Fr Patrick Simon Grace, O.Carm.

Given at the Requiem Mass in Terenure College, Dublin, on Saturday, December 3, 2005, by P. Brennan, O.Carm.
 
Brothers and sisters in Carmel, visiting clergy, Fr. Grace’s family, fellow past pupils, present day students, staff and friends of the College: this morning we close one of the most significant chapters in the long history of this much loved learning establishment. With not a little emotion we bid a fond farewell to a friar and teacher who has been synonymous with Terenure College and all it stood for for over half a century.

We do so in these early days of the Church’s new year, when the Advent liturgy gives us a sober reminder that the Lord will come again – when we least expect him. The Gospel just proclaimed keeps the spirit of the season – it is the one we heard at Mass last Sunday: Jesus urging us to beware, to keep alert, to stay awake, for we do not know when our time will come (Mk 13:33-37).

St. James in his letter encourages us to be patient until then. Using imagery which I know would appeal to Fr. Grace, whose roots were deep in the land, he writes: “As the farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and late rains, so you also must be patient” (James 5: 7-8).

Patience comes from the Latin word “pati” which means to suffer. Last Easter millions of hearts were touched by the suffering of Pope John Paul II. And it was around that time that Fr. Grace had a stroke which left him incapacitated and confined. Over the past eight months he has borne his suffering with admirable patience, both in St. John of God’s nursing home, Shankhill and in St. Vincent’s. For a man who, remarkably, had remained in the one community here in Terenure all his Carmelite life, it cannot have been easy for him being shifted from one place to another, often in extreme discomfort, immobile in both places.

As a teacher, he wasn’t shy about giving punishment when needed, but in recent weeks in particular, as his life slowly ebbed away, he proved that he also knew how to take it. When I heard that his time had come last Tuesday, my initial reaction was to sigh with relief, thankful that the Lord had set him free at last, and taken him to himself.

Everything has its time, determined by God, as Qoheleth, the author of our first reading reminded us: “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die” (Eccles 3: 1-2). There is a profound truth to the Teacher’s words: he unflinchingly describes the ebb and flow of life, both the good and the bad. It is if the writer counsels us to live in each moment, to acknowledge both joy and sorrow, birth and death, sorrow and reaping. All are part of the cycle of life; perhaps all have something to teach us.

Fr. Grace had a keen sense of that. At an early age, when he was considering devoting his life to the service of the Gospel, he must have recognised that ultimately life is short, and that we need a wisdom greater than this world can offer. We need the wisdom of God, a wisdom that spares us the bitterness of futile human experience and gives us a hope that goes beyond death.

Now you’ll notice that up to now I’ve referred to him as Fr. Grace, not Simon (his religious name) or ‘Stock’ as many of his contemporaries called him – he took the name Simon after Simon of England, called St. Simon Stock, when he joined the Novitiate in Kinsale in 1940, Simon Stock being the first Prior General of the Order in Europe when the Carmelites moved from the Holy Land. His family and close friends knew him simply as “Paddy” or “Fr. Paddy”. But for me, and for generations of other past pupils, he will always be known as “Fr. Grace”.

He used to call me “Pip”. I can vividly recall meeting him for the first time on the day of my entrance assessment to this College some thirty years ago. He was the one who stretched out his arms in welcome at the top of the avenue after I had run, breathless, all the way from our family home – directly across from the front gate!

When my father, God rest him, was diagnosed with Parkinsons’ and Alzheimers’ diseases in the early 1980s, Fr. Grace was among the many Carmelites particularly supportive of him, my mother and all of us at “No. 2”, as he called our house on Rathdown Avenue – a place where he felt very much at home. Over the years he has been a close and loyal friend, virtually one of the family, with us on all the significant occasions. Although a member of this community for an amazing 56 years – definitely a record in the history of our Carmelite province – he never lost sight of his rural Kilkenny roots; I think that’s why he had such a “grá” for the Brennan family!

Every week without fail we passed on his essential reading — “The Munster Express” and “Kilkenny People” — “the Bible” as he affectionately called them, the sports sections being his favourites of course.

We all have our own particular memories of Fr. Grace. He was enormously popular with people and was called on a lot for baptisms, weddings and funerals. He worried about every one of them: did he know enough about them, should he mention this or that or the other thing? At one marriage ceremony he became extremely worried about the Bride – would she be able to kneel in the particularly unusual dress she was wearing! Fr. Eltin Griffin had barely arrived here as Prior in 1982 when Fr. Simon asked him what he’s going to do about the goalposts for the rugby season. Goalposts were not the new Prior’s strong point – having been out of the college for 27 years!

