Fr Robert Molloy SMA
Funeral Homily – 11 April 2005
(Preached by Fr Fachtna O’Driscoll SMA, Provincial Superior)
Wisdom 7: 7-11
2 Peter 3: 8-14
John 6: 35-40
The beautifully solemn and dignified funeral ceremony of the late Pope John Paul II on Friday last was a reminder to all of us of the dignity of life, the dignity of death and the hope that Christians carry that death is not the end of dignity but the beginning of a new stage of greater dignity where life is lived in the greater fullness of Godâ€™s presence. Bob Molloy lived 92 years of life with great dignity. He died, as he lived, peacefully and quietly on the very morning that the leader of his church was buried, a church he served faithfully, diligently and with an admirable dignity all his life.
Mircea Eliade, the anthropologist, once said: “No community should botch its deaths!” What he means is that those who die should not be left go from our midst without us recognising what they have done for us. If so, the loss is ours. In the SMA we try to take care not to botch our deaths. Our elders carry the story of the community. Few have carried the story of the Irish Province of the Society of African Missions as well as Fr Bob Molloy. In a letter of congratulations for his Golden Jubilee in 1986, the then Superior General, Patrick Harrington, described Bob as “probably the best known, most respected and loved SMA among the Irish confreres”. Few would argue with that assessment. Tom Humphries wrote an article some time ago on the great Dublin player and manager, Kevin Heffernan, where he said: character is fate: all the rest is scenery. I believe that would apply equally well to Bob Molloy. He was a character, almost an institution, who impacted and influenced the lives of hundreds of SMAs in his almost 70 years of priesthood.
Our opening reading this afternoon esteems the value of Wisdom. Few in our Society had that gift of wisdom to the level of Bob Molloy. He was bright, intelligent, well read. But he was more than knowledgeable, he was wise. He carried his knowledge with a deep humility and modesty, almost to the point of self-abnegation. He never tried to impress his vast learning on others. One is reminded of the old Eskimo woman who when asked why the songs of her tribe were so short responded, “because we know so much”. Bobâ€™s knowledge was not any ordinary knowledge. It was knowledge about God and the things of God. It was, ultimately, knowledge of God which cannot be learned in any book but only on oneâ€™s knees. Bob was a theologian: Faith seeking understanding. He sought first for his own sake. And then he sought to impart it to others. He did so in a very gentle manner.
In our second reading St Peter reminds us that Godâ€™s time is chronicled according to a different standard to ours. All we know is that he is patient with us. The Lordâ€™s call may come suddenly, something like a thief in the night. Bobâ€™s call was sudden but hardly like a thief because this day has been awaited now for some time. What is required of us is to live holy and saintly lives until the Lord does come. “Do your best to live lives without spot or stain so that he will find you at peace”. I think most people would characterise Bobâ€™s life as holy and saintly. But we need to remind ourselves again that a holy and saintly life does not earn salvation. Salvation is never earned; it is Godâ€™s free gift. Bob too will receive it as free gift.
This is borne out again in our gospel today from Johnâ€™s famous teaching on the Eucharist. “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I shall not turn him away.” This text would have been very familiar to Bob. He would most likely have taught it in scripture class and dogma class. But he learned it also through his own prayer and life experience. “It is my Fatherâ€™s will that whoever sees the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and that I shall raise him up on the last day”. That was Bobâ€™s personal belief and as an African missionary priest he must have longed to carry this belief to the peoples of Africa. Perhaps he did an even greater thing by dedicating his life to teaching those who would bring this message to Africa.
