17 September 2010
Homily of Archbishop Michael Neary for the funeral of Canon Oliver Hughes PP, Corofin, Tuam
Joining with Canon Martin Gleeson, Curate in Belclare in this parish, with Father Paddy Gilligan, close friend and class-fellow of Father Oliver, I welcome you all to this Funeral Mass. A special welcome to Oliver’s own family, to his family of parishioners in Corofin, his past pupils and colleagues from St Jarlath’s, to the Religious, to lovers of our Gaelic games and my brother priests.
Feast of the Day when Canon Oliver died, Tuesday, 14 September
On Tuesday, as the Church was celebrating the Feast of the Triumph of the Holy Cross, Oliver Hughes was carrying his cross to the ultimate triumph, his meeting with his Lord and maker. The words “triumph” and “cross” do not normally belong together. “Triumph” suggests celebration, achievement, recognition. “Cross” indicates suffering, humiliation, defeat.
The Cross … Victory or Defeat?
As Christians however we don’t find that combination in any way strange. We know what it means. Indeed, within thirty years of the Crucifixion of Jesus, the first and greatest Christian theologian, St Paul, writing to the small community in Corinth, stated: we preach Christ crucified……..Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God”. Christ crucified – the power and the wisdom of God, no one in the history of Christianity has expressed the paradox of the triumph of the cross more eloquently.
The Cross … an outpouring of love
What is this power that shows itself in such degrading weakness? It is the power of love, the power of a love that is greater than any human love, the love spoken about in today’s gospel reading, “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son”. Here was a divine love that became a human love in the life and death of Jesus, a love so powerful that it was in no diminished by the experience of rejection and hatred.
The Triumph of the Cross
We continue to venerate the cross today because we know that the triumph of the cross is a triumph in which we all share. The love that burst forth from the Hill of Calvary continues to flow into all our lives. In a particular way, the Eucharist that we celebrate makes the triumph of the cross present to us today. God so loved the world that he continues to give his own Son. As St Paul puts it: “as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes”. We continue to be drawn by a love that is not in any diminished by our lack of response to it, by our many failings and weaknesses. The Eucharist has been described as bread broken for a broken people.
Fruit / Effects of the Cross
Not only are we the beneficiaries of the triumph of God’s love on the cross, but sometimes our own lives can reveal to others the triumph of the cross. That triumph can show itself in our lives in all kind of simple, and un-dramatic ways. It reveals itself in the tolerance and humour we show to each other, against all the odds, the willingness to let go of old hurts. It shows itself in the bearing of terminal illness with patience and dignity, in the fidelity to significant commitments when they become costly. In the loving service that endures to the end.
The Centrality of the Cross in Pastoral Ministry
As all the priests here present will testify, so much of our ministry is spent in the vicinity of the cross. As we endeavour to minister to families and individuals, enabling and encouraging them to carry their crosses of illness, loneliness, bereavement, anxiety and worry.
Promises Made at Ordination
On Ordination Day, Oliver Hughes stood before Archbishop Joseph Walsh who asked him a number of questions about his willingness to serve God’s people, specifically about the Eucharist and the Sacraments: ‘are you resolved to celebrate the mysteries of Christ faithfully and religiously as the Church has handed them down to us for the glory of God and the sanctification of Christ’s people”? to which he replied “I am”. Those promises made by this talented, outspoken, witty, intellectually gifted young man on the 15 June, 1969, would be lived out in different situations among different people at different times.
His first appointment took him to Strasburg University where he studied Catechetics. At the time great interest was placed in the Catechetical programme in the aftermath of the Second Vatican Council and because of his keen interest in theology Oliver was particularly suited to that responsibility. In 1970 he was appointed as curate in Finney, in the parish of Leenane, while teaching in the Post-Primary School in Ballinrobe.
St Jarlath’s College
After two years he was appointed to the staff of St Jarlath’s College where he was to minister for the next thirty-two years. Coming from a progressive farming background – In his early days in the school Oliver had responsibility for the College farm, an interest that he maintained all his life. It may have been this knowledge and expertise in livestock that fuelled another life long interest in the questionably more lucrative but certainly more speedy form of animal life, the bloodstock or the noble race horse!
Man of intellect and a scholar
Being blest with a sharp intellect and an enquiring, questioning mind – Oliver read widely and voraciously. He was well versed in Spirituality and Theology, particularly Christology. He had a keen interest in language and the derivation and meaning of words. His capacity for instinctive, incisive, quick decision-making was well known. He had a sharp wit and an excellent turn of phrase. His learning was worn lightly and with ease.
