Fr John Hannon SMA

The following is the text of the homily preached by Fr Fachtna O’Driscoll SMA, Provincial Superior of the Irish Province of SMA, at the Memorial Mass for the late Fr John Hannon SMA. The Mass was celebrated in the Church of Our Lady of the Rosary on Sunday, 6 November, 2005. It was part of the Mission Alive programme organised by the Irish Missionary Union this year to commemorate Irish missionaries who died when on active servie in mission lands. Fr John Hannon SMA was killed in Kenya on 25 November 2004.

Fr Fachtna O'Driscoll SMA, Provincial SuperiorHomily (6 November 2005)

Last Sunday, we had a Mass at Mount Argus in Dublin to honour all Irish missionaries who had died abroad in witness to the faith. Families and parishioners from all corners of Ireland gathered for this Mass. Newmarket-on-Fergus was well represented there.

Archbishop Sean Brady of Armagh, Primate of All Ireland, in his homily spoke in very striking terms of the contribution of Irish missionaries down the centuries. He mentioned how at the recent Synod of Bishops in Rome many bishops from far-off countries came up to him to say they wished to thank the Irish people through him for the valiant work of Irish missionaries in their countries. There is hardly a corner of the globe that has been untouched by Irish missionaries.

John Hannon was one such missionary. It is important to keep in mind that John did not grow up in a vacuum. He grew up in the Hannon family in this community of Newmarket-on-Fergus. What he learned here through school and socialising had a huge impact on the kind of person he became. All that he shared with the people of Africa, whether in Lagos or Nairobi, is in some way part of the story of all of you. John was formed here: so what he became was part of what you are. Through John’s mission, places with strange sounding names like Igege in Nigeria or Ngong in Kenya will forever be connected to Newmarket-on-Fergus.

And believe me the sharing was not all one way. Any missionary will tell you, and John was no exception, we receive a lot more than we can ever give. Perhaps we can bring more on the material level, but we receive gifts unmeasurable on other levels. Perhaps, what we missionaries have fallen down on is to share with the church here at home the richness of the faith and cultural expression of peoples very different to ourselves. I believe that is one area we missionaries can improve on in order to bring a new freshness to the church here in Ireland, a freshness that could be most valuable in these difficult times.

The focus of the Mission Alive programme this year has not been on the death of missionaries as such but more on the witness of their lives. We look to their lives in order to be inspired and renewed in our own faith journey. On the question of death, our Mass this morning gives us a very striking passage from St Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians. Paul reminds us that we must not be people without hope. Just as Jesus himself rose from the dead we believe that he will bring with him those who have died in his name. We believe that of all our brothers and sisters who have died in Christ. For the missionaries who have died we believe that in a way the blood that they have shed becomes a kind of fertilizer to our faith today. That is already happening in this parish.

About one month ago I had the great pleasure of accompanying Fr Tony to the four primary schools in this parish. I spoke a little bit about mission and the life of Fr John Hannon. And I gave each class a project to carry out for me. I know many of those pupils are at Mass here today. I must say their projects far surpassed my expectations. Just look around you.

  • The Map of the World and John’s Mission
  • The names of all missionaries from this parish
  • The Map of Africa
  • The Map of South America. That map is special too because it represents the continent where Fr Tony will go on mission early next year when he commits himself for six years in the country of Peru.

Don’t you think the pupils have done an excellent job? Let’s give them a well deserved ‘Bualadh Bos’

One group I want to focus on for a moment is the Apostolic Workers. These are in many ways the unspoken heroes of mission. They do a fantastic job of prayer and support in the background. I want to tell you this morning that you are very much appreciated. Without your assistance a lot of what missionaries achieve would just not be possible. I know there is an active group in this parish and it is fitting that you will present a Mass vestment at the presentation of gifts.

What the life of someone like John Hannon and these other missionaries from your parish teaches us is that we should never become complacent or lackadaisical about our faith. John’s whole ministry was devoted to the poor, the underdog, the marginalised, the disempowered, the powerless. His work should surely inspire us to work towards alleviating the various injustices in our world today.

The last ten days or so in Ireland has taught us that as Church we have much to repent of, much to change in the very culture of how we do things, much to be sorry for and change in the way we treat the most vulnerable of Christ’s body. Society itself has many lessons to learn in this area also. The biggest lesson to learn is to be vigilant. Such things as child abuse and other forms of abuse happen when we become complacent whether about faith or life itself. The institutional Church became complacent and arrogant because it felt it had all the answers. But we can all become complacent, especially in times when things on the material level seem to be going very well.

The lesson of vigilance is brought home to us in this morning’s gospel. Here we have the rather strange parable of the wise and foolish virgins. There are incongruities in this story that run very counter to the Christian ethic of generosity. But this parable is not about sharing but about preparation. It is about being ready.

Here in this parish of Newmarket-on-Fergus what better way could this Christian community get ready than to look again at the lives of the missionaries sent out from this parish. When looking at their lives you can become inspired by their persevering commitment to the poor, the marginalised and the powerless to find within yourselves a response to tackle the injustices of the society in which you live today. The gospel you live can really be Good News to the poor.
In that way your mission will truly be Alive. And the Witnesses of Faith will have left a legacy that can never be tarnished.

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