Text of homily preached by Diocesan Administrator of Achonry, Fr Dermot Meehan, at the Funeral Mass of Fr Gregory Hannan, P.E., Ballymote. Mass was celebrated in the Church of The Immaculate Conception, Ballymote, Co. Sligo on Friday September 6th, 2019.
In France – a country and culture very close to Fr Greg Hannan’s heart – there is an old custom of celebrating a person’s name day. So, in addition to marking birthdays every year, French people traditionally give a small gift to family members and friends on the feast day of the saint they are named after. By a curious coincidence, Fr Greg passed peacefully from this life on September 3rd, his name day, because in the Church’s yearly calendar, the third of September is the feast day of St Gregory the Great, a Pope who died in the year 604 and is still remembered and revered today as a wise and holy pastor.
God called Greg to himself on his name day and it is our hope and prayer, in this gathering of family and friends, that God will gift Greg now with a place in the resurrection and the life of the world to come, all that God promised Greg on the day of his baptism in St Patrick’s Church, Gurteen on 15th May 1937, all that is the reward reserved by God for those who serve him faithfully, as Greg did, especially in his fifty-seven years of ministry as a priest in our diocese of Achonry.
To his ministry, in school and parish, Greg brought his unique, God-given set of skills and talents: his keen intelligence, his lively and life-long interest in new ideas, his easy way with people, especially with the young, his great good humour and sense of fun, the energy and enthusiasm he brought to projects he was engaged in. To the people of the communities in which he served, Greg carried too the compassion and care of Christ in whom he believed so strongly and he favoured always the Gospel law of love more than the seemingly stricter commandments and harsher ways of the Old Testament.
Many memories of Greg have been shared over the past few days by family and friends, past pupils and parishioners. He will be greatly missed.
He will be particularly missed by his family for Greg was a much-loved brother and uncle. You will each have your own treasured memories of Greg, of his presence at family gatherings and special occasions, of his warm ways and his thoughtfulness, all that made him so special to you. When the diminishments old age so often brings took their toll on Greg in recent years, you showed how much you valued him in your care for him, and your support enabled him to continue to live in his own home until a few short weeks ago. That care was there to the end, particularly in Sr Bernadine’s supportive presence during Greg’s recent stay in hospital and his final days in the Nazareth Nursing Home.
His past pupils from his days in St Nathy’s College have many fond memories of Greg also. We will remember an engaging teacher who introduced us to the language, literature and culture of France, who gently guided our choices in life in his role as Careers Guidance Counsellor and who encouraged talent in tennis and handball, drama and music. Those of us who were boarders at a particular point still speak, more than forty years later, of the radio station Greg set up in his room and broadcast to our dormitories at night.
People in the parishes in which he served will remember Greg as a caring pastor who enjoyed celebrating baptisms and weddings and who was a sure support at times of sickness and sorrow. He engaged with people of all ages and, especially in his younger days, was a popular presence among the youth with whom he built up a particular rapport.
Among his colleagues in this diocese Greg will be remembered for his convivial company, his sharing of interests and ideas, his contributions to our conferences and meetings for he was never shy in expressing his opinion or making his point in a discussion. Ordained in the year the Second Vatican Council met for its first session, Greg embraced its teachings with enthusiasm and constantly strived to implement the spirit of the Council in making the Gospel relevant to the reality of parish life in the modern world.
For all our memories of Greg, in whatever capacity we knew him, today, together, we give thanks to God. We pray that God will gather Greg and his goodness to himself for, in the words of the second reading, Greg has fought the good fight, he has finished the race, he has kept the faith. We commend Greg to the care of the risen Christ and ask that Christ, Greg’s brother and friend, will lead him now through the dark door of death that becomes for believers the gateway to resurrection.
Mentioning resurrection, some years ago, Greg shared with me the difference in the depiction of the risen Christ in western art and in the icons of the Orthodox churches of the East. In western Christian art, he pointed out, Christ is always pictured rising from the dead alone. In the icons of the Orthodox churches of the East, Christ is shown emerging from the world of the dead, holding the hand of Adam and of Eve and leading the whole company of the dead into the light of heaven and the peace of God’s eternal presence. That image of the risen Christ from the icons of the East made sense to Greg and says so much about the Christ he put his faith in.
So, in faith, we pray now that the risen Christ may take Greg’s hand and lead him into the life with God that lasts for ever to enjoy the promise of peace and the reward of rest and the experience of unending joy.