The news of the death of Monsignor Jim Cassin was greeted with great sadness by his family, many friends and colleagues in the Diocese of Ossory and far beyond. Since his Ordination in 1972, Jim has been a faithful servant of our diocese and, thanks to his national roles, the Church in Ireland. Jim entered the Pontifical Irish College, Rome in 1966; he was one of a class of 19, the biggest class ever to enter the College. He formed life-long friendships in Rome.
Jim’s life as a priest, a bit like Gaul, was divided into three parts.
Firstly, like Saint Colum Cille, whose feast we celebrate today, after ordination he served as a missionary for the gospel in the parish of Hartlepool in the Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle. He spoke often and fondly of his time there, and indeed he kept contact with some people from the parish down through the years.
Secondly, following his return from Hartlepool he taught moral theology, and other subjects, in Kieran’s College where he was in charge of seminarians and later served as President. I have known him for many years, but more especially in his role as President of the College and in the Education Secretariat, Maynooth. He carried out both of these roles with great diligence and sensitivity.
Over the 48 years of Jim’s life as a priest there has been an enormous change in Irish culture that had a significant impact on the role and understanding of the church in Irish society. From the time of this ordination to his retirement, the understandings, activities, and pastoral strategies of the past were all being refashioned in the cauldron of the contemporary situation. Father Jim spent 29 years ministering in Saint Kieran’s College, as a professor, formator and leader. In these roles he was charged with reading the signs of the times. This responsibility extends in a special way to any person who is responsible for the formation of candidates for ministerial priesthood. Jim, who was never isolated or cut off from the ecclesial body or the ambient culture, was very well placed to carry out this particular responsibility as he was deeply embedded in the local and universal church and in the surrounding culture.
Thirdly, following his time in Saint Kieran’s he took up a position in the education office in Maynooth He made many valuable contributions to education. I mention three in particular.
- He was instrumental in developing a policy on the provision of education in Ireland. This policy championed the right of people to have their children educated according to their convictions. In short, he helped to re-centre the role and rights of parents and parental choice in Catholic education.
- He was very involved in the writing of Vision 08, a key document on education issued by the Irish Episcopal Conference. This document focussed in particular on the Church’s contribution to education in Ireland and outlined what was unique about Catholic education.
- For many years he represented Ireland in Catholic Education in Europe through the European Committee for Catholic Education (CEEC). His contribution at the European level helped bring about a broadening of our understanding of Catholic education here in Ireland. Jim was passionate about education. He did not have a superficial and siloed perceptions of education; rather, he had a good grasp of education in all its dimensions: primary, secondary and third level. He was always an encouraging presence who made a significant contribution to the world of Catholic education here in Ireland and abroad.
But leaving aside his outstanding contributions to education, there were many other things in him as an individual by which those who knew him well were inspired. He was a great conversationalist, good sense of humour. He had a great capacity for engaging with people – e.g. waiters in restaurants. He had zest for life and a great capacity for enjoying things – conversations, meals, films, books, gite. An excellent and loyal friend, who loved to laugh and to make others laugh; a man of the Gospel. It is a blessing to have known him.
He was a wonderful person in so many ways. He was good pianist. He combined a good intellect with great humility and benevolence, a way with people and good sense of humour. He created unity; he was a builder of community around himself, a reconciler. Jim, never wanted to offend; indeed, he never wanted to make a decision that would offend anyone. His presence in the diocese went beyond any particular task.
“Faith is the beginning and the end of love, and God is the two brought into unity. After that what comes next in importance for a Christian is whatever that makes up a Christian gentleman.” The whole way of following Christ is well summed up in these words of Ignatius of Antioch, disciple of John the Evangelist, and the first to use the term ‘Catholic’, as he was on his way to Rome to be martyred by the wild beasts in the amphitheatre. Devotion to ministry and duty, however distasteful it may be at times, and a cultivation of the ordinary virtues of care, concern, and respect for others, form the basis of any good Christian life- this is what real spirituality is in the mind of Ignatius. And I think this idea of perfection in the ordinary things of life is what Father Jim excelled in and left us as a towering example. Despite his work and devotion to duty, he always cared for those who were about him and those who assisted him in his work.
Today, we give thanks for the life and witness of Monsignor Jim Cassin and for the signposts he has raised on the road of our shared pastoral mission. He will be sadly missed by all those whose lives he touched, those who knew and loved him. A lifetime of service, totally and generously given, will, we pray, be rewarded.
May he rest in peace.
Bishop of Ossory
· The Funeral Mass for Monsignor Jim Cassin RIP took place on Tuesday 9 June in The Church of the Assumption, Thomastown, Co Kilkenny.
For media contact: Catholic Communications Office Maynooth: Martin Long +353 (0) 86 172 7678