Fr William Langan, O.Carm. (1938-2014)

Given at the Funeral Mass in Terenure College on June 8, 2014, by M. Kilmurray, Prior Provincial.

In the Gospel reading we have heard again the words of Jesus to Martha at Bethany after her brother had died: ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die’. For someone without faith those words are a nonsense but for a Christian they are words of hope already fulfilled in the life, death and resurrection of the One who spoke them first. Our faith in the Risen Christ assures us that at the moment of physical death ‘life is changed not ended’. This faith in the Risen Christ enabled the Carmelite St Thérèse of Lisieux to talk about dying as a ‘falling into the arms of God’.
Father Billy departed this life peacefully on Friday morning after a long and debilitating illness. The slow stripping away of his physical capacities over the last five years was harrowing for him and upsetting for family, Carmelite brothers and all who loved and cared for him. There were moments of great disappointment for Billy along the way, especially when he could no longer drive the car or travel to family gatherings in Spain and Germany. Billy’s tenacious spirit meant that he always tried to do as much as he possibly could for himself.
Through the difficult years and months Billy’s faith held firm and he was determined to nourish it with prayer and participation in daily Eucharist. He was true to Chapter 14 of the Carmelite Rule ‘you are to gather daily in the morning for Mass, where this is convenient’.
The last two weeks were very peaceful for him. He slept quietly while Carol and Derek, extended family, Carmelites and friends spent time by his bedside assuring him of their love and care. The nurses and carers looked after his very frail body with gentleness.
William Langan, fondly called Billy by family, friends, Carmelites and all who came to know him, was born on August 31, 1938. His life was joined to the life of the Risen Christ through the Sacrament of Baptism at St Andrew’s Church, Westland Row. The life of Christ in him was nourished by the faith and example of his parents and family. Billy participated in the life of his then parish church, Our Lady of the Rosary, Harold’s Cross, as an altar server, and it was here in the College that he came to appreciate the Carmelite spiritual tradition.
Billy really enjoyed his schooldays at the College where, in his own words, ‘he engaged in everything that wasn’t study’ but he didn’t lose sight of that either! He made lifelong friends and was President of the Past Pupils’ Union in 1985. Billy was the sort of young man who gains much from a school where there is a wide range of what is now called co-curricular activities. In the pages of the Annuals for the first half of the nineteen fifties he features in rugby, cricket, athletics and chess, but it was in tennis that he really excelled. In a report on Junior tennis in the 1953 Annual it reads, ‘William Langan a determined player….a force to be reckoned with’. I would suggest that those qualities which he exhibited on the tennis court in 1953 defined something of the Billy Langan that we all knew but tempered with great kindness, generosity and a sense of fun.
On August 13, 1956, William Langan represented Leinster against Ulster in the Irish U-18 Interprovincial Tennis Championships. Three weeks later he went to the Carmelite novitiate in Kinsale. I have been told that there were some disappointed young ladies in Templeogue Tennis Club!
He made his First Profession on September 15, 1957 having decided to live ‘in allegiance to Jesus Christ’ in the Carmelite Way with our particular emphasis on contemplation, community and service. Billy placed his natural talents at the service of Jesus Christ as a Carmelite.
After First Profession he moved to Gort Muire for studies at UCD and at Gort Muire itself. He graduated from UCD in 1960 and in 1961 he was awarded the Higher Diploma in Education. He was ordained to the priesthood with Fr Des Kelly – who read the Gospel today – at Clonliffe College in December 1964. Soon after ordination Billy was assigned to Carmelite College, Moate. It was 1965 and modernisation was just about starting in Ireland. Mrs Langan, when she heard of the appointment, and ever a true Dubliner, is reputed to have remarked to one of the Carmelites here in the College, that the Provincial ‘might as well have sent him to the Missions’. But distance from Dublin or poor roads didn’t deter Billy, and he went on to spend seventeen very happy years in Moate as teacher, coach in racquet sports, organiser of tennis tournaments, producer of plays, and later College bursar.
In 1982 he moved to Terenure College as chaplain and later College bursar. Again racquet sports were promoted by him with many notable successes. In 2000 he was appointed Prior/Bursar at Gort Muire, an office he held for six years. By 2008 the beginnings of his final illness were becoming noticeable.
Beloved brother and uncle, Carmelite and priest, teacher and friend, sportsman and coach, compassionate and charitable. Many of us here today are grateful for the part he played in our lives. On a personal note, I first met Billy as a schoolboy in Carmelite College, Moate. We didn’t agree on everything! I called to see him in his room at Gort Muire a couple of months ago, and when I left he said to the nurse, ‘I knew him as a schoolboy, but he was Fine Gael’. To Billy I was always a hopeless case politically!
From 1957 Billy belonged to two families – his natural family and the Carmelite family. He was a good brother to his fellow Carmelites but, naturally, he retained a deep and abiding love for his parents, sister, brothers, niece, nephews and the extending family. Last year, when his grandnieces from Germany visited I saw his, and their great, joy. Carol and Derek, I know that he was a stalwart in good times and in sad times. I appreciate how you, his niece, Carol, and nephews, Manolo, Roger and Christopher, already miss him. It has been said that ‘grief is the price we pay for love’. You are sad today because a loving brother and uncle has gone from among you, but your sadness is soothed by the knowledge that he is resting in the peace of God.
There is so much one can say about Billy. Most of his life was action packed. Yet, he never lost sight of the One to whom he had dedicated his life – God in Jesus Christ. I know that he would like me to underline his faith in Jesus Christ and his devotion to Mary, Our Lady of Mount Carmel.
I feel that Billy would want us to take to heart the words of St Paul in the second reading – ‘proclaim the message whether the time is favourable or unfavourable’. In other words, live your faith in Jesus Christ, be in communion with him, do what he tells you, always say and do the right thing, even when it might be socially or politically unpopular. ‘I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith’. Billy, we entrust you to the safekeeping of our loving God. Rest in peace.