Canon Andrew Johnston. R.I.P.
The death has taken place of Canon Andrew Johnston, a priest of our diocese.
Fr Andy retired in 2009 on grounds of poor health. He has been cared for since that time.
Our sympathy to his nephew, nieces and their families and to his wide circle of friends.
May he rest in peace. Amen.
- Born: 31st July 1938 in Abbeyquarter, Ballyhaunis.
- Educated Ballyhaunis N.S. and St Nathy’s College
- Ordained: June 1964
- Ballymote Parish Summer 1974
- Appointed CC Bonniconlon 1964-66
- Appointed to St Nathy’s College
- Dean 1966-1973
- Teacher 1973-1982
- President 1982-1996
- Sabbatical Rome: 1996-1997
- Appointed Parish Priest of Foxford 1997
- Retired 2009
“There was darkness over the whole land” towards the end, and the cry “My God, my God, why have you deserted me?”… And then the tomb…and the very big stone shutting him in.
In the light of the last years of Fr Andy Johnston’s life, the Gospel account resonates …and those words – ‘Darkness’, ‘deserted’, ‘tomb’ : they give food for us to ponder, gathered here as we are to remember Canon Andy, in fondness and in faith.
He was born almost 77 years ago in Ballyhaunis. Secondary School in St Nathy’s meant he became a priest of this diocese of Achonry. The same St Nathy’s figured strongest in his life as a priest: 20 years in all, as Dean, teacher and eventually a very effective and transforming President. After a sabbatical year in Rome, he came here to Foxford as ParishPriest in 1997. He was very happy here. And though away since his retirement in 2009 on health grounds, he is now back again, and here he will remain, his final resting place. This is what he wanted.
Fr Andy was an imposing figure. Somewhat reserved and private. Nevertheless very approachable and very fair. The word that keeps coming up when people talk of him is kind.
These last months, I have been around the diocese doing Confirmations, the Sacrament of the Holy Spirit. The gifts given to all for the sake of human flourishing, but dormant unless we choose to awaken and use them and allow them bear their fruits. My last visit to Foxford was a few weeks ago to confirm 69 young people from the parish area. Looking on Fr Andy in the light of these gifts, we see he was a man of some wisdom, he read widely, prayed constantly and worked hard. He was understanding, and fair in judgement, and courageous in decision. The Gifts of the Holy Spirit were alive in him. Consequently he bore the fruit, especially kindness. But not only that. His family especially will have known his love. He was patient, too, faithful , loyal, and gentle. There was a peace around him. And in these last years too, TG. One man described him as a perfect gentleman and totally confidential.
I mention all of these qualities not in order to eulogise the man whom I know was human too, like the rest of us, but in order that we might today all the more deeply give thanks to God and to the Holy Spirit whom Andy had the grace to allow come alive in him in so many ways.
And then we come back to those final years when he was, to put it gently, away from us. There have been many extraordinary advances in medicine and science in our modern era, cures and promises of cures. We live longer. And yet, the mystery remains to challenge and test. Truth is, the more the mysteries are unfolded, the deeper they become. Alzheimer’s disease confronts us with that mystery. At its most uncomfortable. Regardless of education or qualification, we flounder in coping. For us, who have to watch, it is unbearable. We can’t speak for the one on whom the dementia has descended. “When the 6th hour came there was darkness over the whole land until the 9th hour.” And a kind of chaos. “The veil of the temple was torn in two.” But the centurion got it right. “In truth, this man was a son of God.”
So today, and yesterday, we have come, many people have come, to anoint him with our prayers, like those women with their spices. The stone, too big for us, which locked him in, has been removed. And Andy, like Jesus, to whom in the idealism of his youth he gave his life, is free again, with a freedom we cannot even begin to imagine, please God.
The first reading tells us: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me. He has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, the broken hearted, to proclaim liberty.” I think we can say on reflection today, that God did indeed choose Andy to bring this good news. And not just by those admirable and important things he did, that the world rightly lauds, but above all like his Master through the poverty, which so challenges us all, that he lived like his Master at the end.
Every Mass begins by asking the Lord’s mercy as we prepare to celebrate the sacred mysteries. One way or another, all our lives reflect and contain these mysteries of the passion of the Lord. May God give us the grace to live them well and to offer them with Jesus, surrendered,that the world and all we love may be saved.
So we thank you Lord for Fr Andy Johnston for the life, the love, and the passion of Canon Andy Johnston agus ar do dheas-lámh go raibh sé faoi shíocháin.