Fr John McCreanor SMA
Funeral Homily – 01 March 2007
(Preached by Fr Fachtna O’Driscoll SMA, Provincial Superior at the Parish Church, Ballinahinch, Co Dwon)
1 Cor 15:51-57
Luke 23:44-46,50,52-53; 24:1-6
Dietrich Bonhoeffer has been quoted as saying “we must learn to regard people less in the light of what they do or omit to do, and more in the light of what they suffer.” The last decade or so of Fr John McCreanor’s 87 years of life was lived with the sign of suffering. Now his suffering is finally over. In the early hours of last Tuesday morning John yielded up his spirit and breathed his last.
We gather to give thanks; to celebrate a life lived well, even in the latter years of infirmity and dementia, and to renew our faith and our hope. John has been released from the prison of body infirmity and will reclaim that body, then a glorious resurrected body, on the last day. John’s death, no more than any death, is not the conclusion of a life well lived. Rather it is the beginning of a new state of life. In the gospel passage this afternoon the terrified women are told “why look among the dead for someone who is alive? He is not here, he has risen”. We believe that through the resurrection of Jesus John continues to be alive in the presence of God.
We Christians have been graced with a priceless knowledge, the knowledge of faith. We believe that God raised Jesus from the dead. Jesus passed from death to new life. The resurrection of Jesus means the death of death. We heard how St Paul put it when writing to the Corinthians, “death is swallowed up in victory” He challenges death “where is your victory? where is your sting?”. Resurrection means that death is not the end any more. It means that our destiny is life. So when we die we do not pass from life to death. Rather we pass from life to life. Death is that extraordinary moment when the Christ who is life can finally take me to himself for ever, when God and I can never, ever, be separated from one another. That is what it means for a Christian to die. That is what it meant for John.
The fact that John reached the good age of 87 years does not mean that there is any less mourning for his death. Sure it is not the tragedy of a young person dying. And there is a real sense that he has completed his earthly journey. But to his friends in family, in the SMA and in a wider circle his passing is tinged with tears. It was very touching how the care staff of our house in Blackrock in Cork reacted when they got word that John had died. The young carers particularly wept copiously. It was remarkable how deep an impact John had made in their lives over the course of the last 30 months or so. Though to all external measurements his powers of communication seemed limited in the extreme they had known in him a warmth of character and a genuineness of spirit that was hugely attractive.
His nieces and nephews too will feel this acute loss. That is why our opening reading this afternoon is pertinent. “The Lord will remove the mourning veil covering all peoples; he will wipe away the tears from every cheek; for the Lord has said so; this is our God, this is the one in whom we hoped for salvation” It is important at this time to rely on this faith. John himself believed this with utter conviction and he dedicated his life to sharing this belief with others.
John was born here in this parish at Magheratimpany, Ballynahinch on 13 February 1920. He was the eighth of nine children and was the last survivor of his immediate family. John received his primary education at Drumaness, Ballyhinch and his secondary schooling at the local Commercial Technical School. He was what was termed a â€˜late vocation’ and at the age of 23 he attended SMA College, Ballinafad, Co Mayo. He was much influenced by his sister, Kathleen, who entered religious life and served as a missionary in South Africa all of her life. As a young boy John got his first copy of the African Missionary magazine from his local curate Fr Brannigan and was much impressed by the life story of Fr Eamonn Murphy within. Fr Bill Fegan SMA was a friend of the family and used to visit them when he was on holidays from Africa. After Ballinfad he continued in the SMA Colleges of Cloughballymore, Co Galway and Dromantine College, Newry. From there he was ordained to the priesthood in June 1950.
John’s first missionary assignment was to Lagos, Nigeria in December 1950. He learned the Yoruba language of the local people of that area while understudying in the parish of Lafiagi. The first Mass he celebrated in Lagos was served by a young boy called Anthony Okogie. One day in 1998 at the SMA house in Crosby, Liverpool, John had the privilege of serving the Mass of the same Anthony Okogie who by then had already served for over twenty-five years as Archbishop of Lagos. He has since been made a Cardinal of the Church.
In 1951 he was posted up to the city of Ibadan where he was to minister in the parishes of Ogumpa, Oke-Offa and Oke Ado. Here he was also involved in a school building programme and wrote a type of Newsletter for the diocese under the instruction of the Bishop. His time in Ibadan was interrupted by a short spell in Ghana on a Community Development Course sponsored by UNESCO.
Bishop Finn sent him home for a rest in 1959 and it was while he was at home that he received an assignment to help the new British arm of the SMA by joining the staff of the newly opened seminary at Dutton Manor. Initially this appointment was to be for a two year period with the possibility of more permanence should it meet his own and others expectations. The fact that over forty years later John was still working conscientiously and with extraordinary dedication in support of the British unit is testimony that it was indeed a win-win situation for all.
Indeed, for a huge number of supporters of the SMA in Britain John became for many years the â€˜face’ of the SMA. Not just through a promotion of the missions but through a pastoral outreach to literally thousands of supporters through the length and breath of the Province. He knew them personally and his little valise was better than any computer. We spend hours these days discussing and constructing databases. John had a database in that little valise and, indeed, much of it was contained in his very brain. He was meticulous in attention to detail, contacting promoters, all of whom in a sense had become friends, at the most acute and sensitive moments of their lives. Such pastoral attention and devotion was hugely appreciated. And the mission of SMA was more than repaid through the generosity of these supporters who responded in kind.
John spent little of the resources he gathered for SMA on himself. He lived a frugal lifestyle, very abstemious himself but yet a great host. He combined a natural aptitude for horticulture and husbandry with a desire to be as self-sufficient as he could be. He was a man truly in touch and in tune with nature. His training in horticulture before joining SMA was to serve him in good stead when he lived at Moor Lane, Liverpool where his garden became a wonderful source of fresh vegetables nurtured by his very own â€˜green fingers’.
If he was frugal in life-style he was certainly not frugal in laughter or interests. He enjoyed a good joke, had a kind of dry wit and had a â€˜drop dead’ gorgeous smile. He must have been quite a hit with the ladies in his younger days. The smile remained to the end. Even as increasing dementia dulled the reflexes of body and mind he continued to show on occasion a glimpse of that wonderful smile, a true expression of the John that was. John was also something of a wordsmith. This is what enabled him to publish a regular newsletter for his supporters but it also manifested itself in a keen interest in crossword puzzles. He enjoyed nothing better than the challenge of the most difficult crossword puzzle.
When one rehearses these different qualities of John McCreanor and the generous response to the call of the Lord to ministerial priesthood, there is a danger that one could fall into the trap of believing it was such a response that earned him salvation. Nothing could be further from the truth. Salvation is never earned; it can only be received. John’s generosity was a response to God’s fidelity. But just like you and me and the whole of humanity he too is saved only through the free gift of God in the passion, death and resurrection of his son, Jesus Christ. John’s response should serve as an inspiration to us to try to respond with the same level of generosity as we grow deeper and deeper in our appreciation of God’s incredible fidelity to us.
So, we bid farewell to an uncle, a confrere, a neighbour, a friend. He has done well; he has fought the good fight and run the race.
Ar dheis lÃ¡mh DÃ© go raibh a anam dÃlis.