Fr John Dunleavy SMA – Funeral homily

Fr John Dunleavy, SMA, died on Friday, 14 April 2023 in the St Theresa’s Nursing Unit, African Missions, Blackrock Road, Cork. He was 86 years of age.
His Funeral Mass took place in the Church of Our Lady of Knock, Lackagh, Turloughmore, Co Galway, at 12 noon on Monday, 17 April 2023, followed by burial with his parents in Lackagh Old cemetery.
The SMA Provincial Leader, Fr Malachy Flanagan SMA was the Principal celebrant assisted by Fr Anthony Kelly SMA [Provincial Councillor] and Fr Bernie Shaughnessy, Coolarne, Turloughmore. A number of Fr John’s confreres and diocesan clergy [from Galway and Tuam] also concelebrated the Mass.
Fr John O’Gorman, Parish Priest of Lackagh, received Fr John’s remains into the Church on Sunday evening and was the MC for the Funeral Mass. Mary O’Brien was the Soloist and Paula Forde played the organ.
Canon Stephen Farragher, Parish Priest of Ballyhaunis, [representing the Archbishop of Tuam, Most Rev Francis Duffy] recited the Prayers of Final Commendation. Fr Shaughnessy blessed the coffin with Holy Water and Canon Ian O’Neill, Parish Priest of Claregalway [where Fr John lived in the SMA House for 12 years] incensed the coffin before its removal to the cemetery.

The following is an edited version of Fr Kelly’s homily at the Funeral Mass.

By way of introduction I am a Kiltormer man and have good memories of visiting Turloughmore from the hurling encounters we had with you even though I would often go home with a few bruises. John Dunleavy was a very proud Turloughmore man and like most Turlough men he knew how to hurl. One of his classmates described him as a very skilful hurler and might have been attracted to join SMA because of another famous Galway hurler Fr Paddy Gantly, SMA. I’m told that both of them got along well.

John Dunleavy, a missionary Priest with the Society of African Missions, passed away last Friday rather suddenly. As I heard the news while driving towards Newry I felt it was a happy release for John as he was finding life difficult over the past few months … not least for having to come to Cork. But today we celebrate his life and he is now gone to enjoy his eternal reward joining his parents, three sisters and four brothers to enjoy Eternal Happiness with the Risen Lord.

I thought what a wonderful time to die when we are still celebrating the Resurrection, a week after Good Friday when the Lord himself gave up his own life on the Cross for our salvation

As we see from today’s Gospel it tells us the Lord himself, gave up his life for our salvation. It tells us “Father into your hands I commend my spirit, having said this he breathed his last”  

I only got to know John in recent years in his retirement and I got to know him a little bit better since he came to Cork where he struggled with health issues, especially his breathing. He would be out of breath after walking only a very short distance and that was very frustrating for the big strong man that he was in the past. But, he would ask in the same breath, ‘would you have a cigarette?’ When John took his final breath last Friday I was reminded of today’s Gospel, with our Lord himself breathing his Last breath out of Love for us, for you and me, and for Fr John Dunleavy. John is now in the loving Arms of our Saviour Jesus Christ, along with his parents and his siblings and so many of his fellow missionaries and former parishioner’s.

That sentence in the Gospel today – of the Lord giving up his spirit for our sakes – as he went through his Passion and on to His Resurrection was a reminder of how passionate too was John Dunleavy.

He was passionate about his priesthood and yesterday evening at his removal to this Church we could see in the beautiful liturgy the Chalice, the Stole and the Book of the Gospels placed on his coffin – these encapsulate the things he was most passionate about, and we see evidence of that from the many wonderful tributes and messages of condolences from his former parishioners. John celebrated sixty years of Missionary priesthood with the SMA last December. He began that missionary journey in Nigeria where he was appointed to the MidWest Region, arriving there in October 1963 where he served with my uncle, in the Diocese of Benin City. John was posted to Asaba, a large sprawling parish – about half the size of this county of Galway. There he did the usual missionary work: travelling around to the many towns and villages offering the sacraments, visiting the sick and preparing candidates for the sacraments.  After three years he came home on leave and on his return the Biafran war had broken out. This was a very difficult time for John and for all missionaries in Nigeria at the time. Many were scarred and affected by that war and some had to leave. John returned to Ireland in 1968. He later spent nearly 20 great years in Massachusetts, USA [Springfield diocese and the Archdiocese of Boston] where he enjoyed his priestly ministry, making lifelong friends. Among the people he was very well liked and appreciated. Many messages of condolence are a testimony to that.

When he returned Ireland in 1989, he continued his ministry in Killaloe, Elphin and Galway dioceses before settling into Tuam Archdiocese for sixteen years, spending most of them in Ballyconneely where he was very well liked for his witty sermons and for his compassion and care of the people. Some of my friends who attended his Masses while on holidays in Connemara would have described him as very witty and down to earth.

We all know he was passionate about hurling and would not give an inch to the Cork SMA’s whenever they argued about hurling. In one of the condolence messages a former opponent remembers John from a Colleges Final going back to 1956 and described him as a worthy opponent, a sweet hurler, and a lovely lad.  The message continued to say small wonder he went on to become an outstanding priest on the Missions and doing untold good wherever he ministered.

When I’d visit him in Cork we often spoke of hurling. I asked him, “John were you much good?” He looked at me and said ‘Well I’d fill a space in the backs but not too many would get past me because I would stand my ground’. I think that same attitude would have summed up John’s life. He always stood his ground. A very recent example of it was when he was going into hospital in Galway he asked for a cigarette. “I want a fag and I’m not getting into that ambulance until I have a smoke.” So his nephew Patrick had to run and fetch his cigarettes and he smoked away there on the ramp of the ambulance while everyone waited in the cold. So definitely as he said himself he would hold his ground. Yes, he was an accomplished hurler. When he was in the Seminary like most Turlough men he would be inclined to pull fairly hard which led to his Superior telling him to take it easy as most fellows in the Seminary were not from such hurling strongholds as Turloughmore.

Today’s readings give us all encouragement.

The first reading from St Paul to the Corinthians encapsulates the type of priest John was. He had no airs and graces but lived a simple life and was down to earth in his preaching. Through his Faith, he looked forward to this day as described in the last line of the first Reading, “eye has not seen, ear has not heard nor has it so much dawned on anyone what God has prepared for those who love God.’ We know from his life as a priest and as a missionary that John was passionate too about his Love for God.

The Second reading from St Paul to Timothy could be applied equally to Fr John: he fought the good fight, he has finished the race and he kept the Faith. And we know too that John will inherit the crown of Righteousness which the Just Judge has reserved for him.

As I referred earlier to the Gospel we all look forward to our own Resurrection when one day we will be reunited with John. Into your hands, O Lord, we commend the spirit of John Dunleavy. May he now rest in Peace with the Risen Lord.

Since I began this homily with a reference to Turloughmore and hurling I would like to end with a Hurlers prayer.

Grant me O Lord a Hurler’s Skill,
    with Strength of arm and speed of limb,
Unerring eye for the flying ball,
    and courage to match what-eer befall,
May my stroke be steady,
    and my aim be true,
My actions manly and my misses few,
    No matter what way the game may go,
May I rest in friendship with every foe,
    when the final whistle for me has blown,
And I stand at last before God’s judgement throne,
    may the great referee, when he calls my name,
Say, you hurled like a man,
    you played the game.

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