Funeral Homily for the late Fr Valentine [Val] Hynes, SMA

Fr Val Hynes, SMA, [late of Skehanagh Upper, Ballintubber, Co Mayo], died peacefully on the afternoon of Friday, 15 March 2024, at St Theresa’s Nursing Unit, African Missions, Blackrock Road, Cork.  At his request, his Funeral Mass and burial took place in Ballintubber Abbey, Co Mayo, at 2pm on Tuesday, 19 March, Feast of St Joseph. The Principal Celebrant was Fr Malachy Flanagan SMA, Irish Provincial Leader, assisted by 25 SMA and diocesan clergy. The Archbishop-emeritus of Tuam, Most Rev Michael Neary, DD, presided. The homily was preached by the Irish Vice Provincial Leader, Fr Eamonn Finnegan SMA.

Isaiah 25: 6 – 10 [On this mountain the Lord will prepare a banquet…]
2 Timothy 4: 6 – 8 [I have run the race to the finish…]
Luke 24: 13 – 35 [the disciples encounter Jesus on the road to Emmaus]

The following is an edited version of Fr Finnegan’s homily.

It is a great privilege for me to share a few thoughts at the funeral of Fr Valentine (Val) Hynes.  I really got to know Fr Val properly when I returned to work in the Archdiocese of Lagos in 2008. At that time, he was the Leader of the SMA House in Obanikoro, Lagos, and I was the parish priest in Our Lady Mother of Perpetual Help parish, Ajah.  The SMA house was a house of hospitality.  Missionaries going home on leave or returning to Nigeria would spend a night or two in Obanikoro. Val was the perfect host. Some years later we lived together in the SMA Zimmermann House, Claregalway. And when Val transferred to St Theresa’s Nursing unit in Blackrock Road, Cork, I was living next door in the Provincial house.

Fr Val died last Friday, St Patrick’s weekend, and today we are laying him to rest on the feast of St Joseph.  Like St Patrick, Val heard the voice of God calling him to leave his own family and country and go to another land to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ.

And like St Joseph, the quiet man of the bible, who worked so hard looking after Mary and Jesus, Val worked very hard for over 40 years building up the Kingdom of God in the different parishes of Ondo diocese, Nigeria. He was recognised by his fellow priests, both SMA and others as well as the people themselves, as a great builder of churches.

Val always had a very special relationship with his parishioners and with the African clergy, many of whom he helped on the road to priesthood. We have received several messages of sympathy from several priests from Ondo diocese.

Visiting Val was always a pleasure. He was a gentle giant of a man. A man of great kindness and compassion. As soon as you arrived in Val’s house, the first thing he handed you was a bottle of Star beer, which was always appreciated after travelling a long distance in the heat of the day.

Two topics that always came up in conversation were the GAA and politics. Val, in his younger days, was an excellent footballer. He is remembered here in Ballintubber as a strong rugged player – a no nonsense forward with a touch of real class.  He kept in touch with the political scene at home. For Val there was only one political party that was doing anything for the people.  I won’t mention the name of that party here, just suffice to say that in those years, the leader was a Mayo man.

In the reading from the prophet Isaiah we get a glimpse of what heaven is like. Isaiah says that on the sacred mountain there will be a banquet for all the people, a banquet with rich food and fine wines. There will be no more mourning, and death will be destroyed forever. What a beautiful vision of heaven! I believe that Fr Val is now enjoying the sacred banquet with his many friends who have gone before him.

Val Hynes loved Balllintubber Abbey. I remember one night in Lagos, he told me that he was blessed to come from that part of Mayo where St Patrick walked; where our Lady, St Joseph and St John the Evangelist appeared with the Lamb of God on the wall in Knock

A few days ago, I looked up the parishes in Ondo diocese and I found that eleven parishes were named after Our Lady, others were named after St Joseph and St Patrick and there was one parish called St John the Evangelist. These names did not surprise me. Many SMAs who worked in that part of Nigeria came from this very county of Mayo. One of them was the late Bishop Thomas Hughes SMA, the first Vicar Apostolic of Ondo-Ilorin, who came from Hollymount, just a few miles from here.

In our Gospel today, we have the lovely story of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. It was just after the death of Christ. They were expecting great things from Jesus and they were so disappointed that nothing seems to be happening that they decided to return to their home place. It was on the road that Jesus joined them and explained the Scriptures to them and it was in the breaking of the bread that they recognised him. Fr Val spent all his life reading and teaching the scriptures and celebrating the Eucharist for his people. It was from the scriptures and the Eucharist that he got his own spiritual nourishment and he wanted everyone to encounter Jesus like the two disciples.

I could share many stories with you about Val. I will just tell you one.  Val came regularly to my parish to help with confessions, baptisms and weddings.  As there were so many couples getting married every year, I organised ‘group weddings’.  This particular Saturday, there were 32 couples to be wed. Many of them had to be baptised and confirmed before their wedding. I asked Fr Val to come and help me. We got the 32 couples lined up in the church with their official witnesses behind them. Val started at one end and I started at the other end. After a few couples were married I heard a bit of commotion at Val’s end.  The catechist came up to me. I asked him what was the problem. He replied, “one couple has forgotten to bring the rings and the man wanted to go home and fetch them.” I said to the catechist, “don’t worry, Fr Val is a very experienced priest and he will sort it out.” I then saw Val walking away from the couple and walking towards the first couple that was married. “Fatima”, he said to her, “I need your ring”. “Ah Father”, she said, “I can’t give you my ring as it is now blessed.” “Don’t worry”, Fr Val replied, “I only want to borrow it for ten minutes and then I will bring it back to you.” Reluctantly, she handed over the ring and Val went back to the other couple and performed the marriage ceremony. At the end of the wedding ceremony, he said, “now give me back the ring” and then told the husband, “when the Mass is over you go back home and bring your wedding rings and I will bless them.” The couple were saved from embarrassment that day.

These last few years have not been easy for Val. He faced his illness with fortitude and gentleness, never complaining. He was loved by the staff of our St Theresa’s Nursing unit in Blackrock Road.

Finally, in St Paul’s letter to his friend Timothy, Paul says, “I have fought the good fight to the end. I have run the race to the finish. I have kept the faith.”  We can apply these words to Fr Val Hynes and we can also say that not only did he keep the faith, he taught it to thousands of other people in Nigeria.

May his gentle soul rest in perfect peace.

Eamonn Finnegan, SMA

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