News archive 2010

Homily of Bishop John McAreavey, Bishop of Dromore, for the funeral Mass of Francis Gerard Brooks, retired Bishop of Dromore

PRESS RELEASE
7 September 2010

Homily of Bishop John McAreavey, Bishop of Dromore, for the funeral Mass of Francis Gerard Brooks, retired Bishop of Dromore

Bishop Brooks’ life was touched often by the Troubles; the violence and suffering of many people in the diocese in those years affected him deeply. The discouragement of those years weighed heavily upon him.
– Bishop John McAreavey

The death of a loved one brings us to what the Gospel today calls ‘a lonely place’.  It reminds us of our own mortality and forces us to confront realities that normally we choose to evade. When a loved one dies, we have to face a future without them. At the same time, the death of a person provides us with the opportunity to reflect on their life. In the case of Fr Gerard, as his family and friends knew him, this leads us to reflect on the vocation that led him to serve God as a priest and Bishop. The call of Jeremiah – recounted in the First Reading – reminds us that the mystery of every vocation begins in the mind of God:

The Word of the Lord was addressed to me, saying: Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; before you came to birth I consecrated you. I have appointed you as prophet to the nations.

The Word of the Lord was addressed to me, saying: Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; before you came to birth I consecrated you. I have appointed you as prophet to the nations.

Jeremiah protests:

Ah Lord, look; I do not know how to speak: I am a child.

Ah Lord, look; I do not know how to speak: I am a child.

God reassures him:

Do not say, ‘I am a child’.
Go now to those to whom I send you.
Do not be afraid of them
For I am with you to protect you –
It is the Lord who speaks!

The prophet then recalls: The Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, ‘there! I am putting my words into your mouth’.

Fr Gerard, like Jeremiah, had many obstacles in his young life that might have led him to feel that God’s call was too demanding for him: as a child he contracted polio; when he was 11 his father died and three years later he lost his mother; as a result, he moved, with his brother and sister, from Rathfriland to Barr – to the home of their aunt, Mrs Larkin. Mrs Larkin raised the three Brooks children and looked after them with great devotion. She was present in Maynooth on 19th June 1949 when Fr Gerard was ordained a priest in 1949. After ordination he did post-graduate studies for three years and completed these studies with a further year in Rome (1952-3).

On his return from Rome he lived the rest of his life in a very small geographical radius: he spent 23 years on the staff of St Colman’s College; he moved to Bishop’s House in 1976 and remained there for another 23 years until 1999, when he retired and returned to Drumiller. In the eleven years of retirement he lived peacefully surrounded by the support and affection of his family. He continued to take an active interest in many areas of local and Church life until his death.

Reflecting on his life as Bishop (or ‘elder’), St Paul, says:

I am an elder myself, and a witness to the sufferings of Christ, and with you I have a share in the glory that is to be revealed.

Fr Gerard was indeed a witness to the sufferings of Christ. When he celebrated Mass he prayed: ‘Father, calling to mind the death your Son endured for our salvation …’ The spirituality of his generation concentrated strongly on the death of Christ and on the call of the baptised to offer their lives in union with the death of Christ. This was a constant theme in his preaching.

Like St Paul, he carried in his own flesh a reminder of the sufferings of Christ. Particularly in his final years as Bishop and in his retirement, he experienced intense pain that is associated with polio. While he did not refer to this during most of his life, he began in his latter years to talk openly about that pain and discomfort.

As a Bishop from 1976 till 1999, his life was touched often by the Troubles; the violence and suffering of many people in the diocese in those years affected him deeply. The discouragement of those years weighed heavily upon him.

In more recent times I know that that problems that face the Church today were a cause of suffering for him.

In the Second Reading today St Paul says: ‘When the chief Shepherd appears, you will be given the crown of unfading glory’. This reminds us that there is only one Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ; those ordained to serve God’s people are the visible representatives of that Good Shepherd; they serve in His name; they preach His word; they show His compassion and care. Do they fall short of the qualities of the Good Shepherd? Nothing is more certain. However we pray today that when the chief Shepherd appears, he will indeed give Bishop Brooks ‘the crown of unfading glory’.

It is hard to sum up a lifetime’s ministry of a priest or Bishop. However I wish to highlight some of the main preoccupations of Bishop Brooks. When he became Bishop in 1976, just a decade after the Second Vatican Council, many of the changes of the Council still had to be implemented. One of the developments he promoted was the appointment of laywomen and men as Readers and as Eucharistic Ministers.

