Fr Gerard Hackett SMA
Homily preached by Fr Fachtna O’Driscoll, SMA Provincial Leader at the concelebrated Funeral Mass on Friday, 2 April 2011 at 12 noon in St Joseph’s SMA Parish Church, Blackrock Road, Cork. After the funeral Mass the mortal remains of Fr Gerry were buried in the SMA Community cemetery at Wilton.
Maccabees 12: 43-45, Hebrews 4: 12-16
Matthew 11: 25-30
“Where there is harmony the skin of one flea can cover five people”.
You might find quoting that African proverb from the peoples of Burundi a rather strange introduction to this funeral homily for Gerry Hackett. Yet I think there is a certain aptness to it. My sense is that for some years now Gerry was in harmony with God and within himself; he was also in harmony with those around him. He enjoyed his smoke, his drink and the sing-song on a Thursday morning. How often did one pass the sitting room in St Teresa’s to find Gerry sitting quietly among three or four others. Each seemingly absorbed in their own world and yet in silent harmony with those around them. Gerry journeyed home to God at 3.15am on Thursday morning without ever losing that quality of peace. Our task today is to pray him into the fullness of that journey, and to remind ourselves that a similar journey awaits us all.
In our first reading this afternoon we read about the Maccabbean clan. If there was one characteristic above all others that marked them out 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. We do so in the sure faith knowledge that as Gerry died with Christ in baptism, he will also imitate him in his resurrection.
Our gospel passage this afternoon speaks directly to Gerry Hackett’s lived faith experience. I would describe his faith as simple but solid. This reading 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. We have the assurance in this Gospel passage, too, that Jesus provides rest, a rest that is eternal, for those who labour and are overburdened. Gerry’s life had its own burdens. We give God thanks today that his labour is finally ended and he rests in peace.
Gerry Hackett was born in Bornacoola, Loughrynn, Co Leitrim on 19 December 1930. He attended the local National School and completed his secondary education at Ballinafad. He then attended Cloughballymore, where he was known to be a very good swimmer. He went on to Dromantine, and was ordained a priest on 13 June 1956 in St Colman’s Cathedral, Newry. One of a class of thirteen ordained on that day, he is the 6th of the class to go to his eternal reward. Of course Gerry was not the first member of his family to join the SMA. He was following in the footsteps of his brother John, who was ordained six years before him and predeceased him by eighteen years.
Gerry’s first appointment was to the Vicariate of Monrovia, Liberia – now an archdiocese with two suffragan dioceses. Here he served in several parishes, including Sannequellie, Voinjama and other parts now in the diocese of Gbarnga. Liberia was by no means an easy mission. The response of the people was hesitant – there were occasions when nobody turned up for a scheduled Mass. This could naturally lead to frustration and questioning for the missionary. Thankfully things have now moved on in the diocese of Gbarnga. I’m not sure if Gerry was able to appreciate that within the last two weeks a new bishop – the third indigenous bishop in succession – has been nominated for the diocese of Gbarnga.
In 1963 Gerry was transferred to the diocese of Ibadan, Nigeria where he ministered for eleven years. Here he found work among the Yoruba people more fulfilling. Among the parishes he served were Iwo, Ikire, Eleta, Oke-Ado and Mokola. Some new parishes have since been erected out of the areas where Gerry ministered.
After leaving Nigeria in 1974, Gerry served in the Archdiocese of New York, USA. Ill health forced his return to Ireland in 1982, where he assisted in several different offices, living here at Blackrock Road. For a little over one year during this period Gerry also served in the diocese of Elphin. During his later years at Blackrock Road he also had some pastoral outreach. He was much loved by the residents of Glenville Nursing Home and appreciated by the members of the neo-catechumenate.
If Gerry had achieved harmony by the end of his life, it would also be true to say that it did not characterise his life in its entirety. Gerry struggled with health issues of varying kinds and he was perhaps not always the easiest man to live with or to manage. Those who knew him on mission in Liberia and Nigeria speak of a man who was warm, welcoming, considerate and kind. When ill-health took hold perhaps it made his character more dogged and stubborn. But even in his most dogged stage it was difficult not to like the man. His impish smile could thaw a frozen heart, and it was all but impossible to leave his presence in bitterness or holding a grudge. That is why our second reading this afternoon is very appropriate. We all have weaknesses. But every single one of us can take comfort in the second half of that beautiful passage from Hebrews. “For it is not as if we had a high priest who was incapable of feeling our weaknesses with us”. Yes, Jesus too experienced weakness; he was tempted in every way that we are, though without sin. With such a one as this on our side, what do we really have to fear? I believe Gerry could take comfort in this passage; he has now conquered fear; we pray that we too will one day join him in that victory.
Ar dheis lamh De go raibh a anam dilis