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This is the text of the Homily preached by Fr Martin Convey, P.P, Straide at the Funeral Mass for Fr Dermot Burns in the Church of Ss Peter and Paul, Straide, Co. Mayo on Saturday April 1st 2017
Today, we gather to commend to the Lord the soul of Fr. Dermot - a brother priest who faithfully served the People of God here in the Diocese of Achonry for 42 years. To Father Dermot’s brothers, sister, in-laws, nieces and nephews, relatives and friends, we extend to you our deepest sympathies on the loss of your brother and uncle.
I don’t need to tell you, his family, or anyone who knew the man that Fr. Dermot was very much in love with life; so full of the zest of living, so brimming with joy, so full of banter, so full of fun and merriment. He exuded life and cherished it to the very last breath.
We all have our own particular fond memories of Fr. Dermot. They are usually very happy and very funny memories. Those memories abound today and they weave together a unique tapestry of a unique life.
One of my own fondest memories goes back a few years. I wasn’t too long in the parish at the time. I remember returning to the parochial house after saying the morning Mass. As I turned the key in the door I could swear I got the smell of freshly burnt toast. It didn’t take me long to discover a rather elderly man (a total stranger) sitting at the kitchen table having a leisurely breakfast. Before I could ask who he was and how he got in, the uninvited stranger managed to speak first. He demanded to know who I was, how I got in and what on earth was I doing in Fr. Dermot’s house. It quickly emerged that he was an elderly priest friend of Fr. Dermot. One of the many many friends he had made over the years. At some stage Fr. Dermot must has given him the loan of a key to the parochial house. He hadn’t known Fr. Dermot had retired and was merely availing of his hospitality (as he had done, on occasion, in the past) while waiting for him to return from the Church.
Fr. Dermot got a great laugh out of that when I told him! And that’s just one of the more sanitised events Fr. Dermot is remembered for.
The incident was funny but it really sums up Fr. Dermot’s life as a priest and as a human being.
The key to the front door, given freely and trustingly, was symbolic of the key to his soul (which he gave so generously to God in the priesthood) and the key to his life (which he gave to his family, friends and parishioners).
Fr. Dermot was, very much, an open book. What you saw is what you got. He wore his great big heart openly on his sleeve. This was a quality which endeared him to so many people whose lives he touched in his ministry as a priest.
He was great with people. In exchange for the keys to his inner spiritual self he received, in return, from others the keys to their lives. The bonds he forged, over the years, with people he encountered (as parishioners or as colleagues) were truly remarkable. Those bonds he held on to and never let break.
No matter where he might be, I would always notice people going out of their way to approach him and talk to him. He was a kind of a magnet for people. Even after the passage of time (often decades), he kept up ties and friendships. He was the only individual I knew whose Christmas Card list actually increased every year.
And it wasn’t just his friends from Straide parish who kept in contact with him. It was, also, his friends in all the other parishes he had served in - Bonniconlon, Achonry, Ballymote and Kilkelly. They all remembered him for the same reasons. They remembered his compassion, his kindness, his generosity, his sincerity, his wit and his humour.
He was a very people-centred person who generously gave the open door of his life to so many others: celebrating their successes, lamenting their failures, consoling their distress, and (when necessary) helping carry their crosses. In this, and in so many other regards, he was a priest to be admired and respected. He had learned his theology in Maynooth but had spent his days, ever since, living that theology.
He was also a man who, to his great credit, never hesitated to delegate responsibility within the parish. He realised something we priests all eventually learn - namely, that there are always people within every community who can do many things we do far better than we, ourselves, can.
It stands to reason, then, that we should build strong teams and allow the gifts and charisms of a community to flourish. This is exactly what Fr. Dermot did. In this respect, he left a great legacy behind. One has only to observe the pristine condition of this Church and grounds to see how much he achieved.
Family meant everything to Fr. Dermot: his twin brother Pat, his brother Frank, his sister Joan, his nephews and nieces and in-laws. Not to forget his beloved parents (Una & Paddy) and brother John who have already gone to their eternal reward. No family could have supported a brother any better than you have done.
