Norbert Heaslip, O.Carm. (1932-2013)

Given at the Funeral Mass in the Carmelite Church, Knocktopher, Co Kilkenny, on August 20, 2013, by M. Kilmurray, O.Carm., Prior Provincial.

We are gathered as family, Carmelites, friends and neighbours to give thanks to God for the generous and, indeed, long life of Fr Anthony Norbert Heaslip. The Scripture readings – the Word of God for us today – reflect the tenor of Anthony Norbert’s life: a man of deep faith and tremendous generosity. He reflected in his daily living the gentleness, humility and service of Jesus Christ to whom he was joined in Baptism over 81 years ago.

We are in ‘the cradle of his faith’ here in Knocktopher. The family home is close by, where he grew up in an atmosphere of love and generosity created by his parents and shared with his sisters and brothers: Mary Theresa, Jack, Abby, Tim and Denis. The Carmelite Order has been associated with this place since 1356 and part of the pre-Reformation friary can be seen at Knocktopher House across the road. Anthony grew up in the shadow of things Carmelite and it was to this Carmelite church that he came as a boy and young man. When he was six years old he was enrolled in the Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel – the Brown Scapular – by the then Prior Fr Peter O’Dwyer, who was born in Croan, Dunamaggin, not far from here. The Scapular is a sign both of one’s commitment to follow Jesus Christ after the example of Mary, and of Mary’s motherly protection. Of course, this commitment to Jesus Christ has its origin in our Baptism.

Anthony deepened this dedication to Jesus Christ and Mary, our Mother, when he decided to join the Carmelite Order on the completion of his secondary education at CBS, Kilkenny. In 1951 he departed Knocktopher for the novitiate at Kinsale in County Cork. Perhaps this wasn’t the easiest move for a full-hearted Kilkenny man but he also had some Cork blood in his veins since his mother, Hannah, came from that county. On Saturday afternoon last at Marymount Hospice he talked with me about his mother coming to Ballyraggett as a nurse, meeting John Heaslip and settling here in Knocktopher.

It was customary at the time when Anthony joined the Carmelite Order to receive a new name marking the beginning of a new way of living. He was given Norbert and since then he has been Norbert among the Carmelites and in his places of ministry while he has always been Anthony in the family circle.

Anthony made his First Profession on September 25, 1951 – almost sixty-two years ago. On that day he pledged himself in the words of the Carmelite Rule ‘to live in allegiance to Jesus Christ and to serve him zealously with a pure heart and a good conscience’.

Soon after ordination and the completion of his studies he was appointed to the Carmelite community at Terenure College in Dublin. He taught in the College for eleven years. From his youth here in Knocktopher he had a great love for and involvement with sport and Terenure College now afforded him many opportunities to realise this love. Of course, his first love was hurling and games in the Gaelic tradition and Norbert found opportunities to promote hurling and handball within the College alongside its great rugby tradition. However, he also involved himself with rugby, cricket and basketball. In a sense, Norbert was paving the way for the eventual removal of the GAA ban on its members playing such sports. He is still, over forty years later, remembered with affection by many past pupils, some of whom have been with us over the past two days.

In 1970 Anthony Norbert was appointed as Prior at Knocktopher. A few years later he was asked by Bishop Birch to take on responsibility for the Parish of Ballyhale, the first Carmelite parish priest of this area. His ministry was wide ranging as Anthony Norbert involved himself in all aspects of life including sport and entertainment. A hurling field and a soccer pitch were laid out at the friary. I am told that Shamrocks won eight County Championships during the time they trained on the friary field. Norbert’s openness to other sports was evident again in the provision of the soccer pitch and a hard court for tennis and basketball.

Openness to all manner of people characterised the life and ministry of Anthony Norbert wherever he found himself. This readiness to talk, walk and, indeed, pray with people is remembered at Whitefriar Street, White Abbey in Kildare, Moate Priory, Beaumont Parish where he was Parish Priest for nine years, Zimbabwe and latterly Kinsale. He served in almost every house in Ireland and in three houses in Zimbabwe: St. Kilian’s Mission, Mutare Priory and St. Joseph’s Hatfield. Availability and non-attachment to any one place is a characteristic of the friar way of life and Anthony Norbert was exemplary in this.

Part of his time in Zimbabwe coincided with a period of severe political and social unrest in the country. Most people suffered greatly due to food shortages and political violence. Norbert reached out to anyone who came to him for assistance. He tried to alleviate their suffering even at some risk to himself. In a message of sympathy, the Commissary Provincial in Zimbabwe, Fr Simplisio, writes: ‘Norbert was so loved here. He worked so hard, never complained or said ‘no’ to any request even if it meant driving 200km in difficult conditions.’ The words of Jesus in the Gospel reading come to mind: ‘ I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink; I was a stranger and you made me welcome, naked and you clothed me, sick and you visited me, in prison and you came to see me.’

Despite his busy and varied life Anthony remained close to his family, to neighbours and friends here in Knocktopher. The welcome extended to his body yesterday evening and the presence of so many here today point to the affection and esteem in which you all held him. Jack, Abby, Tim and Denis: you have lost a dear brother and your sadness today reflects your love for him and the place he has had in your lives and that of the extended family over years. He kept an affectionate interest in his nieces and nephews – Therese, Rosalie, Mary, Sean, Francis, Michael, John, James, Tim, Edward, Dan and Paul – and in their children. I know that family occasions were high on his list of priorities. He rejoiced in your successes and supported you in any difficulties.

Anthony Norbert’s devotion to Mary, our Mother, was evident as he kept his Rosary beads close to him in his bed at Marymount on Saturday last. He felt the need of Mary’s love and protection as he faced his departure from this world into eternity with God. During his life he had honoured Mary as Our Lady of Knock when he organised the Carmelite Pilgrimage to her Shrine over many years. He participated in this year’s pilgrimage – just over three weeks ago – departing with the pilgrims from Kinsale at 6.00 a.m. and accompanied by his fellow novice, Fr Gerry Galvin.

Anthony Norbert was gentle but strong. When he decided that something should happen then nothing or no one would be allowed to get in the way! He wasn’t into administration and he didn’t worry overmuch about detailed records or a tidy office. But there was always the winning smile, the kind word, the welcome, the practical help. The winning smile could get him out of tight corners on occasions when he had forgotten or mislaid something in the clutter of his office or room.

Norbert lived out his Carmelite and priestly vocation to the full and to the very end. This day last week he concelebrated at a Funeral Mass in Cork and on Friday last he concelebrated at Fr Stan Hession’s Golden Jubilee Mass. At the conclusion he went to his room.

On Saturday morning Norbert moved to Marymount Hospice and on Sunday morning – the Lord’s Day – surrounded by family and Fr Mariusz he passed gently into the ‘arms of God’, to whose safe keeping we are commending him today. We are comforted that Anthony Norbert died so gently but we also appreciate the patience and magnanimity with which he bore his illness over the past two years.

Norbert, may you rest in peace.