Fr Seán Kelly SMA
Funeral Homily – 28 April 2005
(Preached by Fr John Horgan SMA, Vice-Provincial Superior)
The unexpected death of Fr Seán last Sunday evening at his house in Lecarrow, Co Roscommon was a shock to his family, especially to his sister Theresa who was visiting with him for the weekend. It was a shock to his SMA family; to his parish family; to his large circle friends and acquaintances. It left us stunned, in complete darkness with all the lights gone out. We depended on our faith and God’s word to help us in our struggle with the trauma.
In today’s gospel Jesus asks to remain in his love; he assures us we will remain in his love by keeping his commandments. The love of Jesus for us is so great that he was willing to die for us. A missionary vocation is a life long commitment to helping others to be aware of that love; bringing to them the God News that God loves them.
As a young man Fr Seán committed himself to witness to that love of God for us by joining the African Missions the SMA. After completing his secular education to third level, his theological and spiritual formation he was ordained a priest of the Society of African Missions on the 21st December 1960 to go and preach the good news in Africa. When he died last Sunday he was in the 45th year of his priesthood.
Most of the first third of Fr Seán’s life as a missionary priest was spent in the archdiocese of Jos in Nigeria in education and pastoral work first as a teacher and later as a secondary school principal. He was immersed in the many and varied activities of a young vibrant, expanding church. The situation was very similar to the early Church of the first reading. Growth and expansion bring their own problems; problems demand meetings to find solutions.
So in the first reading we find the Church leaders at such a meeting, the Council of Jerusalem. They listen to Barnabas and Paul describing all the signs and wonders God had worked through them among the pagans as the young church expanded to embrace new converts not only from among the Jews but from among pagans as well.
On holidays many were enthralled as Fr SeÃ¡n told of the wonders of life on the missions because he witnessed in his mission work the blessings and marvels of God.
Because Fr Seán’s health was a not robust he was given an appointment in Ireland in 1976. Indeed the next section of his life totalling 11 years was devoted to different assignments in the Promotion of the SMA in Ireland. Here again he used his talent for story telling as he recruited young men to be future SMAs, as he promoted the SMA magazine, the African Missionary or as he collected mission boxes, preaching in parishes, giving people an awareness of mission.
In 1987 he was assigned to the SMA Community here at Wilton to be the bursar and a member of the formation team. Our SMA students spent their first year in Wilton in those days. During this period he also assisted in the parish here in Wilton. I have been told that the Cork comedian, Billa Connell never missed the 6pm Saturday evening Mass when Fr Seán was the celebrant.
In 2000 after 13 years of work in Wilton, Fr Seán undertook ministry in his native diocese of Elphin. There, in the parish of Knockcroghery, he ministered happily for the past five years.
This brief summary of his life does not do justice to the colour and quality of the man. He related naturally to people and made lasting friendships easily. He always made a point of knowing the personal names of people; he never forgot them. He was loyal to his family, to the SMA and to his friends. He loved company, had a good sense of humour; was a great entertainer; he could tell stories with the best and his tales were tall but never tedious.
These social gifts helped him in the different appointments he held during his life. They helped him in his dealings with young people whether in the classroom, in vocations groups or parish groups; they helped him in promoting the SMA mission; they help him in parish work. He had qualities, which endeared him to people.
Fr Seán was a man of faith, a prayerful person, and a priest committed to his vocation. He was a man of courage and integrity in everything he did and said. He made no show of his holiness or closeness to God. But he was holy and close to God.
For me closeness to God is often visible in the way people accept the sufferings and crosses of life. Fr Seán had his share of these crosses. He had to forego his preference for a life of mission in Africa and accept a life of mission in Ireland because of his health.
In the last months of 2003 two of his sisters and a brother-in-law died within a period of six weeks. This was an emotionally tough time for Fr Seán as he coped with such family losses. Last year 2004 was a year of physical suffering and loss for Fr Seán. He spent three periods in Galway University Hospital. In February 2004 he had treatment for gallstones. In May 2004 he had treatment for stones in the kidney and in October he had prostate surgery. He bore all of this suffering without a murmur of complaint. And after a very short period of recuperation at our SMA house in Claregalway he resumed work in his parish.
In the second reading St Paul says his life is being poured out as a libation or offering. And as that life nears its end Paul feels gratitude and joy that he has run the good race; that he has kept the faith and that a great award awaits him. During the last two years as Fr Seán coped with his own health problems and the deaths of his sisters and brother-in-law he must have felt like St Paul that his own life was being poured out as a libation. God was asking him to sacrifice more and more.
Fr Seán has run the good race; he has kept the faith.
We pray Lord, that Fr Seán will meet with his deceased parents, brothers, sisters and all he ministered to in the kingdom where your missionaries receive the hundred-fold you promised to those who would leave everything even their very selves so that they might be your witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and even to the farthest bounds of the earth
Ar dheis Dé go raibh do anim dílis, a Sheáin.