As one might expect, Fr. Dermot was particularly close to his twin brother Pat who was especially good to him and looked after him above and beyond the call of even brotherly love and duty.
This parish of Straide was, also, very very special to Fr. Dermot. It was here he spent the last 23 years of his life. He often confided how happy he was here - how kind and how good parishioners were to him.
Fr. Dermot worked in parish ministry for all of his 42 years of priesthood. His priesthood was founded on a deep unshakable faith and on a spiritual life that brought him ever closer to God. His priestly ministry was truly a beacon of hope for so many people. He exercised his ministry brightening so many lives, binding so many hearts, smoothing so many paths, calming so many souls, warming so many lives. And it is great to see so many of his former parishioners here today at his funeral Mass. Fr. Dermot just had that wonderful gift of connecting with the people he came in contact with.
When, unfortunately, in 2011 he had to retire due to ill health there was never a question of him living anywhere else except in Straide. He chose to spend his (all too short) final years with the people he knew and loved. That is certainly a great compliment to his former parishioners who are owed a great debt of gratitude for the manner in which they looked after and cared for Fr. Dermot.
Another thread in the tapestry of Memory I have of Fr. Dermot is chatting to him about how difficult it can be to find something new to preach on every weekend. He consoled me by saying that “It’s difficult to be profound every Sunday”. Then thought for a while and added “But it would, indeed, be nice to be profound the odd Sunday though!”
I’m sure there were days when he, too, stood at this lectern and looked to the heavens for divine inspiration. I’m sure from this spot he, also, must have focused his eyes on a particular design on the windows of the gallery – a design which catches my eye frequently.
There are, as you would expect, images of crosses on those stained glass windows. However, there is also a subtle detail that can easily be missed. If you look carefully you can see that there are little green shoots of growth emerging from the foot of each cross.
The Cross was something Fr. Dermot became all too familiar with in his later years following a life-threatening diagnosis just before Christmas 2010. But the cross he was given to carry never dampened his spirit or took from his wit and good humour. Even when given very bad news a few short weeks back, he never lost hope and he never gave up but, rather, fought bravely on.
I think he got great consolation from the green shoots of growth that are always there at the foot of even the heaviest of crosses we are sometimes given to bear. Fr. Dermot’s deep Christian faith led him to believe those green shoots would, ultimately, bring him New Life. Today, we pray that he has, already received, that reward.
After this, his funeral Mass, Fr. Dermot will be laid to rest in the Church grounds - facing East to greet the rising sun each morning. He will be under the shade of two oak trees planted last year by Bishop Brendan in honour of Ss. Peter and Paul to mark the centenary of this Church dedicated to the two giants of our faith. Those oak trees are young now. But, I’m told, they will spend the next 300 years growing and, then, another 300 years stagnant before they will spend a final 300 in decline.
Knowing Fr. Dermot as I do, I don’t think he will wait that long to visit St. Peter. No doubt, he has already entered the gates of heaven and is, by now, making his presence felt and catching up with old friends.
Hopefully, at some stage, he might get a hold of St. Peter’s Keys and have a few copies made for us, too, on the quiet so that when our time comes may let ourselves in to one of the many rooms that today’s Gospel assures us are already prepared for us.
In the meantime, until we meet our friend and brother again, may his gentle soul now Rest in Peace. Amen
On Saturday, February 11th, there was a preliminary meeting to establish a Diocesan Eucharistic Adoration Committee. The gathering was in the Diocesan Pastoral Centre, Charelestown, Co. Mayo.
The diocese was well represented at this meeting and the training of this committee will take place over the coming weeks.
We wish all involved every blessing as they embark upon this Spiritual Journey and express gratitude to Brendan Cleary and John Howard who were “inspirational” in their presentation on Saturday.
