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A neighbour recalls

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.


Two remarkable priest brothers from Ballaghaderreen

Monsignor Gerard Spelman (1930-1990)

Monsignor Gerry Spelman, R.I.P.

“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)

Monsignor Joe Spelman, R.I.P.

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.

Spelman family

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.

Patrick Hunt

Homily at Funeral Mass of Monsignor Joe Spelman

Monsignor Joe Spelman, R.I.P.

Monsignor Joe Spelman, R.I.P.

On Saturday June 25th, Bishop Brendan was Principal Celebrant at the Funeral of Monsignor Joe Spelman, retired Parish Priest of Collooney and former Vicar General of the Diocese of Achonry.  The following is the test of the Homily preached at the Funeral Mass in the Church of The Assumption, Collooney, Co. Sligo.


No sooner had the Apostles, his closest collaborators, experienced the First Eucharist with Jesus, we are told, than ‘A dispute arose also between them about which should be reckoned the greatest’. In spite of their closeness to Jesus, the Apostles were slow to understand what he was about and what he was showing them by his words, his gestures, his life. With extraordinary patience, he gently but firmly spells it all out… he is not about degrees of importance or status. Still less is he about controlling anyone or lording it over, but rather ‘Here am I among you as one who serves’.

At the heart of being Jesus’ follower or apostle is the simple matter of willingness to serve, getting down in the dust, washing feet…

After Joe Spelman’s mother died on the 29th of August 1982, an appreciation written by a past pupil appeared in one of the local newspapers. Mary Spelman had spent 30 years as teacher of the junior classes in Coolavin school in Monasteraden. These are some of the things written about her in that tribute:

‘For those of us venturing out to school for the first time, her hand had a comforting feel; once inside her classroom door, we were safe; she taught us all we were able to learn; above all she taught us to pray (followed by a wonderful description of how she instilled such love and devotion to the Blessed sacrament in her little charges as she prepared them for their first holy communion). The writer went on to say ‘she carved a niche in our hearts’. I think her son carved a good niche too in the hearts of many people…

I thought these things about his mother Mary were worth quoting today at Fr Joe’s Mass. They speak the rock out of which this good man was hewn.

People invariably have described Fr Joe Spelman as a ‘gentleman’. In every sense: a gentleman and a gentle man. Kind mother for it, as the old expression would put it. And father too, no doubt. The other word I heard most often these last few days: ‘he was gracious’. And he was. When I asked one colleague what he’d say about him, his first words were: ‘I liked him’- ‘A decent man’.

 Joseph Spelman was an extraordinarily bright student, he became an extraordinary scholar and first class student in Mathematics and Physics. But he was learned in many other fields as well – history, for example, which he loved. (He researched and wrote, for example, the definitive account of why Ballaghaderreen play their football in Mayo). He loved his native place.

He became a superb teacher in St Nathy’s and in Maynooth College, invariably going way beyond the call of duty in serving and helping his students. He was quiet spoken and reserved, laconic and witty, discreet but welcoming, very attentive to people, and kind, always kind. These are the sort of things people have said about him these last couple of days.

One of the really good and lovely things that happens often around death, particularly when it is natural and the person is full of years, it’s as if the goodness and gift that the person was emerges more strongly than ever before. So the tears and sorrow are mixed with gratitude and fuller appreciation. We want to thank God. We become thank-full. A sense that we have been touched by grace in the one who is no longer with us in the flesh…and his passing leaves a gap…

‘A dispute arose between them about who should be reckoned the greatest’. Mrs Spelman’s son had no interest in being the greatest. But he did seek to serve. That emerged strongly too after he retired from his academic life and returned to the diocese, here to Collooney. He never regarded becoming a parish priest as opportunity to relax and put up the feet, but rather he humbly asked his colleagues for help and advice, as he sought now to be a good shepherd to his people. He was all of that. Fr Joe liked people. And he knew that to serve God meant in practice to serve people. He was particularly attentive to those who were not well or not well-off. Visiting those in hospitals or homes was a big priority, a weekly pilgrimage.

‘Here am I among you as one who serves’, Jesus said to his friends and collaborators. ‘In the end of life, we will be judged on love’ the great St John of the Cross so rightly said. The love that is service is what he’s talking about. Jesus and the Father he revealed know no other way:  the way of self-giving, of self-sacrifice, of always putting the other first, especially the least and poorest.

On November 20, 2007, I arrived into the diocese for the first time. It was the day I was announced as bishop. At 4 in the afternoon I met all the priests in Ballaghaderreen. Mgr Joe as Vicar General was the one who welcomed me to the diocese. In the course of his brief speech, he cut straight to the heart of the matter. He told me I came here and was welcomed as successor of the Apostles. That this was what I would be expected to be. At least that is what I heard. And it was what I needed to hear. Up to then it had been a somewhat euphoric and mostly emotional day, full of congratulations and good wishes, but this was a coming down to earth, the essential, the truth of the situation. He rendered me a service that was necessary and brought me into balance and the real. The man who is a true servant never seeks popularity. And it is a grace of God to work alongside a person of that integrity. For this we are thankful to God today.

It wasn’t long after that that Parkinson’s disease came to Joe. He wasn’t a man to speak of his ailment at all, apart from saying his walk wasn’t good. There was no self-pity. He retired on coming to the age, and as his disability affected him more, withdrew graciously from committees on which he served. A loss, because his interventions were wise, and his advice was invariably sound. Eventually he did his own research and chose to enter the Sacred Heart Residence in 2013. He knew he could not manage anymore without assistance. And he wanted to be close to Marie and her family, as he always had been. And it was the right decision, taken in his own time, though not without a certain struggle.

He accepted his decline without complaint and with little comment. He was a good patient. He was blessed that you his family were extraordinarily attentive to him. And he was well-cared for by the nursing home staff, who liked him very much.

Yes. Joe Spelman ‘fought the good fight to the end, finished the course God gave him, kept the faith’.

It was a grace given this man who for others was so often full of grace.

In this year of mercy, though, he would want us today to implore God to be merciful to him. He had no false notions about himself, and knew his limits and failings. That is our purpose in celebrating this holy Eucharist.

May Father Joe, by your mercy Lord, be conferred with your kingdom, and may this man of the Eucharist ‘eat and drink now at the table in your kingdom’, according to your promise.

Death of Monsignor Joe Spelman

Spelman, Joseph

Monsignor Joe Spelman

The death has taken place of Monsignor Joe Spelman, R.I.P.  A native of Ballaghaderreen and  former Professor of Mathematical Physics in St Patrick’s College Maynooth, Joe served as Vicar General of the Diocese and Parish Priest of Collooney until his retirement..

Please remember him in your prayers.  Our sympathies to his family and wide circle of friends.

______________

June 23rd, 2016