to missionary priesthood was being discerned and so he gradually made his way to secondary school in Wilton. He was to spend three difficult years here but such difficulties might be understandable given that this period coincided with the great Depression of the late 1920s and early 30s. He moved on through Kilcolgan and Dromantine before ordination on 19th December, 1937. As a priest, his first assignment was to Lagos, Nigeria. In fact, he arrived in Lagos on 28th October, 1938 on the very day that the Bishop of the Vicariate, Bishop O’Rourke, died.

Lagos at that time was still a Vicariate, and it was huge, stretching from Lagos to Ilorin. Dan’s first appointment was to Ado-Ekiti where he was to spend 18 months in pastoral work. In fact, a run through his early appointments is to receive a geography lesson on Western Nigeria. From Ado he moved to Oke Padi in Ibadan, from there to Ile-Ife, from there to Iperu in Ijebu Province where he was to teach and be principal of a Teacher’s Training College, from there to Suru-Lere in Lagos itself and other appointments besides. It was a time of physical hardship – compounded for a period by the 2nd World War when resources were as scarce in Nigeria as they probably were here in Ireland – but a time also of contentment and spiritual fulfilment. In all, Dan was to spend the guts of thirty years on mission in Nigeria.

The severe climate, causing regular bouts of dysentery and malaria, was to wreak a severe price on his health. His latter years in Nigeria were plagued by illness and this illness was to dog his life for most of the remainder. He once thought a transfer to the American Province might be the solution to his problems but this process was never completed. A desire to work in pastoral ministry in America also had to be shelved. His struggle with illness meant that any significant pastoral appointment anywhere was afterwards precluded. Yet he was to give valuable service to the Society through office duty and valuable service in the wider pastoral scene here in the city of Cork through his promotion of devotion to Our Blessed Lady. He became somewhat of a leader to the Marian Priests Movement here in Cork and various lay Marian Prayer Groups which resulted in a profound devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary and Eucharistic Heart of Jesus.

Unfortunately, the illness meant that for many years relationships with his family, his confreres in the SMA, especially with Superiors of Diocese and Society, became strained. Thankfully, however, his latter years, through the blessing of very good and kind medical care, were lived out in great serenity. He became a much loved member of the community at Blackrock Road, to those he lived among and to those blessed to care for him. Throughout all his illness – his hearing too becoming more progressively impaired – he remained faithful to prayer. One would almost never see him without the Rosary beads entwined in his hands. This was always his first request of the caring staff. He spent many hours too in quiet contemplation of the Blessed Sacrament.

But his interests were not so heavenly minded that he lost all interest in the world here below. He remained lucid to the very end. His hearing may have almost completely gone but his interests and mind were razor sharp. I was often amazed in recent times by the questions he asked about subjects that I would have assumed had completely passed him by. He was always keen to know how his beloved Limerick had done in hurling or football. And he took great delight in simple things such as the success he recently enjoyed in the house lottery on the Grand National. He also had a great appreciation for flowers: he insisted that every week fresh flowers would be placed at Our Lady’s altar. He paid for such flowers but also insisted on getting value for money! In fact, his use of money in latter years reflected his faith. Much of it was given away to the Vincent de Paul or the Samaritans or to one or other of the Marian movements.

Dan was to make a few attempts at dying. I well remember that about six or seven years ago we remained at his bedside through several nights believing that the end was surely near. And his recoveries were always dramatic; not a slow recovery but a dramatic one as if to suggest the previous days were but an aberration to the norm. In some ways such recoveries reflected his strong and forceful personality style.

Two days ago his timing and the Lord’s timing finally coincided. We can indeed be grateful for his long life, a life of struggle and yet a life that, in the end particularly, became an inspiration that illness can also, given the right care, lead to serenity. As the elder statesman, he will be missed by us all.

Ar dheis lamh De go raibh a anam dilis.