Homily of Bishop John McAreavey at the funeral Mass of Canon Joseph O’Hagan

24 Aug 2012

Homily of Bishop John McAreavey at the funeral Mass of Canon Joseph O’Hagan in Saint Mary’s Church, Cabra, Co Down

  • Canon Joie O’Hagan was a man who lived by faith in Jesus Christ.  He was a man of prayer; he was a pastor who was committed to the care of the flock

One of the phrases that young people use today when speaking of people they admire is to describe that person as ‘a legend’. The man whose funeral Mass we celebrate today was indeed a legend, both in that modern sense and in the older sense of someone whose life took on proportions that mark him out in a special way.

I am not going to go over the cv of Canon ‘Joie’ O’Hagan.  The places and dates are in the Mass booklet.  However it is worth noting that he was ordained a priest in the Basilica of Saint John Lateran, near the Irish College in Rome, where he had studied for the priesthood… Part of the fascination of Joie was that he lived at a time that most of us only read in history books. When he spoke about shaking hands with Mussolini, it was like going into a time machine!

Joie was ordained a priest in 1936. I know little of those years of his life and I suspect there are few enough people around who do. I note however that when he was ordained, there was no room for him in the diocese and this is why he returned to Glasgow. Indeed some of his early appointments in the diocese have long since ceased to exist. So he was a priest in another era. Canon Joie’s priesthood was formed in those years. It was reflected in his attachment to the writings of a priest of that era, a Dublin diocesan priest who became a Benedictine monk (and later abbot) in the Belgian monastery of Maredsous, Dom Columba Marmion. Marmion wrote a famous book, Christ, the ideal of the priest. This was a lifelong companion for Canon Joie. The language of that spirituality is a bit dated for modern tastes but the essential vision of the priesthood is true:

There is one exhortation of the Bishop which must claim our special attention:  “Consider well what you do:  imitate the mystery of which you are the minister, that is the mystery of the death of our Lord”.

This is our true programme of sanctity.  If we wish to rise to the heights of our priesthood, if we wish it to give perfume to our whole life and to inflame us with love and zeal for the conquest of souls – and is not this our most noble ambition – we must, in accordance with the words of the consecrating Bishop, imitate and reproduce Christ, the Priest and the Victim.  If we share in his priestly dignity, is it not right that we should take part in His oblation?

Joie took that spirituality to heart and throughout his life he was a man devoted to prayer, a man who took spiritual direction, a man who drew strength by going to confession. He regarded the celebration of Mass as the very core of his life and until a short time before he died, he celebrated daily Mass in his home for a group of neighbours and friends.

Joie was about half-way through his life when an event took place that was to make a huge impact on the Catholic Church, the Second Vatican Council that took place in Rome from 1962-5.  Joie said about this: ‘There were big changes after the Council. A lot of simplicity was brought into the Church. The time of being princes and lords was over; the focus turned to service, as we learned to wash each other’s feet. Following Vatican II there was a big change in attitude.’

I have a sense that this change rang true for Joie and brought out strengths in his own living of the priesthood. One of these was the place of Scripture in the lives of Catholic people. I know that for Joie the scripture became the bedrock of his own faith, his own spirituality and his ministry. In the years after the Council, he took the apostolate of teaching the scriptures very seriously and he gathered groups of parishioners to help them develop a deeper understanding of the scriptures.

Today the Church in Ireland is trying to promote the idea of the parish as a place where faith grows. A few months ago, in response to the desire of the priests of the diocese, I asked a priest to take on the role of developing adult faith formation in the parishes of the diocese. Joie had grasped this many years ago.

In the scriptures read today I want to highlight a few thoughts. In the Old Testament reading we have the vision of God as the shepherd: ‘Behold, I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock when some of his sheep have been scattered abroad, so will I seek out my sheep… I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep.’

For Christians, Jesus was the Good Shepherd par excellence. And for men like Joie, the Catholic priesthood was a God-given vocation, a way of life based on the example and the call of Jesus.

Joie O’Hagan was a man who lived by faith in Jesus Christ. He was a man of prayer; he was a pastor who was committed to the care of the flock, young and old, sick and healthy, weak and strong. He loved them all and they, recognising the love of the Good Shepherd shining through him, loved him.  He lived by the Holy Scriptures and he took to heart the reassurance of the words of Jesus that we hear in today’s gospel… And so he thought of death without fear. In fact he longed for it in recent years.

So today we thank God for the life and ministry of a good priest, a joyful and contented priest. We thank God for the grace of knowing him and of being touched by his faith and service. We pray that, now that he has returned to his Lord and Master, he will inspire young men to allow the faintest stirrings of a call to the priesthood to find a place in their hearts and perhaps to find the courage to listen to the call, ‘come, follow me and I will make you fishers of people’.

  • Canon O’Hagan was buried today in the cemetery at Saint John The Evangelist, Ballymaghery, Hilltown, County Down.

The life and ministry of Canon Joseph O’Hagan:

Date of birth: 17 June 1911

Education: Saint John’s Primary School, Glasgow; secondary – Saint Mary’s Academy Glasgow and Saint Colman’s College, Newry; seminary – Pontifical Irish College, Rome

Ordination: Basilica of Saint John’s Lateran, Rome, on 7 March 1936

Assignments since ordination:

June 1936 – July 1937 – Curate in St. Brigid’s Lanarkshire

July 1937 – December 1939 – Curate in St. Mary’s

January 1940 – January 1941 – Chaplain in Assumption Convent Ballynahinch

February 1941 – March 1942 – Chaplain to St. Joseph’s Home, Warrenpoint

March 1942 – July 1942 – Curate in Aghaderg

July 1942 – March 1954 – Curate in Lurgan

1954 – 1964 – Ballynahinch Parish

June 1964 – August 1987 Appointed Parish Priest of Dromore

30 August 1987 – retired as Parish Priest appointed CC to Cabra

September 1998 retired as Canon.

Retired as curate  2005

Died 21 August 2012 at his home in Hilltown, Co Down


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