Fr Richard [Rickie] Devine SMA
Funeral Homily – Keash – 14/6/2005
(Preached by Fr Fachtna O’Driscoll SMA, Provincial Superior)
Wisdom 11:22 – 12:1
John 11: 19-27
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.” Fr Rickie Devineâ€™s life was blessed with many deeds. We will reflect on some of them in the course of this homily. But we remember also that the final years of his life were marked with the sign of suffering. He bore his suffering nobly and well. For a big powerful man the gradual weakening of his body and mind cannot have been easy to accept. His suffering is now finally over. He died peacefully, surrounded by the loving care of his own family and his family in the SMA, on Saturday afternoon last, at Blackrock Road, Cork.
So, we gather here this morning to celebrate a life well lived. Our opening reading from the Book of Wisdom sets the proper tone for our celebration. “For you love all things that exist, and detest none of the things that you have made. For you would not have made anything if you had hated it”. Rickie Devine, like all of us, was loved into existence by God. Whatever his achievements may have been they would not have endured had God not willed it. So, our first task is to give thanks to God for Rickieâ€™s faith and fidelity to priesthood. And we now pray him home into the God he tried to serve faithfully all his life. And we do so with great confidence. Because our Christian faith assures us that at death life is changed, not ended. We will reaffirm this faith in the Preface for this Mass that we will pray in a short while. Our confidence is based not on an idle hope but on the very word of Jesus himself as we hear it this morning from his own lips.
Our gospel passage today gives us that wonderful encounter between Jesus and Martha. On the human level, I believe, each of us can identify with Marthaâ€™s disappointment. She had put her hope in Jesus but his late arrival had now meant that her brother, Lazarus, was already dead. But Jesus says to her in his gentle but reassuring way “it is not too late. In Christ it is never too late because I am the resurrection and the life. If anyone believes in me, even though he dies he will live, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die”. He then goes on to ask a very simple but very crucial question “Do you believe this?” That same question is being asked of each one of us present in this church this morning. Do you believe this?
Rickie Devine gave his own very clear and unambiguous answer to that question. His answer was, yes, I do believe. And not only did he believe that himself but he devoted his entire life to sharing that belief with others in his almost fifty years of priesthood with the SMA, thirty-seven of those years spent in Nigeria, West Africa.
Rickie Devine was born on August 14th, 1931, the eldest of a family of seven children, here in this parish of Keash, which he always spoke of with such great affection. He did his secondary school studies in Summerhill College, Sligo before beginning his journey to priesthood in the SMA by attending St Josephâ€™s SMA College, Wilton, Cork. He then went on to Kilcolgan in Galway before finally completing his studies at Dromantine College, Newry, Co Down from where he was ordained to the priesthood in 1957. The guts of the next thirty-seven years were spent in various dioceses in Nigeria before ill-health necessitated his return to Ireland where he was to serve in the diocese of Elphin for two years before coming to reside at the SMA houses of Claregalway and Blackrock Road, Cork.
But before I begin to discuss his priestly service in the SMA I think it is very important that I set it in its proper context. There is a danger in any funeral homily, and, perhaps, especially at the homily for a priest when one records their contribution to furthering Godâ€™s kingdom, that one might give the impression that it was this work, on behalf of God if you like, that earned them salvation. Nothing could be further from the truth. This needs to be stated forcefully.
Thatâ€™s why I chose today for our second reading that beautiful passage from St Paulâ€™s letter to Titus. Paul states it very boldly, “it was not because of any good deeds that we ourselves had done, but because of his own mercy that he saved usâ€¦ and he goes on to say “God poured out the Holy Spirit abundantly on us through Jesus Christ our Saviour, so that by his grace we might be put right with God and come into possession of the eternal life we hope for.” In other words, salvation cannot be bought, it cannot be earned. It is an entirely free gift, given out of Godâ€™s infinite mercy. Rickie was not saved through anything he did, no matter how many Masses he celebrated throughout his life. He, like every woman and man on the face of the globe, is saved only through the gift of God brought about in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
So, given that understanding as background, it is now appropriate to reflect a little on Rickieâ€™s life. The first thing to be said is that he had a great affection for his home parish of Keash. Many is the time I heard him myself in Nigeria telling with pride the various doings of the characters around this place. I suppose, then, it is appropriate that he be buried here among his own people. I understand that the Devine name goes back here for a number of centuries, and that there is quite a collection of priests and religious coming from this place. Rickie developed his love of sports here. As a student in the SMA he was a noted athlete and footballer. Tom told me the other day that he would often cycle with Rickie perhaps thirty miles to a Connaught sports meeting where Rickie would promptly win all the four sprint races of the day, 110yds, 220, 440 and 880. Rickie developed his love of boxing here, a love he was to transfer to his time in Nigeria. He was a good servant too of the local football club. I gather that even as a priest, while home at one time on a short stint on promotion work down in Tipperary, he would regularly return here to Keash to play for the footballers. Tom also shared with me a story of a memorable occasion during those days when in a rather heated match against the neighbours of Gurteen when some of the Gurteen players were the worst for wear Rickie consoled their mentors by assuring them that he would anoint all the injured players immediately after the match.
That incident reveals a man of great wit. His wit and quick repartee came through on so many occasions. For such a big man he always had a warm handshake and a rather impish smile as if to suggest that there was always some fun lurking in the background. When I myself was first assigned to the diocese of Ekiti in Nigeria in 1979 Rickie Devine was already an established institution in that place. He was a powerfully big man, with a big physique, big heart and big character. He was renowned as a builder. He built churches, schools, at least four hospitals, clinics etc. And he always built big. One of his proudest achievements was a church he built in a parish outstation that was two foot longer than the cathedral church of the neighbouring diocese. He developed a very effective rapport with the African people who loved him dearly. Some times he might raise his voice but at the end of the day they always knew that he was totally on their side. His ready wit came to the fore there too. I remember one memorable occasion we were gathered with Bishop Fagun as the Senate of priests of Ekiti diocese. At the time the bishop was attempting to establish some guidelines for the priests as regards our lifestyle, how much food and drink we should take and so on. Rickie was known for the fact that he had a certain capacity to drink beer. When the discussion turned to this issue one of the local priests said “I think two beers a day is sufficient for a priest, my Lord” and Rickie retorted immediately, “he means before breakfast, my Lord”. You can imagine that not much more work was achieved at that particular meeting.
Rickieâ€™s service to the people was much appreciated. He was honoured in two towns with chieftancy titles. He founded football teams and boxing clubs in many of his parishes. He contributed to a multi-cultural Ireland long before the advent of the Celtic Tiger or such topics were being discussed when he brought over a Nigerian player by name of Ojo to play for Sligo Rovers. After twenty-five years service in Ekiti he transferred up to the new capital at Abuja. Here he was to work in close cooperation with Cardinal Ekandem in supervising the construction of a Pastoral Centre and a whole new missionary seminary for the Society of St Paul, an indigenous Nigerian missionary congregation. All in all, his contribution to the growth of the church in Nigeria was truly immense.
Rickie has now gone from us, gone to that home constructed not with cement or mud block but with love. We will certainly miss him: his wit, his humour, his favourite phrases such as “that terrible fellow” or “that super jack” or “to speak the fact”, his characteristic sitting style from where he would pontificate on many topics. He has gone home to the Lord he tried to serve through the gifts given him. Our prayer is that we too will join him one day in the full fellowship of Godâ€™s kingdom.
Ar dheis lamh De go raibh a anam dilis.