“You must be detached” he would say to us his students back in the 1970’s, a lesson that I have tried to learn with some success and then none. We learn, forget, and relearn. Detachment was taught to me again when I visited Pat in August and it is taught again today with the announcement that his funeral will take place on Christmas Eve and I cannot attend. It’s a funeral that I should be at, but this is the price one has to pay for not living in Ireland.
What does it matter in the end and who am I anyway that I should be there? But I feel the pain of grief, the pain of disconnection, the pain of being alone with this. At least yesterday evening Evelyn was here to sit with me in the silencing news of his death. He was a father to me, father of my spiritual life. This is not just detachment; it is the Cross – another lesson that Pat sought to teach us.
“You must remember the Cross” he announced with right index finger raised on the day of our ordination when everyone else was getting high on glory and too much praise. You must remember the Cross! And how right he was. Of all the speeches given that day, this is the only thing I remember, and it has come true time and time again – in me, in us and in him.
The Cross visited him heavily in the last years of his extraordinary life. The Cross of illness and loss. The promise of Jesus to Peter, “when you are old someone else will put a belt around you and take you to a place where you would rather not go.” This was fulfilled in him absolutely and completely.
It is striking that the theme of the Cross came into my prayer on the day that he died when I read these words of St. Louis Marie de Montfort, “Incarnate Wisdom loved the Cross from His Infancy. He placed it deep in His Heart, there to dominate His life saying, ‘My God and my Father I chose the Cross…I choose it now…I love it with all my strength…to be my spouse and my mistress.’”
The Cross my spouse and mistress. I love it with all my strength. Pat loved God with all his heart, strength, and mind and might. He had great might in him.
Pat died yesterday evening, December 21, 2022, as the shortest day gave way to the longest night, the sun reaching its lowest before returning again. It’s amazing that he should die only two weeks after Vincent Kelly. Both men became pivotal in my life fifty years ago. Vincent brought me into the Pallottines, directly into the sphere of Pat under whose guidance I would grow up and learn the most fundamental lessons of the spiritual life as he taught us to pray and meditate on the Scriptures among many other things. But these aspects – prayer, meditation, the Word of God – became the bedrock of my life.
Father Pat also believed in my vocation when others thought I was unsuitable and in times when I lost faith in myself.
In 1972 I was accepted into the Pallottines even though I failed the Leaving Certificate. And when the doctor who did my psychological assessment concluded that I was unsuitable, Pat still persisted with me, not revealing to me that piece of bad news until four years later when I decided to leave the Pallottines.
He was still only thirty-seven years old when I joined as an innocent seventeen-year-old, but we thought that he was old and how awesome and intimidating he appeared with his jet-black hair, black rimmed glasses and black habit with its flapping cape. And he was very strict, demanding of us the highest standards of integrity but we, though willing to learn, were young and wild, daring to break rules. But he was also fair and never sought to catch us out. He wore squeaky shoes that announced his presence on the corridor, giving us time to get things right before he knocked on the door. And while he was scrupulous in his correcting of our faults, he also overlooked many of our misdemeanours.
In the summer of 1974 Pat went through one of the most significant experiences of his own life when he encountered Charismatic Renewal during a priest’s retreat in Maynooth. The Holy Spirit took hold of him and turned him upside down, so that when we returned after our summer holidays we found a changed man singing silly sounding hymns and praying in tongues.
That was the beginning of our Spiritual Year, which was lived under the influence of Charismatic renewal, beginning with the first National Conference of Charismatic Renewal in the RDS which was an overwhelming experience for us. The dynamism of that period in the Church in Ireland was incredible. We had weekly prayer meetings in the College, learned the ways of Charismatic prayer and gifts and some of us nearly drove the other students mad with our zeal. John O’Brien was foremost among us students to take on the Charismatic mantle. Both he and Pat remained committed to this way of Life in the Spirit for the rest of their lives. I became a quiet Charismatic, being drawn more to silence and the monastic life.
In a period when I was struggling with this feeling of being called to a monastery, Pat recognized the contemplative in me but insisted as always that I seek the Will of God, one more of his great lessons. Go to Jesus and pray that God’s Will be done. This is another part of his legacy in my life. Obedience to God and obedience to those in authority has stood me in good stead.
In 1975 Pat was elected Provincial of the Irish Province of the Pallottines, an office he held for twelve years, and he is probably one of the greatest Provincials in our history. A towering figure, a man of great authority, vision, and integrity. In this role he continued to have a direct influence on my life.
After my ordination as a deacon, he appointed me to serve in England where I spent part of the summer of 1979 serving in Greenford. On my return to Thurles the Rector, John Fitzpatrick asked me how I felt about the experience and when I said it was alright he asked, “if you had a choice where would you like to go?” “To Tanzania” I replied.
Pat was not impressed because he felt I was trying to change my appointment but after discussing it with me he decided to appoint me to Tanzania which would prove to be one of the most significant, demanding, and fruitful times of my life. When Africa gets into your heart, it remains there forever.
But before going there I was sent to Rome for a year and a very unhappy time it was. Possibly the most unhappy time of my life as a priest. Towards the end of that appointment Pat came on visitation and during my interview with him he asked how I was. “Fine” I replied. “You’re not fine” he said as he allowed me to pour out my heart, not giving any advice but ending our conversation with a big, strong fatherly hug. The tenderness of the man!
It was he who brought me back to Ireland from Tanzania after five years, to give retreats as part of the Mission Team that had been set up, the mostly delightful of ministries in which I served for the next ten years of my life – travelling the length and breadth of Ireland, first with the late Bill Hanly and Jimmy Carroll, later with John Fitzpatrick, Sr. Mary McNulty and Michael Coen. Nine of those were spent again under the direct stewardship of Pat when he returned to Thurles to succeed Donal McCarthy as Rector. It was during those years as Rector that he got involved in the Healing of the Family Tree and I was privileged to help in a small way with those retreats that brought many, many people through the doors of our house and our lives.
And it was during those years too that we grew closer to each other in a new way, and I experienced his generosity, his tolerance, great kindness, and support. May I say love. He loved me through times of personal crisis and grief.
To observe him in prayer was awe-inspiring. His fidelity to Jesus in the Eucharist, the Divine Office, the Rosary, Divine Mercy. The many pilgrimages he went on to Medjugorje and the Holy Land. He climbed Mount Sinai, being himself a type of Moses, one with whom the Lord spoke face to face as to a friend. He and I did Lough Derg together.
One of the lovely things was to hear him speak of his childhood, visiting the original home place in Drombane in Tipperary where they family lived before moving to Dromdowney in South Kilkenny.
In more recent years when his memory began to fail we would sit together in the dining room in Thurles and all I had to do was mention his childhood and he would retell lovely stories, true stories that included long bicycle journeys with his brothers from Kilkenny into Tipperary.
It has been a singular privilege to have shared so many years, in so many ways in the life of this giant of a man of God, one who embodied dignity, truth, conviction, kindness and may other virtues.
I mourn him with the hope-filled mourning of the Christian. We will never see the like of him again, but please God we will be together again in heaven and as Pallotti said “in heaven we shall rest “. Farewell now to this father who has marked and shaped my whole life, whom I respect, admire, and love. Rest in Peace dear noble soul.
|Thus says the Lord, “I will let him come freely into my presence and he can come close to me.”|