Born in Ballinrobe, Co Mayo in 1913, Bob was the last born of six boys and three girls. He schooled first at the local Christian Brothers. Witnessing a horrific accident to a young man impressed on Bob the uncertainty of life and so he decided to dedicate his life to priesthood. A happy congruence of economic hardship and positive impressions of a local SMA missionary, George McCormack, launched him in the direction of SMA. He began his studies in Wilton, which he found difficult as the staff was not always very congenial and his own shy manner made it difficult for him to mix easily with the many city students present there. He moved on to Clough and Dromantine, where he integrated more easily. His own reflections on these times, indeed on his entire career with the SMA, make for fascinating reading. They are candid and, as one might expect, extremely insightful. One interesting point he made was that he considered the formation was too focussed on formal prayer and routine to the detriment of enabling student priests to form an intimate, affective relationship with Christ that might sustain them through life. “Too little pondering of Christ in the heart” was his assessment of that formation culture.
After ordination in 1937 he was assigned to take further studies in Canon Law in Rome. This surprised him as he did not consider himself to be an exceptional student in Dromantine days. Cardinal Ratzinger spoke eloquently on Friday last of John Paulâ€™s self-sacrifice in accepting the post of auxiliary bishop of Krakow at a time when he was most happy in the academic environment of the university. Bobâ€™s self-sacrifice was in the other direction. He had been looking forward in 1937 to an appointment on mission to West Africa. He had even purchased a trunk for the travel. But when the appointment to Rome came he accepted it with immediate obedience. As he said, “nothing left now but to drink deep the canonical spring”. His ready acceptance of this appointment was to mean that he never did experience a missionary appointment to Africa. This must have been a huge disappointment but he accepted it with commendable resignation. Two short trips to Africa in the 1960s, where he was hugely impressed by the welcome he received from all the men, compensated somewhat for this loss.
His time in Rome was not an easy period. Studies were demanding and then the onset of war meant food etc became scarce. The entry of Mussolini into the war further compounded problems. Though gaining a Doctorate in Canon Law in 1940 he was asked, because of the restrictions on movement during the war, to remain on in Rome where he gained a second Doctorate, this time in Divinity, in 1942. The account of his train trip through war torn Europe up into Lisbon from where he subsequently took a seaplane to Ireland is another fascinating episode in his life. He arrived home in 1942, in poor health and generally strained. He was next appointed to the teaching staff in Dromantine.
Bob was to spend the next 27 years as a professor of various subjects in Dromantine. His health never recovered sufficiently to recommend a career in the tropics. But he was to impact the lives of more than 300 SMA priests plus countless others who left the seminary through his ever nimble and alert mind, infectious laughter and gentle humour. A piece to mark his Silver Jubilee of Ordination has this to say of his teaching style: “Though learned, he is not pedantic; and he enlivens the weightiest material by his powers of apt illustration, explosive wit and humour, and rare felicity of expression”. During this period, also, Bob was to make a huge contribution to the local church in Northern Ireland, as he acted as consultant to local bishops on theological and especially canonical matters.
In 1969, with the gradual closure of Dromantine as the seminary and the movement of the students to Maynooth, Bob was appointment to Blackrock Road as part of the secretariat in the Provincialâ€™s department, with special responsibility to edit the Bulletin. This was the brainchild of the 1968 Assembly, which saw the need for renewal and updating of missionaries who had little chance to read the literature on the new theological currents consequent on the renewal of the 2nd Vatican Council. Over 13 years Bob was to produce 36 volumes of this Bulletin. He was unambiguous in his commitment to Godâ€™s Word and Mission, with a passion for truth and integrity. It was hugely appreciated by the men on the field – and by the students of the time too, I can assure you! Bob was a true wordsmith, producing up-to-date, relevant material in the most readable and easily digestible manner.
In 1983 he began his retirement. He was to enjoy another 20 years of contented living among his confreres until increasing fragility necessitated his move to St Teresaâ€™s for more regular nursing care. His presence here too was appreciated and he was held in great affection.
Bob was humble, modest and self-effacing, at a great cost to himself. He was never overly self-assertive and his sensitive nature could be pained by domineering personalities with strong opinions who had little patience with those of a more tender temperament. But he will long live in the memory of all those who learned from his lectures and his writings. He was something special.
Ni bheidh a leithead aris ann.
Ar dheis lamh De go raibh a anam dilis.