Fr Gerry Hipwell, O.Carm.

Given at the Reception of the Remains in the Carmelite Church, Moate, Co Westmeath, on May 10, 2004, by A. O’Reilly, O.Carm.

All of us as we travel along the road of life are on a journey and this journey begins with a meeting with Christ at Baptism and it ends with a meeting with Christ at death. On the day of our Baptism our life was linked with the life of Christ. On that day we were given a wonderful dignity and a splendid destiny — we became children of God and heirs to the Kingdom of Heaven.

This evening, we have come together as a christian community to pray that God may grant peace and rest to the soul of Fr Gerry Hipwell. For Fr Gerry’s family, his friends and for the Carmelite family his passing leaves us with feelings of sadness, loneliness and loss. But for Gerry himself it is the time when he enters into a new relationship with Christ, it is the time when he enters into a new life with Christ, for it is only with death that the fullness of life can begin. As the journey of St Theresa, one of our own Carmelite saints, was drawing to a close, she said to one of her sisters: “I am not dying I am beginning a new life with Christ.”

For the person who has lived the christian life in a spirit of faith, as I believe Fr. Gerry did, death will not be a meeting with a stranger, but a meeting with a friend who is Christ – a – friend who accompanied him on his journey through life, a friend who enriched his life by his life, by his teaching and by his example. Yes, at the moment of death Christ comes as a friend bringing that fullness of life which he won for all of us by his own death on the cross.

Of course death can only be understood in the light of our Christian faith. Our faith tells us that death is not the end, but the beginning. Our faith tells us that anyone who believes in Christ will, after this brief interval we call death, will rise with Christ through the power of his resurrection. The Easter Candle burning here in the sanctuary is a reminder to each one of us that death can only be understood in the light of our Christian faith.

St Paul in the Scripture reading says that, “The life and death of each of us has its influence on others; if we live we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord, so that alive or dead we belong to the Lord.” As we journey through life we influence each other in a variety of ways. We enrich the lives of people when we are compassionate, caring and forgiving. As a teacher, Fr. Gerry enriched the lives of his students in a variety of ways. He was all the time encouraging them to use to the full the gifts and talents God had given to them. Outside the classroom he involved them in a variety of sporting activities. I met a girl on Sunday evening last and she said to me: “When I was a member of the club Fr Hipwell gave me responsibility, he respected me and he trusted me. He enriched my life by his enthusiasm and dedication.”

I have no doubt that when Fr. Gerry met the gentle and compassionate Christ, he said to him: “Well done my good and faithful servant come and share in the peace and joy of my Kingdom.” Amen.


Father Gerry Hipwell – An Appreciation
This Appreciation appeared in the Irish Times, June 21, 2004.

The recent accidental death by drowning of Father Gerry Hipwell left the Carmelite Community, the people of Moate, and the surrounding area, not just sadly bereaved, but utterly bereft.

As a priest, teacher, preacher, leader of young people, and friend of the sick, the lonely and the elderly, Father Gerry had spent the past 19 years in Moate, in the service of the people whom he loved, and who reciprocated this love.

With paternal roots in Offaly, he was born in Bagenalstown, Carlow, but then his family moved to Dublin, and later to England, he was sent to secondary school at Terenure College. Here, as well as being academically brilliant, he excelled at games, rugby in particular, and was keen on athletics. In the 1960s he captained the Terenure College SCT in a final at Lansdowne Road, and he continued to play rugby as a clerical student and as an ordained priest, first in Dolphins Club, Cork, and afterwards with Terenure College Past Pupils. His leadership qualities were affirmed when he was elected school captain in his Leaving Cert year.

Ordained a Carmelite priest in 1971, he pursued a BA degree at UCC, travelling there daily by motorcycle form the Carmelite House in Kinsale. He was then appointed chaplain to Ballinteer Community, and for the next ten years earned the love and respect of the pupils there through his work with them in sports and athletics. Community schools were then new on the educational scene, and Father Gerry aimed for excellence and achieved it. Then followed his tenure in Moate, where he taught English and History, at first in the Carmelite College, and later in Moate Community School.

He was a brilliant teacher. One of his pupils said of him: “Father Hipwell not alone taught me history. He taught me to love history.” He was also an inspiring preacher. His homilies at Sunday Mass were something to look forward to, delivered in his beautifully modulated voice, without a single aided-mémoire, showing that a great amount of careful preparation had gone into them. He was a gifted photographer, often recording people, places, things and events that clearly showed his wonderful sense of the ridiculous – memoirs that will now be doubly treasured in the years to come.

But it was the work with children and students over the years that was his greatest achievement, and will leave many bitter-sweet memories. Father Gerry loved young people. He trusted them. He believed in them, and in their potential for good. He gave them tasks of responsibility that brought out the best in them in outdoor pursuits that were morally and physically healthy and wholesome. He had an extraordinary rapport with them – so refreshing in an age when priests get such a negative press.

Through the Spartan Club that he founded, and later the Zeus Club, he inspired leadership skills among both boys and girls, that led to many successes in the Gaisce presidential awards, in a variety of activities new to them. These included athletics, cross-country running, clay pigeon shooting, swimming, camping, parachuting, survival techniques, and of course his beloved rugby – for both girls as well as boys. In school, debating was another of his interests, and the joys of English literature, of poetry in particular. That the tragedy of his death happened at a weekend he had devoted to the young on the Shannon was one of life’s cruel ironies that has left his young charges devastated.

In the world of adults, his unobtrusive and loyal support of Moate Historical Society made him a valued member, and he will be sorely missed. The huge outpouring of grief at his funeral mass in the Carmelite church on May 12 was eloquent testimony to the love and esteem in which he was held by all; by his brothers, his immediate family, the Carmelite Community, students and family.

In mourning the loss of our beloved Father Gerry, we can take some small comfort from the words of the Book of the Apocalypse, the second reading at Mass the day after his body was recovered from Lough Ree:
“God will wipe away all tears from their eyes; there will be no more death, and no more mourning or sadness. The world of the past has gone.”

May his gentle soul enjoy the blessedness of heaven.
V.H.