Fr Liam Fennell, O.Carm. 1935 – 2019

Sermon given at the Funeral Mass in Gort Muire, Dublin, on September 19, 2019, by M. Troy, O.Carm., Assistant Provincial.

Last Sunday morning, Fr Liam died peacefully here in Gort Muire, the Community that was his home for over twenty years. On that morning the mercy of God and God’s love for all people was at the heart of the scripture readings for Mass. Central to the Funeral Mass is God’s mercy and, in this Funeral Mass for our brother Liam, we come to pray for God’s mercy for him.
In the funeral liturgy, we pray that the one who has died may see the Redeemer “face to face” and enter into the light of God’s face. In every Funeral Mass, we turn to God for his help and his grace to overcome the grief of death. We look to God for hope. As followers of Jesus, we are people who believe in the resurrection of Jesus assuring us that the grave has not the final word in the same way as the death of Jesus on the cross on Good Friday was not the end. By raising Jesus to life, God opened through him the way to eternal life. Whilst we acknowledge Liam’s life has ended, we place our hope in the Risen Christ, and we pray that Liam will be brought into the light of the face of God with his sins forgiven and the shadow of death banished forever.
The Gospel we have just heard is familiar to us all as believers because it goes to the heart of our Christian faith. It is one of the accounts of the death and resurrection of Jesus. It tells us of the Risen Jesus. This is the core of our faith. The death and resurrection of Jesus gives meaning to our being human, the reason for our being in the world and the destiny that awaits us in the next. Jesus emerges from the stone-sealed tomb to speak to us of new life, of transfiguration and of re-creation. “He is not here he is risen.” Whatever our feelings of sorrow or pain or anger or regret, Jesus promises to accompany us on our journey and lead us through suffering and death and into the fulfilment of his promise of eternal life. The God we believe in is a God of life, a God who is with us on our journey even to the end of time. To celebrate a Funeral Mass we remember and pray for our loved ones. Today we remember in love and thanksgiving what Fr Liam in his life meant to each one of us and what we have gained from knowing him.
“To have courage for whatever comes in life – everything lies in that.” This quote from St Teresa of Avila to me sums up the journey of life for Fr Liam. A journey of life that was outlined at our service of Night Prayer yesterday by his Prior, Martin. A journey that brought him from childhood and growing up in Rocky Bay, Cork, through schooling in Terenure College, followed by entry into religious life as a Carmelite in Kinsale where he was professed in September 1954 – sixty-five years ago. Studies in U.C.D. and theology in our International College in Rome followed and Liam was then ordained to priesthood on the feast of our Lady of Mount Carmel in 1961. He was appointed to Terenure College where he fulfilled various roles over the next twenty-five years as teacher, dean, and guidance counsellor. He then spent some time as part of the chaplaincy team in St James’ hospital before briefly returning to Terenure College.
Reflecting on Liam’s journey of life: there were the good times and the very good times when Liam excelled as a teacher of Latin and English and as counsellor, where he was involved nationally in those early days of Guidance Counselling in secondary schools. He exercised his priestly ministry both in Terenure College and in parishes in the United States. He was kind and generous.
He made his contribution to the Province and the Order as he played a key role in the Chapter of 1973 when the delegates voted to have open Chapters – where all the brothers could attend in future. Open Chapters are now the norm throughout the Order. He knew of enjoyable and relaxing times with the family, returning often to Rocky Bay.
But there were difficult days too. Liam struggled greatly with severe depression and this was compounded by the illness of addiction to alcohol over many, many years. He hurt himself and others over that time. Liam achieved sobriety over ten years ago and this was a great blessing for himself and all who journeyed with him. He had received help and support in various different ways from his Carmelite brothers, his family and friends, and in his time in Gort Muire from nurse managers Mairead Murphy and Mary Buckley and the team of nurses and carers.
But, throughout his difficulties, Liam kept faith in a forgiving and merciful God who walked with him on that journey of life. Fortunately, many people were able to experience what Liam could be. He was very aware of his own failings and fragility and this enabled him to reach out and help others in difficult circumstances. He was pastorally sensitive to those in difficulty. Over the last ten years here in the Community of Gort Muire, Liam found stability and peace. He ministered to his Carmelite brothers faithfully through the daily celebration of the Eucharist and administering the Sacrament of the Sick. He was welcoming to the many visitors to Gort Muire and he tried his hand at writing poetry. And, of course, he loved the sun and the annual holiday to the Canary Islands.
A journey with highs and lows, a journey of change and challenge, a journey of resilience in the face of difficulties. A journey of health, illnesses and healing. Since May, Liam was certainly put to the test of carrying the cross of illness as we saw his gentle decline. A time when the whole Community here at Gort Muire journeyed with Liam and was there for him, to care and support him. And he was grateful for the care he received.
We know that the goal in life for each Christian is “to love God and to love one another”. Liam in his life had done this as a son, brother, Carmelite, teacher, priest and friend. You can be consoled by your memories of Fr Liam,  of his strengths and his weaknesses. We have placed the resurrection candle of Easter beside Liam to remind us that death is not the end of life, but is only a change in the manner of life, and that we shall rise again just as Jesus did. We believe that Jesus Christ conquered sin and death by accepting death so that all of us might live. Fr Liam lived the Carmelite life for over sixty-five years. God who has seen every single act of kindness and love that he did in life and will reward him with eternal life. For us Christians, Liam’s whole life has already moved towards its fulfilment, its completion. We believe that grace, mercy and protection of God awaits Liam. Today we pray that Liam finds rest with God in the company of Our Lady of Mount Carmel and all the saints, and that God’s spirit of strength and consolation, rest upon his family and friends. Amen.