Homily for the Funeral of Fr Tom Harlow – Wilton May 17th 2024.

Fr Tom Harlow SMA was in failing health for the past few years.  He died peacefully in the Bon Secours Hospital, Cork on 15 May 2024, aged 84 years. Eternal rest grant to him O Lord.  Below is the text of the Homily preached by Fr Anthony Kelly during the Funeral Mass in St Joseph’s Church, Wilton, Cork. 

Isaiah 25: 6-9, Philippians 3: 20-21, & Gospel Luke 12: 35 – 44

It is very fitting that Tom Harlow would meet His Risen Savour just as we celebrate Pentecost this weekend because Since the mid 1970’s Tom was very involved with the Charismatic Movement in Dublin and later on in Cork.  Frequently Tom would shout out Alleluia, The Lord is Risen!. Well we all know that Tom is now Singing Alleluia alongside the Risen Lord.  The last line of the First Reading is so fitting for an Alleluia from Tom as it tells us ‘We exult and Rejoice that He has saved us.’

Today’s First Reading from Isiah is a lovely image of the New life that Tom is enjoying now with the Risen Lord. On this Mountain it tells us “I will prepare for All peoples a Banquet of rich food, On this mountain he will remove the mourning veil covering all peoples” Tom would not want you his family to be mourning him by sadness but with delight because of where he is now with the Lord. Todays Gospel from Luke Chapter 12 gives us the same Image of the Lord’s Compassion and personal Love for each of us. V 38 tells us “Truly I tell you He will put on an Apron and have them sit at table and he will wait on them”. It shows us once again an image of the compassion and Love of Jesus for us. What a lovely image and a well deserved reward for Tom who dedicated his life to bring that Love and Compassion of Jesus to others.

He showed that by his care for the sick, When he knew one of us in the S.M.A. family were feeling down or not feeling well Tom would offer them encouragement or a helpful book to read and would always promise to pray for them.  He also showed that kindness and loving care and Compassion to the people he ministered to while in Wilton Parish and also when he helped out at Tabor Lodge rehabilitation Centre.

He showed that He cared for the sick by writing to them & keeping in touch with them and by promising to pray for them.

I know you the members of Tom’s family will miss him very much as we do also in the S.M.A. family because Tom loved home and all things about you and as the second reading today reminds us “For us our homeland is in Heaven and from Heaven comes the Savour”. He worried a lot about you his family and also prayed a lot about you. Especially you Tony when you were ill a few months ago he had many of us praying for you and worried about you. His family was very important to him and he always kept in touch with Phone calls and cards to anyone who was celebrating and he was particularly interested in the farm and the happenings around Kilteevan.

For us in the S.M.A. family Tom worked with great dedication and Commitment Firstly as a Missionary in Liberia and Nigeria and later in Ireland in the various appointments he accepted making lifelong friends along the way.

Tom enjoyed his early years as a Missionary priest in Liberia in Pastoral work in Bongi Diocese and also in the Major Seminary. He was described as hardworking and very dedicated and He has fond memories of working with many Irish priests and sisters.  After a few years in the seminary he took a new appointment in Monrovia where he was appointed in charge of Catechetics in a very busy Archdiocese of Monrovia.  This was an area that Tom was keenly interested in and was very successful until ill health forced him to return home for Ministry in Ireland.

Fr Tom was to spend the next six years in The Family Vocations community raising funds for the Society based in Dublin. He was very successful with this and did an excellent job setting up groups of supporters that became loyal supporters of S.M.A. This job suited Tom as he was always great for keeping in touch with people and he visited them in their homes & in hospital and sent cards and offered prayers & Masses for those who were ill and attended their funerals. Tom felt that this however was not what he was ordained for.  He felt his place was in Africa so in 1979 he returned to Africa, this time to Nigeria, unfortunately ill health again took its toll and Tom returned to Ireland for the remainder of his Missionary life. 

But living in Ireland did not prevent Tom from living out his missionary vocation. He spent three years on Mission awareness which was spent going around to the various Dioceses in Ireland speaking in Churches & schools and promoting the great work being done by S.M.A. in Africa. Again, Tom due to his dedication and ability to engage with people he was very successful at this promotion. Tom then became leader of the S.M.A. house of Promotion in Claremorris where he remained for 5 years.

Parish work and the Spread of the Gospel was always the top priority for Tom and he was not sure if he was doing this well enough as a fundraiser or in administration so he requested for an appointment in Parish Ministry so Tom joined a Parish team in Neilstown in the Archdiocese of Dublin where again through his easy manner and gentle approach with people he was very successful making many friends and encouraging people to help themselves.  This Parish work in the suburbs of Dublin was very draining on Toms energy & health so he took a well deserved rest after 7 years. Which enabled him to return to S.M.A. promotion again for another 6 years. 

After that time in promotion Tom spent the next ten years in Parish work in the Archdiocese of Armagh and finally in the S.M.A. parish here in Wilton Cork. This was to be Toms last pastoral appointment because due to ill health Tom took retirement in 2014.

After a long and fulfilled life as a Missionary Tom enjoyed the next 8 years with his S.M.A. confreres in Wilton.  Because of his great love of People Tom would go every day to the Parish Centre to enjoy the company of so many of his friends that he built up during his time in the Parish.  Especially Tom loved to go to the shopping Centre browsing and meeting people and later on to sit and watch the world go by.  Eventually when Tom’s health deteriorated he came to St Teresa’s where he enjoyed the loving care of the staff there.  He was always hoping to get better and would walk around with his Rolette and could never understand why he was out of breath. But that was something he was determined to get dealt with and headed off to Dublin to have his treatment but it was not to be.  The Good Lord had other plans and he called Tom around 10.15 on Tuesday morning.  After a few weeks in Hospital Tom was ready to go. Whenever we would visit and offer to pray with him he always tried to join in until the very last days when his energy waned. The Gospel tells us Happy those servants whom the master finds ready Tom was certainly ready because of the kind of life he lived. As well as being prayerful but also through the care and compassion and Love he showed to all those he ministered to as a Missionary priest with S.M.A. May Tom’s soul rest in Peace. 

I would Like to conclude with a short Poem that reflects the type of person Tom was and what he would want from us now.

Miss me but Let me Go.
When I come to the end of the Road.
And the Sun has set for me I want no Rites in a gloom filled room.
Why cry for a soul set free
Miss me a little – but not too long,
And not with your head bowed low.
Remember the love that we once shared.
Miss me but let me go.

For this is a journey that we all must take
And each of us must go on it alone.
Its all part of the Master’s Plan.
A step on the road to home.
When you are lonely and sick at heart
Go to the friends we know
And bury your sorrows in doing good deeds.
Miss me – but let me go. Amen.

Previous articleVisit of Emir Sanusi of Nigeria to SMA House Blackrock Road – VIDEO
Next articleHomily on the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity 2024