Fr Anselm Corbett, O.Carm. (1914-2004)

Homily preached by F. Burke, O.Carm., at the Requiem Mass in Terenure College on 14 June, 2004.

When the late Cardinal Hume was told he would die within a few months, he wrote a letter saying that he had received two wonderful graces; firstly, he had been given time to prepare for a new future and secondly, he found himself calm and at peace.

Anselm had a deep personal faith and trust in God’s love, he too had time over recent months and weeks to prepare calmly for a new future and his peaceful death at the age of 88 was the sort of death he hoped and prayed for. May he rest in peace.

“On a day in early September 1931 as a young man of 17 years, I first set foot in Terenure College.” So Anselm describes his arrival here, a place which was to influence greatly his young life and which has been his home for the past twenty years plus.

In 1932, Patrick Corbett, following the example of his older brother, Fr. Ephraim, joined the Carmelite Order. Fr. Malachy Lynch gave him the religious name of Anselm. Anselm always considered himself fortunate to have had Fr. Malachy as his novice master. Malachy, a cultured man, made a lasting impression on Anselm, introducing him to the delights of music and literature and instilling in him a love of Latin and Gregorian Chant. Again in his own words he said of Fr. Malachy: “Malachy tried to enthuse everybody about what he regarded as divinely inspired lovely things.” He was certainly successful in this endeavour with Anselm who deeply appreciated lovely things all his life.

His studies for priesthood in Rome were inter­rupted by the outbreak of World War II. However he had spent sufficient time in his beloved Rome to speak Italian fluently and to develop a lifelong love of all things Italian. He was in Rome when Pope Pius XI died and describes the atmosphere and excitement as almost a million people gathered in St. Peter’s Square to greet the new pope, Pius XII.

Anselm was ordained priest in 1940. As a member of the Whitefriar Street community he ministered in St. Kevin’s (now St. James’s Hospital); work he found very rewarding. In 1946, three Carmelites left Ireland for Southern Rhodesia. Anselm was one of those young men setting out bravely to establish the Carmelite Order in an African country. The journey itself, evocatively recalled in Anselm’s writings, was quite an adventure taking almost four weeks.

Once again he learned a new language, Shona and especially the Manyika dialect. He spent ten years on the missions, most of it at Triashill, still a thriving mission to this day. Although he returned to Ireland after ten years, he always maintained his interest in our mission in Zimbabwe. He was keenly interested in the welfare of the ordinary people and felt great sympathy for them in their present plight.

He loved to hear good news about the missions and thankfully, despite the political and economic difficulties there, the Carmelite Order is thriving in Zimbabwe. Anselm was very supportive of our policy of handing over more and more responsibility to young Zimbabwean-born Carmelites.

In succeeding years in Ireland, Anselm lived in various communities of the province. He is fondly remembered for his caring and compassionate work as chaplain to Cathal Brugha College of Catering. He held the priorships of Whitefriar Street and White Abbey, Kildare. He gained a reputation as an outstanding preacher, which given his deep personal faith and his ability with language, was never a surprise to anyone. He was modest about his reputation as a preacher and described preaching as ‘an awesome task.’

He was limited by his eyesight, particularly in his middle years. This was a cross he bore with patience and dignity believing it gave him some small opportunity to share in the sufferings of his Saviour. Despite poor sight Anselm loved books and was always delighted to receive a good book. He would read it avidly, holding the magnifying glass over the page. Some would not consider it worth the effort, but Anselm’s thirst for knowledge and his delight in reading made it all worthwhile.

Reflecting on the Anselm I knew as a member of the community here at the college throughout the nineties, it is his personal qualities which stand out for me. He was a gracious, gentle man, an independent thinker with a great love for the Order and for the Church. He had an easy rapport with young people; he enjoyed their company and was very encouraging of the young Carmelites who joined this community in the 90s. He took a keen interest in the life of the college. He made frequent inquiries about his grand-nephews and their progress in the classroom and on the rugby field. In a place where life is lived at a fairly frenetic pace he reminded us that there is more to life than doing.

He was not idle himself. Aided by his phenomenal memory, he wrote an invaluable account of his schoolboy days in Terenure College, life on the missions in the forties, biographical notes and pen pictures of his contemporaries and of course his poetry.

Today we say farewell to the young man who set out by train from Clonmel in 1931 and following lunch with his uncle in Collins Barracks and a film at the Savoy cinema arrived at Terenure College to be greeted by the prior, Fr. James Carmel O’Shea.

Anselm, rest in peace.