Fr Conal Collier, O.Carm. (1931-2008)

Given at the Requiem Mass in the Church of the Assumption, Dunsany, Co Meath, on July 9, 2008, by L. Gallagher, O.Carm.

Let not your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid... I go to prepare a place for you. I will return and take you to my Father so that where I am you also may be... Words of consolation and hope – the words of Jesus himself. We believe that Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life. Fr Conal believed that Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life. Jesus was all these things to Fr Conal Austin Collier of the Order of Carmelites, whose Funeral Mass we are celebrating now.
We are celebrating his Funeral Mass, all of us, his brother Fr Mel, the main celebrant, Fr Toner, the Parish priest, Fr Conal’s Carmelite brothers and Fr Conal’s family and all present in this church. We all pray and celebrate the Mass together for Fr Conal. We help him by our prayers; our prayers are essential to help one of our own on his way to heaven. So here we are in the presence of Jesus and of one another to pray for the repose of the soul of Fr Conal and to pray also for peace and conso­lation for the Collier family – his brothers, sisters, his sisters-in-law, his very many nephews and nieces, his Carmelite brothers and his very, very many friends.
Fr Conal worked for almost 50 years in Zimbabwe as a Carmelite missionary – from 1958 to 2006 – and he would have wished to be buried there where 30 of his Carmelite friends and many of his loyal parishioners are buried but that was not to be. Ill health forced him back to Ireland for treatment; so he wished to be buried with his parents and members of his family. It was a very large family; a family of four priests, three Religious sisters, one De La Salle brother, Dessie, Finian and Niall.
Conal was born on March 14, 1931. He was professed as a Carmelite in 1950, ordained priest in July 1957, went to Zimbabwe in 1959 and died on July 5, 2008, last Saturday. Fr Conal was one of the best missionaries I ever met. He learned and knew the language of the Shona people; he learned their customs, their traditions and their history. He related to them very, very well. He had the Christian virtues of kindness, dedication, generosity and devotion to work. He was a good man. He worked for Jesus; his work for Jesus was his life because Jesus was his way, his truth and his life. Fr Conal was well prepared for that life coming as he did from a good Catholic family where he was trained in good Christian behaviour and where he learned Christian values.
After his primary schooling Conal went to Terenure College. He decided to join the Carmelite Order and went to the noviciate in Kinsale in 1949. After his Simple Profession in October 1950 he moved to Gort Muire from where he attended UCD, and did his Theology in Milltown Park. But he never forgot his roots; he was a Meath man through and through – from the cultural side to the farming side to the football side. He played rugby for Terenure College and Gaelic for his local Club. He did not convert to rugby but was always a convinced GAA man. I think Sean Boylan was his football hero but I often heard him mention Paddy ‘Hands’ O’Brien and Peter McDermott, and many others. In Zimbabwe he took up golf and became very proficient at it and when home on leave he used to play betimes at Royal Meath. Whatever Fr Conal did, he did well, whether it was working on the farm, studying for exams, playing games, praying, teaching, preaching; whatever he did he excelled at it.
Conal became an expert in the Shona language and his first appointment was to St. Robert’s a small school in Sakubva township where Mass was said weekly but during his stay in Mutare St. Joseph’s Mission was built - a large church, a Sisters’ convent, a huge school of 1,200 pupils, a 10 bed hospital, a priest’s house and accommodation for the many teachers employed and for nurses. Later Sisters from the newly formed congregation of the Handmaids of Our Lady of Mount Carmel came to St. Joseph’s. The numbers coming to Mass increased greatly, grown from the 60 in St. Robert’s in 1959 to many thousands today. With constant visitation of homes and catechetical work the one parish became first of all two parishes and then three and later four. Conal and Fr Pio Kiernan served twenty-one Mass centres where Mass was said frequently. Schools were managed, teachers employed and paid for, catechists were trained and employed and somehow the money was got to pay for them also. Then of course there were the usual duties of a Parish priest to be done, sacra­ments to be dispensed, sick calls to three hospitals, chaplain to the local jail and all the usual work of any Parish priest. He was extraordinarily busy, and he did all things well. He loved St. Joseph’s and he loved Mutare, but the war of liberation came and missionary life got very different and many more changes occurred.
Conal was asked to go to St. Benedict’s Mission, 150 miles from Mutare. It was a war zone and wise and clear heads were needed to deal with the guerrilla incursions, government troop incursions, and the needs of the people. It was almost an impossibility to get to town to shop because of the many roadblocks and suspicions of strangers by both guerrilla and other forces. Eventually life became impossible and all missionary personnel were removed to safety in Mutare. The war ended, although the effects on the human body and human mind lived on.
Fr Conal was now asked to work in St. Simon’s Parish Rusape and all again was peaceful. The African people were euphoric, freedom had been obtained and everyone was hopeful for the future. For the first few years of peace and quiet Fr Conal thrived. He was doing the work he loved and the job he wanted to do. He had become charis­matic and his parishioners loved it. He built a very large church; people came again to church and, even on weekdays, you would hear praying and singing coming loudly from his church. He pursued the usual parish activ­ities, introduced new ones, e.g., marriage renewal. He worked for twenty years in Rusape and again his wisdom and experience were required in Kriste Mambo Mission, the Carmelite house of first formation in Zimbabwe. It was there he began to show for the first time the signs of approaching illness and so back to Ireland and eventually hospital and finally to his death. May he rest in Peace.
Fr Conal Collier was a son to be proud of, a brother to be proud of, a Carmelite and a priest to be admired and imitated. His life was a life of dedication to the Christian way of life and to the missionary ideal – Go teach all nations, baptise them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. He achieved much. He was an apostle for Christ.
Jesus said I will come and bring you with me. Jesus came for Conal on July 5, last Saturday, and took him to meet his father and mother, his brothers, Dessie, Finian, Cormac, Brendan and Dermot and the many people he ministered to. He is with God, and with his family and friends, surrounded, and enjoying all the love of his human family and fully alive to the infinite love of his Creator and Father, God Himself. We shall remember him.