Speaking about this initiative Bishop Brendan says:
The practice of Eucharistic Adoration has been growing in the parishes of our diocese for the past number of years. This has been happening at the same time as traditional practice of the faith has been in decline (Mass attendance dropping, etc.), and it is a great blessing.
However, like every aspect of living our Catholic faith, we need to ensure that constant renewal and deepening occurs in this practice. For us Catholics the Holy Eucharist is the most sacred reality and is at the heart of our faith. It is the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in our midst and it is the source and summit of our Christian life and faith. So it is appropriate, good and essential that we take the utmost care of this most sacred and holy inheritance from Jesus himself.
The Diocesan Eucharistic Adoration Committee will be given this sacred trust. So training and preparation for taking care of the practice of Eucharistic Adoration and of its promulgation amongst the faithful is necessary. I have no doubt God’s blessing will be upon all those who will come and participate in the upcoming six training sessions.
See below for details of Training Sessions.
Click HERE to download copy
Earlier today, (February 5th) we gathered with the Religious of the Diocese to celebrate the Feast of The Presentation in The Temple (took place earlier this week) and to pray for the Religious. Sisters from the various communities in the diocese attended along with a number of our priests.
Bishop Brendan spoke about today’s Gospel on the theme of Salt and Light and acknowledged the great work done by the Religious in Achonry diocese through the years. Acknowledging too the age profile of the gathering he reflected on the role of prayer now in our lives. He spoke of the bishops’ recent meeting with Pope Francis and that he too spoke of the need for prayer around and for vocations and the future of our church. The bishop suggested that we might have something of the time required now, as the abiliity for day to day work diminishes to focus our prayer lives.
Didn’t take many photographs but posted a few clips and tweets on our twitter account @achonrydiocese
— Diocese of Achonry (@achonrydiocese) February 5, 2017
RENEWAL OF CONSECRATION
— Diocese of Achonry (@achonrydiocese) February 5, 2017
— Diocese of Achonry (@achonrydiocese) February 5, 2017
— Diocese of Achonry (@achonrydiocese) February 5, 2017
Pat Hunt, a native of Ballaghaderreen, shared the following.
His piece also features in the 2016 Publication of “Ballaghaderreen Echoes” (going on sale December 8th).
Both men are remembered with fondness and respect within our diocese and further afield. May they rest in peace.
We are grateful to him for sharing his thoughts and memories with us on our Diocesan Website.
Monsignor Gerard Spelman (1930-1990)
“Goodbye Monsignor, we’ll meet in heaven,” were among the words spoken by about 30 parishioners after their tenth and final annual visit to the grave in Kilcolman of Monsignor Gerard Spelman, their late parish priest in the diocese of Leeds.
Monsignor Gerard died suddenly in his Leeds parish in March 1990 after 35 years’ devoted service. One hundred priests and almost 1,000 people attended his funeral mass before his remains were taken home to Ballaghaderreen for burial.
Ordained in All Hallows College in 1955, he worked for 13 years as a curate, and then served nine years as chaplain to two teacher-training colleges, and is remembered by former students with gratitude and affection.
He was then appointed Director of Wood Hall, the diocesan pastoral centre, where he ministered with patience and understanding to the needs of Vietnamese refugees. In 1981 he was assigned as parish priest to the first of his two parishes (St Augustine’s and St Paul’s) in Leeds. At that time the Irish community in the city numbered almost 31,000 persons. Older Irish people there remember him as a particularly dedicated chaplain to the Irish community.
He touched the lives of many, many people in Leeds. At the time of his passing, all spoke of his great patience, kindness, and above all, his gentleness. Many Irish emigrants who arrived in the city with little money and even less in the way of job prospects found Fr Gerry a willing listener who always found the time and energy to put them in touch with potential employers.
Monsignor Joseph Spelman (1932-2016)
His brother, Joseph, was ordained in St Patrick’s College, Maynooth in 1959. After a year on a Ford Fellowship at Stanford University, California, he ministered in Palo Alto parish, Archdiocese of San Francisco until 1965.
