Fr Jeremiah (Der) Healy SMA Funeral homily

Fr Jeremiah (Der) Healy SMA

Fr John Dunne SMA, Vice Provincial Leader, was Chief celebrant at the Requiem Mass for Fr Jeremiah (Der) Healy at 12 noon on 2 April 2012 in St Joseph’s Parish Church, Wilton, Cork. The principal Concelebrants were V Rev Fr Tony Mullins, Apostolic Administrator of Limerick diocese, Fr Bernie Cotter SMA, who worked with Fr Der in Jos diocese, and Fr Gerard Murray SMA, who worked with him in Ilorin Prefecture.




Readings:            Isaiah 61: 1-3, 6, 8-9              Romans 14: 7-12               Matthew 5: 1-12


The real desire of the human heart is planted deep within each person. It is a vital force which calls us to undertake a journey that leads us in new and different ways. Before and often during the course of that journey a person has no guarantee of the final destination. But, nonetheless, we have to make our way forward or else face the awful reality of living an unfulfilled or unhappy life. Fr Der lived a long, fulfilled and happy life and died a contented priest.

Sometimes we think we are clear and sure of where we are going; but more often than not we have to search and then find our way forward. As my life or yours is the only life given we must always proceed with care, courage and due caution. Our deepest dreams and true desires are what move us to live and ultimately find fulfilment. There are other desires too that are not so deep or that do not endure and they in time show themselves to be unreal or not likely to lead to happiness. We are all familiar with such desires and we have different names for them. Jesus experienced them as we are told in the Gospel accounts of the temptations. We spend much of our lives discerning what is a real desire of the heart and distinguishing it from those desires that are sometimes strong but, in the last analysis, prove to be only fleeting and unfulfilling.

The longings of the human heart have their source in a greater mystery. The true desire of the human heart is enfolded in the dream of God for each person. Psalm 139 reminds us of this truth when it says, “God you know me better than I could ever know myself. You know in all truth what I have been, what I am, what I will become”. The challenge of life then is to know and to follow the heart’s true desire. This takes a lifetime as the story of any human life unfolds and is lived out. But we are not alone; God is on our side to guide us. Der was blessed with 86 years of life; 65 of which were spent in the SMA and 60 of these as a missionary priest. Later this year he would have celebrated his Diamond jubilee.

Our first reading today reminds us that “the Spirit of the Lord has been given to us, for the Lord has anointed us”. Taking courage from Isaiah’s words we can be confident that if we seek the true desire of the heart we will find it. This is what vocation in life is about.


Fr Der’s family, other relatives, friends and SMA confreres
gather in the cemetery for his burial.

Der Healy was born in Tralee on 23 March 1926. He later discerned his missionary vocation and joined the SMA as a young man in 1947. Little did he know then where this decision would lead him. He was ordained on 13 July 1952. He spent 3 years at University College Cork and 1 year at London University. He was then assigned to the Diocese of Jos, in Northern Nigeria, which was at that time home to a young, emerging church. He taught in Mary Immaculate Teacher Training College, Kafanchan. Later in response to emerging needs Der was appointed to the Prefecture of Illorin to assist with the setting up of the new Mount Carmel Teacher Training College in Eloja and he became the first principal. He remained in Illorin working in the parishes of Oro and Ekan Meje until he returned to Ireland in 1974 for health reasons.

healy---james-reddyOur first reading also reminds us of what it means to respond to God’s call. For each person there is a purpose in the call we receive. In Der Healy’s life it was a call to respond to the God who called him to be a missionary. He was sent to bring good news to the poor, to bind hearts that are broken and to proclaim liberty to captives. This highlights what any vocation, but particularly the missionary vocation, is all about.

Fr Der’s nephew, James Reddy, reads from the Prophet Isaiah.

The second reading chosen for our liturgy today underlines the importance of any life by reminding us of what Christ did and the gift of his life and death for all people. The life of Der also had its influence on the lives of others. What impacts most is the way we live and interact with them. Der could not have lived and worked in Nigeria and particularly in the field of education without having a huge influence on the lives of many young people. In his parish pastoral ministry both in Nigeria and later in Ireland he was pastor and friend to many people of different backgrounds and ages. He served in the Diocese of Limerick for 18 years working in the parishes of Adare and Ardagh. Through his writing and as editor of our SMA magazine he reached many homes and people of all ages whom he never knew or met directly. This is evidence that the life of each one has its influence on the lives of others. Der Healy’s active ministry had its influence on very many people.

The years of Der’s retirement in our houses in Claregalway and Blackrock Road were different from those years of his work or ministry. But he was always a man who was kind, ready to help with advice, or make others welcome.   He was reserved, a man who knew his own mind, strong but gentle, respectful of others and a good and valued community member. His failing eyesight was a limitation and a challenge but he was not overwhelmed by it. He loved sport and his radio was ever at his side. He had a sense of humour which stood him in good stead. His family, his nieces and nephews will remember his many stories and his particular view of life and his sense of humour.

healy---john-tynanIf we are to know and follow the deep desire of the heart and fulfil the dream of God in our lives we surely need some help and guidance. This task cannot be accomplished alone! But we are not left to our own devices. Our loving and gracious God chose to accompany us in various ways at various different times to ensure that the goal would be achieved. We believe and celebrate in a special way during this time of Holy Week that God sent his Son, Jesus, who in turn promised to be for all the Way, the Truth and the Life.

John Tynan presents a lighted candle at the Offertory of the Mass, symbolising that through Baqptism, each of us is called to be a light to others.

Today our Gospel reading from Matthew reminds us of the clear, simple and attainable steps set out by Jesus in what we call the Beatitudes. Each one holds the promise of leading to happiness or the attainment of the deep desire of the human heart. In responding to our own vocations we are invited to follow these guidelines for good living. The call to be poor in spirit, to be gentle with others, to hunger for justice, to be merciful and forgiving, to suffer in the cause of right holds the promise of a place in the Kingdom of heaven. Der believed in these values and virtues and strove to live according to them. We now ask God to be merciful to him and grant him the promised blessings.

Hanging on the wall of Der’s room is a poem entitled, Sunset Sonnet. It was special to him. It seems to have moved with him over the years and so ended up in his room in Blackrock Road.

The last lines read:

“If thus to see thee veiled brings such delight
How wilt thou seem to our unclouded sight?”.

Der now knows the answer to this question and our prayer for him today is that he has seen face to face the One who alone can satisfy the deep desire of his heart”.

Ar dheis De go raibh a anam.

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