Fr Seán Kilbane SMA [RIP] – Funeral homily

Fr Seán Kilbane died on Good Shepherd Sunday, 3 May 2020, in the Cork University Hospital. His Funeral Mass and Burial took place on Tuesday, 5 May 2020, at St Joseph’s SMA Church, Wilton, Cork.
The SMA Provincial Leader, Fr Malachy Flanagan SMA, was the Celebrant of the Mass which was celebrated in line with government and diocesan regulations due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Fr Anthony Kelly SMA, Provincial Councillor, preached the Homily, an edited copy of which is presented below. After Mass, Fr Seán was laid to rest in the adjacent SMA community cemetery.

Responding to the Call of the Good Shepherd
Isaiah 25:6-9         1 Corinthians 15:20-26         John 10:11-17, 26-30

These are strange times indeed. I find it hard to believe that we are here celebrating the Funeral Mass of Fr Seán Kilbane. It is so sad for us, his SMA community, and for his family that we could not be with him in his final few days and hours as he answered the final call of his good friend the Good Shepherd.

Like Fr Malachy I too wish to extend my sincere sympathy to all of Fr Seán’s family. Sympathy to Seán’s brother, Fr Seamus in Hull, his sisters, Sr Genevieve in Athenry, to Sr Angelina in San Antonio. Texas, to Martha in Ballinasloe and Angela Brennan also to his brother-in-law Joe Brennan in Swords as well as to his niece Aoife. I take this opportunity to sympathize with and welcome his nephew Dónall and his wife Máirín who are with us here at Mass this afternoon. Seán slipped away very peacefully on Sunday last, Good Shepherd Sunday on this the 60th year of his priestly ordination with the SMA.

We see in today’s gospel Jesus, the Good Shepherd, attracting people to himself. Seán was also attracted by that call when he joined the Society of African Missions. And throughout his life he attracted so many people to follow Jesus.

In today’s gospel reading Jesus tells us that all who are attracted by him and who recognise his voice and believe his word are his. Over 66 years ago when Fr Seán answered the call to priesthood he responded to the voice of the Good Shepherd with faith and trust in him.  In 1954 when Seán began his studies for priesthood with the Society of African Missions he began an adventure with Jesus of mutual trust and love. As it tells us in verses 14 & 16, “I know them and they will hear my voice”. After his ordination in Newry in December 1960, Fr Seán went the following year to Nigeria where he ministered until 1974 in the diocese of Ondo and later when the diocese was divided Seán was asked to help the first bishop to help get the fledgling diocese of Ekiti up and running. There he followed in the footsteps of the Good Shepherd himself as he cared for his parishioners. In those days roads were rough and infrastructure was poor in comparison to today and going in and out to village outstations, building churches and schools took its toll on Seán so when he returned to Ireland in 1974 he was advised on medical grounds not to return to Africa until his health improved. 

The gospel reminds us that the Good Shepherd seeks out the stray and brings back the lost.  An example of his care and concern for the African people is seen from an incident that happened in early 1965 while serving in his parish of Okitipupa. Seán showed his prowess as a swimmer when he noticed 3 African lads who were swimming in the local river who had got into difficulties and were being carried downstream into a whirlpool. Seán threw off his clothes, jumped in and saved them from drowning.

Seán loved coming home to his native Mountbellew when on holidays from Nigeria in the 60’s and 70’s and enjoyed attending the football games with the local community. Being a good footballer himself he was happy to see his native Mountbellew win back to back County championships and he also celebrated his native Galway winning the three-in-a row in 1966.

In 1974 Seán returned to Ireland to do Sabbatical studies in the SMA House, Maynooth, where I was a student. That was my first time to meet him and get to know him. My earliest memory of him was that he was a man of kindness and a man who was very helpful and obliging. Several times he would offer me a lift home if he was going to the west to visit his family in Mountbellew.