On his return to Ireland in 1965 he taught in St Nathy’s College and Ballaghaderreen Vocational School. Patsy McGarry (Irish Times), a past pupil, has warm memories of Fr Joe. “He had a wry sense of humour and paid me the first compliment I ever recall for something I wrote. It was for a line in an essay. It tickled Fr Spelman’s sense of humour and he commented, “…Very good, Very good’. I stood very tall indeed!”
In 1969 he was appointed Professor of Mathematical Physics in Maynooth, a position he held until he was appointed a monsignor and parish priest of Collooney in 1992. He became Vicar General of Achonry diocese.
Fr Joe loved local history. He researched and wrote, for example, the definitive account of how Ballaghaderreen came to be located in Co Roscommon, not Mayo. He circulated a pamphlet on this topic, which I hope is still available to help young local people explore their identity. In Collooney he loved to hear older people recall the people and lore of days long ago. Many parishioners said he was a great listener.
In his homily at Monsignor Joe’s funeral mass last June, Bishop Brendan Kelly related how people described him as a ‘gentleman’ — in every sense a gentleman and gentle man. “He was quiet spoken and reserved, laconic and witty, discreet but welcoming, very attentive to people, and kind, always kind.”
Fr Vincent Sherlock, who served with Fr Joe in Collooney wrote, “He moved with people at their pace, prayed with people … and stayed for as long he was needed. He was a good priest, a role model and thankfully a friend.”
His former Maynooth teaching colleagues gathered in September to offer a memorial mass for Monsignor Joe. Chief celebrant, Fr Pat Hannon, professor emeritus of Moral Theology, recalled a gifted teacher “who bore his learning and piety lightly”. He added that when Fr Joe was recalled to his home diocese after 25 years’ service in Maynooth, he first took a sabbatical “to brush up on theology, liturgy and pastoral work”. Such was his dedication to his priestly calling.
As a boy and student I had the privilege of serving mass regularly for the Spelman priests when they spent their respective summer holidays in their native town. I have vivid memories of their mother sitting radiantly in the front row of a side altar in the cathedral attentive to their every word and ritual. Even then I was aware that for them each celebration of mass was an intensely spiritual experience.
Gentleness and kindness were their shared hallmarks then and for the rest of their lives. May their noble souls enjoy eternal peace.
The priest brothers were the sons of Joe and Mary Spelman. Joe (Snr) was a hardware manager in Flannery’s, although he started his career in Monica Duff’s. His brother, Canon James Spelman PP, served in many parishes in Achonry diocese and is buried in the chapel grounds in Tubbercurry. Another brother, Willie, ran a successful garage business in Barrack Street, later passed on to his son, Billy (RIP).
Born in Monaghan, his wife, Mary Spelman, came to Ballaghaderreen first to teach in the Convent NS but later found her true and much celebrated niche as junior infant teacher in Coolavin NS (Monasteraden). Marie, the third Spelman sibling, took up nursing in Dublin, later married Frank Gallagher (RIP) and set up her present home in the capital.
Golden era for vocations
Ten young men from the Ballaghaderreen area were ordained to the priesthood in the 1950s: Paddy Kilgarriff (1953), Robert Flynn (1954), Edward Towey (1955), Thomas Flynn (1956), Dominic Doherty (1956), James Creaton (1958), Edward Dorrington (1958), Sean Flanagan (1959), Gerry (1955) and Joe (1959) Spelman. The early 1960s saw six more ordinations: Barry Freyne (1960), Des McMahon (1961), Seamus McMahon (1964), Joe Macken (1965), Jack Madden (1963), James Shryane (1965). Fine men and priests, one and all.
Bishop Brendan Kelly conferred the Ministry of Lector on two candidates for the Permanent Diaconate on Saturday last. In a ceremony, held in Summerhill College Chapel, Sligo, Kevin Flynn and Martin Lynch were called to be Lectors (Ministers of The Word). This is one of the orders conferred on those exploring the vocation to Permanent Diaconate. We wish both men every blessing on their journey.