For years he was extraordinary confessor to the Carmelite nuns in Roebuck and Kilmacud, as well as confessor to the sisters of Notre Dame des Missions in Churchtown and across the road in Our Lady’s. As one sister said last night after the removal: “To me he was Grace by name and grace by nature.”

Those who lived with Simon here in Terenure will recall the meticulous preparation he put into his homilies (which was always evident), his fidelity to morning and evening prayer in community, and to the rosary, which he recited in the oratory every evening with a small group including the late Fr. Jim McCouaig, with whom he had a great bond.

He was a genuine friend and wise mentor to many. In Leinster Schools Rugby circles and beyond Fr. Paddy Grace was someone who instantly came to mind when mention was made of Terenure College. The presence here this morning and last evening of many members of the Rugby Club, both past and present, speaks volumes about the respect with which he was held. It is a great tribute too to see so many associated with other schools paying their respects today, as well as former team mates on Fr. Grace’s victorious 1958 Senior Cup Team.

But of course, for the vast majority here, Fr. Grace will be remembered most of all for being a good teacher. He was one hundred percent thorough and he always got the course finished on time. He taught Chemistry & Religion mainly, although I had him for Irish in first year and Science up to the Inter Cert. Perhaps very few among his classes knew that we was actually the advisor on Chemistry to the Department of Education. He was Fifth Year form master for years. I think we could safely say he was of the ‘old school’, having received a solid education himself from the Christian Brothers at Cork’s North Mon, where he excelled at hurling; he later played for the Munster minors.

In Fr. Grace’s class, if, like me, you weren’t exactly pupil of the year, you would find yourself up near the front of the class for most of the time. Anyone who dared to contradict him found himself out on the corridor, if not in the Principal’s office.

But those seated at the back of his class were not necessarily teacher’s pet. Indeed, he was no discriminator of persons when it came to his old friend “Excalibur”, his infamous “wiggins” and the well tried and tested “breathalyser” – which every smoker dreaded!

But for all the run-ins and differences lads may have had with him in all his time teaching, he was tremendously respected, evidenced by the generations of past pupils here today who span the world of sport, science, medicine, business, and the arts. There’s the following story: Fr. Grace was labouring over a Chemistry demonstration in the science lab during a very heavy fall of snow. One pupil, Mike Murphy, was staring out the window instead of attending to Fr. Grace’s demonstration. He was suddenly called to order: “Murphy, you must like the snow!” “Yes Father.” “Well – out, out, out!” Murphy was left cooling his heels in the football fields!

Another day nearer to exams he was cautioning his class about the honours paper – some might do well and others might possibly fail. He went around the class in turn. “What about you, McCann?” he asked Donal. “I think I’ll take the pass paper, Father!” Indeed when recalling his schooldays in a television interview some years ago Donal McCann spoke very highly of Terenure College, and singled out Fr. Grace who had encouraged him in his acting career. He said that he had a gift of being able to see where a person was going to excel, be it as a rugby player, a good actor, a Carmelite or in some other profession. “Don’t worry about your Leaving Cert or academia,” Fr. Grace told him, “you’re going to be an actor.”

He was a great teacher, and in my experience there are very few people on this earth who have such influence and such a spin-off as a good teacher. His full name in Religious life being Simon Stock, it is fitting that I should end with “Paidir an Scabaill,” which I discovered in the collection of our native prayers by an tAthair Diarmuid O’Laoighaire, S.J., who was a friend of Fr. Simon:
‘S Siomón Stoc a bhí ag réitiú don sliocht,
‘S bhi dea-bhéasach rialta múinte.
Chuir Muire lena toil scaball ar a chorp
lena dhá láimh bheannaithe, gan diúltú.
Molaim go deo thú, a Mhaighdean na glóire,
molaim go deo is go siorai thu.
Chuir Muire lena toil scaball ar a chorp
lena dhá láimh bheannaithe, gan diúltú.
Which translates as:
Simon Stock was smoothing the path for the descendants,
It was he who was well mannered, religious, well taught.
It was Mary’s wish to put a scapular on his body
With her two blessed hands without refusal.
I praise you always Glorious Virgin,
I praise you always and forever.
It was Mary’s will to put a scapular on his body
With her two blessed hands without refusal.

Míle buíochas a chara dhílis. May you be forever in the company of those you loved on this earth, and who loved you, in turn.