During that year, an aunt of mine was dying in the Portiuncula hospital in Ballinasloe. When Seán heard about it he offered me a lift and he did not just drop me off in Ballinasloe but came with me to the ward and gave my aunt his blessing and the Anointing of the Sick before she passed away. So last December I was happy to return the favour when Fr Seán went to Mountbellew (we never realised it would be his last visit home) as he had by then given up driving himself. As always, he entertained us on our journey with lots of stories and anecdotes.

Seán also enjoyed a good party and entertainment. He celebrated his various jubilees with the people of his parishes and attended so many celebrations when he was on sabbatical. The first reading reminds us today of a great banquet in heaven where Seán is now enjoying the new life with the Lord in the company of his late parents May and Seán and his sister Maureen and his infant brother Michael. We can expect that Seán is surveying the scene and enjoying a good laugh with all of his loved ones who have gone before us. Seán can truly be experiencing what we are told in the last line of today’s first reading as he meets the risen lord “this is the Lord for whom we have waited, let us be glad and rejoice in our salvation.” For all of us left behind here on this earth that gives us hope that we too can look forward to that great banquet when we too answer the call of our Good Shepherd.

Today’s second reading also gives us hope as we reflect on the words of St Paul who reminds us that because Christ has been raised from the dead our future is now safe and secure with the Lord for eternity.

Seán had a great sense of humour and even in the seminary he was known to write sketches and poems about his professors.  This continued when he was in Nigeria and during his sabbatical in Maynooth. He was constantly playing tricks on his classmates, writing sketches and being on stage performing funny theatricals. Some of his former parishioners from Moore and Menlough also spoke of his great sense of humour and how they would nearly always leave the church after Sunday Mass with a smile on their faces.

Seán not only responded to the call of the Good Shepherd by becoming a missionary priest with the SMA he also imitated and lived out the life of the Good Shepherd by giving such sterling service to the people of Africa and Tuam Archdiocese.

As we hear in today’s gospel there were two kinds of shepherds, the hired one who abandons the flock or the one who gives his life for the flock. Seán spent over 40 years ministering and imitating the caring style of the Good Shepherd in Tuam Archdiocese ministering in Tullycross in Connemara, Kilmeena near Westport, in Skehana / Menlough and finally in Moore / Clonfad parish. 

In all those places he enjoyed the pastoral work and served his people with joy and happiness. In his ministry he introduced many new ideas. He also had a very good relationship with the clergy and religious of the Archdiocese. It was while sheltering from a rain shower on a Golf course that he first met the late Archbishop Joseph Cunnane who invited him to minister in the Archdiocese of Tuam. He enjoyed his pastoral ministry as he visited people in their homes, in schools, in nursing homes and in hospital, and got on well with people.

Some of his former parishioners told me he always had great time for people and was also a good man with the few words, keeping it short and to the point. He was very popular with young and old. So many would be here today attending his Funeral Mass but due to the restrictions are unable to do so.  The many many beautiful tributes which are posted on the condolences page are a great testament to Fr Seán being a truly good shepherd of his people. They are a reflection of a great and well-liked priest who was loved and cherished by all he came in contact with.

On behalf of Sean’s family and on behalf of our SMA family I would like to say a sincere thank you to all who sent in messages of sympathy.

There are many messages of sympathy from Tullycross, Kilmeena, Skehana/ Menlough and Moore / Clonfad and many parts of Ireland, as well as some from as far away as Venezuela. There is one in particular which I would like to quote which sums up how Fr Seán is missed. And I quote “Fr Seán we cannot gather to give you the send-off you deserve, but you can be sure we will always remember you.”

As Fr Seán liked to write poetry about people I would like to end with a short prayer of Blessed John Henry Newman which beautifully expresses what people have been saying about Fr Seán ‘Ogie’ Kilbane and sums up what he did during his life.

Dear Jesus, help me to spread your fragrance everywhere I go
Flood my soul with your Spirit and Life.
Penetrate and possess my whole being utterly
that all my life may be only a fragrance of yours.
Shine through me and be so in me
that every person I come in contact with
will feel Your Presence in me.
Let them look up to see
Not only me, but also you, Jesus.
Amen.