For additional information on the Permanent Diaconate click here
The diocese of Achonry had its first presentation of the (St) John Paul 11 Awards this evening (November 21st) in St Nathy’s College, Ballaghderreen. Bishop Brendan Kelly presented the awards to nineteen students from throughout the diocese in the presence of their families, teachers and friends. Members of the Knights of St Columbanus were also in attendance. This first group, though small, is seen as a very important development in the diocese. Monica Morley spoke to the gathering and encouraged the young people to keep deeply involved in their church, making the point that Parish is the touchstone. Bishop Brendan thanked the young people and congratulated them on their achievements. Three of the recipients spoke of their journey through the awards process and it was evident the journey had been good for them. Activities included volunteering in St Vincent de Paul Shop, being part of the youth group on our Diocesan Pilgrimage to Lourdes, helping a local priest edit and publish the parish bulletin, joining Folk Group, being Ministers of The Word and much more. All in all, impressive presentations by impressive young people. Well done to them all.
The students were from secondary schools in Charlestown, Tubbercurry, Ballymote, Ballaghaderren and Ballisodare. Fr Joe Gavigan, Chaplain to the Knights of St Columbanus, welcomed them all and wished them well.
On Sunday, October 9th 2016, Bishop Brendan was Principal Celebrant at Mass in Kiltimagh. The Mass was one of thanksgiving and farewell for the Sisters of St Louis, whose long link with Kiltimagh has come to an end. Below is the text of the homily preached by Bishop Brendan on this sad but memorable occasion for the parish and the Sisters of St Louis.
Go mbeannaí Dia dhaoibh a phobail dílis Dé Choillte Mách. Is maith bheith libh inniu ar an ócaid buíoch, brónach, stairiúil seo: Slán le Siúracha Naomh Lughaidh.
I’m happy to be with you today for this Mass of Thanksgiving for the immense, immeasurable and irreplaceable contribution of the Sisters of St Louis to this parish and its people over one hundred and nineteen years. Our theme can only be thanksgiving, but it is tinged with a deep sense of sadness. The loss of a praying community, consecrated to God and to the welfare of his people, particularly the most needy, that loss to this parish and to the entire diocese is a great one.
The Gospel today is apt for the occasion. The leper who came back to Jesus when he found himself cured ‘threw himself at the feet of Jesus and thanked him’
That is exactly what we are doing here today in this Mass, metaphorically: throwing ourselves at the feet of Jesus and thanking him for 119 years of the dedicated service and faithful presence of the Sisters of St Louis in our midst, as parish and diocese. In doing so we throw ourselves too at your feet, sisters, in deep gratitude to you and all those St Louis Sisters who have served here all the way back to the arrival here of the first six sisters on the 14th of September, 1897.
The person responsible for what a newspaper of the day called ‘the home-bringing’ of the nuns to Kiltimagh was the great Fr Denis O Hara. The paper goes on to report that the ‘good nuns of St Louis’ arrived ‘amid the prayers and blessings of priests and people’…referring to the crowd that had gathered at the station to greet the sisters and accompany them to the new convent Fr Denis had had built for them. Today, the prayers and blessings of priests and people now accompany the final departure of the nuns, though these prayers and blessings are accompanied now more with sadness than celebration.
Today is October 9th, the feast of St Denis, when the girls in the St Louis Secondary school always got a free day. Such was the respect in which Fr Denis was always held and remembered by the sisters. I like to think that it’s no mere coincidence that we happen to be giving thanks to God for the sisters on this day. It is most surely the hand of Providence giving us a sign. What is happening now in October 2016 regarding the sisters and this parish is all part of God’s providential design. May we be able to discern truly its meaning for this parish and for the sisters in this year of Our Lord, 2016. That calls for deep faith and trust in the eternal wisdom and goodness of God towards us.