Educationalist in the broadest sense
His interest educationally went way beyond the subjects which he taught in the classroom, namely French and Religion or Catechetics. Oliver demonstrated great humanity and compassion as a teacher, while at the same time never sacrificing control or authority. He developed a great rapport with students, had a great pastoral interest in them and continued to remain friendly with so many for years and years afterwards. He became very involved in the training of football teams and athletics. This was particularly suited to his own experience as a footballer.
Coming from a family steeped in footballing tradition – his father, Tommy being an All-Ireland medallist with Galway in the 1934 – Oliver quickly established himself as an outstanding young back on the field of play. In the early years of the 1960s he had claimed an All Ireland Colleges Medal with St Jarlath’s in 1961 and a county minor title with Corofin in 1962. At a time when it was unusual to see even senior county players point fifties, Oliver was driving fifties over the bar as a Colleges player. I have no doubt that had he not been studying for the priesthood during the 60’s he would have been a contender for a place on the great Galway three in a row team. As a trainer he always inculcated great discipline, determination and placed a premium on sportsmanship whether in victory or defeat. He steered four St Jarlath’s team to Hogan Cup victories in ’78, ’82, ’84 and 2002. In 1984 he became President of the College, utilising his leadership and administrative skills to foster team spirit among the staff and students.
One of his proudest moments as President of the College was the celebration of the bicentenary in 2000, welcoming back hundreds of past pupils for an outstanding occasion that was a truly great celebration of education, friendship and faith.
Understanding of Religious Life
Having had a number of Aunts in religious life, Oliver had a profound understanding of the great charism of what religious life had to offer to the Church and to society. He ministered with, understanding, care and sensitivity as Chaplain to the Presentation Community here in Tuam as well as the Mercy when the occasion arose.
Appointment as Parish Priest of Corofin
In 2003 Oliver became your Parish Priest here in Corofin. In a very short time you got to know his concern for the people, the way in which he involved, included, encouraged all to become active participants in the work of the Church and the proclamation of the Gospel. He has been central to and shared in your great victories, in moments of celebration whether it was weddings or baptisms, and the success of your great teams.
He had been coping courageously with indifferent health in the past three years and perhaps even longer. However, it did not in any way diminish his availability to yourselves or the service which he provided. The big hands that plucked the ball out of the sky were the same hands which welcomed you, blest you and fed you with the Body of Christ. The broad shoulders which kept half-back lines together nearly 50 years ago were the shoulders which supported families and individuals at critical times of death, serious illness, tragedy and worry, when the cross of ill-health was laid on these same shoulders Oliver carried it courageously, without complaint or self-pity.
Priest and People – United in Love and Faith
Those who write and speak about priesthood frequently fail to acknowledge the close intimate bond which exists between people and their priest. This is something of which the people of Corofin are particularly conscious. Only last year on the occasion of the celebration of the 40th anniversary of Oliver’s Ordination the people of the parish acknowledged that in a very joyful and most memorable celebration.
Relationship of Mutual Dependency
As all my brother priests here will readily acknowledge we are very dependant on the people to whom we minister, for your support, loyalty and prayers. Oliver knew that he was particularly privileged to work with you here in Corofin. On this occasion I want to express my deep gratitude to you for the way in which you worked with him, supported and appreciated his priestly ministry. This was not just an expression of the esteem in which you held the man himself but also a resounding expression of your faith in priesthood.
The Priest and his Family
As priests we are also members of our own families and very dependent on them in so many ways. Canon Oliver was very proud of his family, his brothers and sisters and their families. Always interested in and supportive of your initiatives and proud of your achievements. On behalf of all the people of the Archdiocese I want to thank Father Oliver’s family for the enormous contribution which you have made to our diocese through your brother and uncle, a courageous colossus and a wonderful ambassador for Jesus Christ and priesthood.
Conclusion and Farewell
Canon Oliver Hughes will be deeply and sadly missed in so many ways: for his intense passion for life, for sport, for people, for family, for humour, for the truth, for God. Most of all he will be remembered for his enormous generosity of spirit, generous to a fault in giving. As today’s second reading from St Paul tells us – like Jesus Christ he literally emptied himself of all the good that he could from the immensity of his considerable talents … to the very last ounce. May he generously and abundantly reap his reward from the bountiful hands of his Saviour this day in Paradise.
Joining with my brother priests and with all who are privileged to know him, with the religious of the diocese, I extend our deep sympathy and the support of our prayers to Fr Oliver’s family, Mary, Pearl, Nuala, Majella, Angela, John, Regina, Tom, sisters-in-law, brothers-in-law, nieces, nephews, grandnieces, grandnephews, the people of Corofin, the community of St Jarlath’s College.
Is cinnte nach mbeidh a leithéid arís ann. Ar Dheis Dé go raibh a anam uasal Gaelach. Amen.
Archbishop Michael Neary is the Archbishop of Tuam
Martin Long, Catholic Communications Office Maynooth, 00353 86 172 7678