“I ask you to pray for priests and vocations to priesthood” – Archbishop Michael Neary
Homily for the Funeral Mass of Very Rev Pat O’Brien PP of Caherlistrane, Co Galway, Archdiocese of Tuam
I welcome Father. Pat’s family. I reserve a very special welcome to Archbishop Francis Duffy. Fáilte roimh muintir na h-áite, agus fáilte roimh ‘chuile dhuine idir cléir agus tuatha.
As we lay Father Pat O’Brien to rest we celebrate the priesthood of Jesus Christ in which Pat shared for forty-two years. Every priest will endeavour to make Jesus Christ present to the people he serves, and will do this by utilising his particular gifts, interests and personality.
Father Pat O’ Brien was a very warm, welcoming, hospitable priest and yet those who knew him well would acknowledge that he was also a very private person. He was very close to and conscious of the vulnerability and the suffering of the people to whom he ministered, I believe that Pat was happy to become his own private pain carrier. For the past few years Pat carried silently and courageously his own cross of ill-health.
Last Monday I had the privilege of visiting Pat in his hospital bed. He told me that he had, only minutes previously been informed by his medical team about the reality of his condition. Understandably shaken but reflective and yet calm, he spoke at length about the mystery that his life as a priest brought him everyday. I will always regard it as a great privilege to celebrate the sacrament of anointing with Fr. Pat last Monday and to share with him the bread of life in the Eucharist and ask him to continue to pray for us as we struggle and to remind him that we will be praying for him.
We spoke about the way that he utilised his exceptional literary, poetic and artistic gifts to push out the boat into the deep. The fact that Pat could do this was not just a tribute to his own faith and great intelligence but also something that many people may not have realised, namely his huge interest in sport and athletics, when he captained the Jarlath’s team, trained a Skehana Junior hurling team, managed a Maynooth Sigerson Cup Team, followed Caherlistrane football team or joined Mayo followers to Croke Park.
Very quickly after ordination the young Pat O’ Brien realised that real life was not lived in the classroom but in the breaking hearts and hurts of people. His life became a searing search for God and people, for reassuring them that they are loved by God, as they lived between hope and despair, life and death. This led him to be a great weaver of words as he evoked so much in his hearers. As a student he enthralled audiences as a winner of the Irish Times debate. Fresh language, poetic vision, deeply personal imagery, so much of it I believe honed by his extraordinary experience in the first four years of his ministry in Clare Island and Inishturk. Like our High Priest Jesus Christ, Pat was aware of the paradoxes and contradictions of life, the potential for good what God has implanted in us but also our capacity for selfishness.
A constant theme associated with his ministry is his kindness. When he was in the Skehana area he was called upon to minister to children and families who were bereaved in Holy Rosary College in Mountbellew. His kindness and consideration and the way in which he journeyed with families through their bereavement and enabled them to cope and put the pieces of life together again has been commented upon regularly by the people of the area. Here in Caherlistrane people who were hurting and experiencing life’s wounds in different ways knew that they had a shoulder on which they could lean and a sympathetic ear in Fr. Pat.
I recall on the evening when Father Pat was attacked in his home here in Caherlistrane, I received the news as I was on my way from Confirmation in Clifden. When I called Father Pat was just after celebrating Mass here in this Church. I met him afterwards in the Sacristy. A man came into the sacristy and let it be known that he was understandably very irate at what raiders had done but Pat just waved a finger and said “forgiveness, forgiveness”. This was Pat, the man and the priest. He used language with reverence, with care, with feeling. With him the word became flesh. It was incarnation.
There was an admirable independence of spirit in Pat; he could be contained by no group, either within the Church or in society. This was a very striking and most impressive quality in the man man. He had that great sense of justice and fair play. So much is written and spoken about priesthood today and yet surely those who know most about priesthood are those who have witnessed its lived reality in men like Fr. Pat O’ Brien, who have journeyed with him. He has shared the sorrows of his people, rejoiced with them in their victories. You are the people who know most about priests and priesthood. You know our faults and our failures, our strengths and weaknesses. You know the way we depend on you as we endeavour to share with you Christ’s message of hope and joy, of healing and love. You know what priest and priesthood means to you. I ask you to pray for priests and vocations to priesthood.
I want to thank the people of Caherlistrane and the people in the places where Fr. Pat served so generously over the past 42 years, to thank you for the way you supported him, prayed with him and encouraged him in his priestly ministry. I am very indebted to the Vicar General, Monsignor Dermot Moloney, who has taken responsibility for the Pastoral and Sacramental care of Caherlistrane parish since Father Pat became ill last May. Joining with Archbishop Francis Duffy, with those on the sanctuary – Monsignor Dermot Moloney, Father Pat Donellan, with Father Peter Gannon, the Parish Priest of Claremorris, Pat’s native parish, the people of Caherlistrane and the surrounding area, with the priests of the Archdiocese and Fr. Pat’s huge circle of friends, I offer my sincere sympathy and the promise of my prayers to his family, to John and Martin, to his sister Anne, to Finian and to the extended family.
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam usual gaelach.
- Archbishop Michael Neary is Archbishop Emeritus of the Archdiocese of Tuam. This homily was preached in the Church of the Immaculate Conception and Saint Joseph, Caherlistrane, Archdiocese of Tuam on 28 November 2021.
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