Around the time Fr Denis came here in 1887 as PP, a newspaper of the day described Kiltimagh as a ‘ruined hamlet of thatched hovels’. Fr Denis immediately set about improving the lot of the people. Within two years of his arrival, this magnificent Church was built and consecrated. By the time he convinced the Sisters of St Louis in Monaghan to come here in 1897 and provide education for girls, Fr Denis had been instrumental in establishing six primary schools in the parish, bringing the railway to Kiltimagh, in forcing landlords to lower rents. He was a steadfast in his support of Michael Davitt and the Land League, for the sake of the impoverished tenants.
But no project was dearer to this good man’s heart than convincing the St Louis sisters in Monaghan to come here. Fr Denis could see the value of an education for the local women and girls as part of his great dream of lifting the people here out of poverty, giving new hope and creating new opportunities for them, thus enabling them to cope and contribute confidently to building of family, community and society, be that at home or as emigrants, for emigration was the destiny of many from these parts.
Fr Denis chose well. Over the subsequent years, the sisters took charge first of the new girls primary school, then established the Technical school for women and girls, where practical skills – dressmaking, laundry, poultry-keeping and finer arts like lace-making were taught. Within 4 weeks of its opening, 80 girls and women were enrolled. The sisters travelled all around the area on foot encouraging and inviting the young ladies of the area to come. Then St Philomena’s boarding school was established, and soon acquired a reputation for excellence in education that was nation-wide. Later on in the 30’s a highly successful commercial school was established. Along with all of that the sisters were discreetly and always available to help people in their need and poverty, in whatever way they could.
It’s an extraordinary story of extraordinary achievement that must not be forgotten. It arouses a deep sense of admiration but most of all of gratitude in any decent heart. Such stories need telling and remembering in these days when a sense of unearned entitlement so often takes all the space and the capacity for generosity, service, self-sacrifice is not awakened and called forth in men and women. The question for us all now is how can these qualities, so evident in the story of the sisters of St Louis be enkindled and ignited in this generation? This is where a new evangelisation, a new connecting with the greatest story of hope ever lived, the story of Jesus, is called for. For it was out of faith in Jesus, and joyful intimacy with his word and way that the story and the contribution of the Sisters of St Louis in Kiltimagh was born and sustained over so many decades.
The changes that occurred from the 1960’s on – the government more and more taking responsibility for education and social welfare, free education, growing material prosperity, the opening up to the world that came with television, cheaper transport etc., saw the sisters adjusting – coeducation, decline in need for Boarding schools etc. Eventually the amalgamation with Scoil Raftearaí took place and the St Louis Community School was born. Vocations to the sisterhood declined and gradually the sisters withdrew, quietly and without fanfare or fuss, as always accepting the new and emerging reality as part of God’s mysterious plan.
And so we come to this day. This moment of Farewell. I’d like to quote what one of the sisters has written: ‘The sisters have given much, but they received much too in this community of Kiltimagh. It has been their home and a place of friendships, kindnesses, support, being church together and part of a community, especially in these latter years in Cordarragh. Many sisters are buried here, both in the former convent cemetery and in Kilkenure in the past 20 years.’ In other words, they are part forever of the story of this parish and community and for that are deeply grateful.
The story of the sisters here is one, like that of Fr Denis O Hara who brought them here, of building and serving the great ideal and command of Jesus: be community, not just individual. Build communion, that most holy thing. Servants of unity…of what Jesus prayed for at the very end: that they may all be one. The wisdom of God lives in lives that are faithful to his word: that is how that unity, that communion, is formed and grows. These were the values set in place by the founders of the St Louis story in France one hundred years exactly – 1797- before they came to Kiltimagh.
AS we look back today, sisters, over your presence here for 119 years, we see how faithfully you carried out and lived your founding ideals. Our hearts are full of gratitude then at this Mass as we remember, and we give God thanks for you. And as we pray his blessing on each and every one of you. This community, this parish, this diocese will not forget.
The Samaritan leper came back, we are told today. Crying out the praise of God, threw himself at the feet of Jesus, and thanked him. So do we thank God and thank you as we now celebrate this Holy Eucharist.