As a man who spent many years teaching in a Catholic school, he was deeply interested in Catholic education; he was involved in setting up CCMS in 1989 and he was concerned with many other issues that affected Catholic education over the years.

Along with the late Fr Mattie O’Hare, he was involved in the setting up of CMAC – now ACCORD – in Newry.

He was deeply committed to the work of Trócaire. The fact that the people of this diocese were consistently the most generous in the country is due at least in part to his support for Trócaire and his encouragement of it in the parishes and schools of the diocese.

He was a committed supporter of the annual Dromore pilgrimage to Lourdes. In retirement he joined the sick of the diocese on that pilgrimage, finally dropping out just two years ago when the challenge of travel was too much for him.

He was a consistent supporter of the work of the South Down Ecumenical Clergy Fellowship, some of whose members are present here today.

A major tangible achievement was the refurbishment of this Cathedral that was completed in 1990. It is a tribute to Bishop Brooks that this work was done in a way that the people of Newry and the people of the diocese accept and admire.

Bishop Brooks was a member of the Irish Bishops Conference and in that forum played an active role, particularly in the area of finance. A bishop who worked alongside him wrote to me, ‘he was a fine bishop, a good colleague and an extraordinary servant of the [Bishops’] Conference’.

In today’s Gospel we find Jesus welcoming the people, preaching to them ‘about the kingdom of God’ and curing those who were in need of healing. When the problem emerged of how to feed and lodge the people, the Twelve were of a mind to send them away for, they said, ‘we are in a lonely place here’. Despite the meagre resources, Jesus turns the moment of crisis into a moment of miraculous blessing. The Twelve are aware of what they have not; Jesus reminds them about what they have:

Then he took the five loaves and the two fish, raised his eyes to heaven, and said the blessing over them; then he broke them and handed them to the disciples to distribute them among the crowd. They all ate as much as they wanted, and when the scraps remaining were collected they filled twelve baskets.

Today the Church finds itself ‘up against it’, despairing, aware of its profound limitations and failures, unsure where to turn, the Risen Lord invites us to turn to Him with confidence and humility. The Church has always seen this Gospel story of the miraculous multiplication of the loaves and fish as recalling the action of Jesus in the Eucharist; Jesus reminds the Twelve that in the process of nourishing the people, he too will end up like the broken pieces that are left over. The brokenness of Jesus still lies before him: in his arrest, trial and crucifixion. But it led to his resurrection, to new life and new hope. Today we pray that the brokenness of the Church will, in God’s providence, lead us to new life, new hope, new vision for God’s people.

We pray that God who called Gerard Brooks to be a disciple in baptism and as a servant in ordination, will now welcome him to the place he has prepared for him in heaven in the company of his parents, his sister, his sister-in-law and all the saints who have gone before him.

ENDS

Notes to Editors:
Biography of Bishop Francis Gerard Brooks

  • Born 14 January 1924, one of three children of Bernard and Mary Elizabeth.
  • Baptised 15 January 1924 in Newry Cathedral.
  • Attends National School in Rathfriland.
  • Confirmed 22 April 1934 in Barnmeen Church, Drumgath Parish.
  • Receives his early secondary education in Newry, first at the Abbey Christian Brothers’ School, then at Saint Colman’s College, where eventually he is appointed Head Prefect.
  • Enters St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth to begin his studies for the priesthood – Autumn 1942.
  • Graduates Bachelor of Science – 1945.
  • Graduates Bachelor of Divinity – 1948.
  • Ordained Priest 19 June 1949.
  • Pursues post-graduate studies in Rome, achieving his Doctorate of Canon Law in June 1952.
  • Appointed in the autumn of 1953 to the staff of St. Colman’s College to teach Science, Geography and Mathematics.
  • Appointed as College President in 1972 and created a Canon of the Cathedral Chapter.
  • Ordained Bishop of Dromore 25 January 1976.
  • Retires as Bishop of Dromore with the elevation of Bishop John McAreavey 19 September 1999.
  • Died 4 September 2010.

Further information:
Martin Long, Director of Communications 086 172 7678
Brenda Drumm, Communications Officer, 087 310 4444

The IEC provides external links as convenience to our users. The appearance of external links does not constitute endorsement by IEC of the information, products or services contained therein.