Fr Patrick (Leo) Gallagher, O.Carm. (1928-2018)

Sermon given at the Requiem Mass in Gort Muire, Ballinteer, Dublin, on June 16, 2018, by Conrad Mutizamhepo, O.Carm., Councillor General for Africa.

Nzombe huru yakabva mukurerwa!
(Even the great ones have been raised up)!

Fr Patrick (Paddy) Leo Gallagher, the proud Sligo and Irish man has gone. For him life is transformed, not ended, but the connections he built will endure. He was committed to his Gallagher Family as a son, elder brother, uncle and grand-uncle, but Christ was his first love. Fr Paddy grew to be a big tree on which many people came to pick his good fruit, to rest, and to take shelter! A big tree has fallen! Muti mukuru wapunzika! Tasara tisina pokuhwanda! Fambai zvakanaka Baba Leo! (A big tree has fallen. We have no shelter, for you were our refuge. Go well Fr Leo!). You were a blessing from God. Fr Leo, you gave yourself to God, to the Church, to the Carmelite Family and to humanity.
By the bonds of Carmel you were a challenging formator (to me and my fellow Zimbabwean Carmelites for eighteen years), a humorous brother and a fair colleague. The Psalmist can give us an insight into what our response to Leo’s passing can be: I (Psalm 89 [90]:10). Yes, life is short and fleeting – even eighty-nine years passes in struggle! But Leo was one of the stronger ones: in Zimbabwe he used to say: ‘We men are tough!’ By this he meant that he could endure a lot. When he advanced in age he then switched the phrase to: ‘It’s alright for you young men’ or ‘Another clean shirt’. What can I say about Leo?
Five words describe Fr Leo:
Leo was very human. He acknowledged his addiction to nicotine and his struggle to rid himself of dependency on it. One of the great signs of his discipline was giving up smoking without in the least being puritanical with those colleagues who continued to smoke. Leo fought the good fight for Christ. He ran the race. He kept the faith in Christ. From Fr Leo we learn that holiness is not an accomplished state of sanctity achieved by distant yesteryear legendary figures. No, holiness is about trying to live with faith, hope and love in the highs and lows of life. It may have been the fact that Leo had reconciled with his humanness that he was a person endowed with a deep respect for other people. The many messages of condolences which have been received point out that Fr Leo was a good and fair man! His Irish humanity connected and blended well with the African sense of ubuntu, an African religio-philosophical approach that prizes building relationships of social responsibility, mutual assistance, care and respect. We thank the Gallagher Family for raising up a man with a high social consciousness which the Carmelites shaped to new dimensions. Fr Leo, munhu aiva nounhu! (a man of character and principles) a fact acknowledged in the condolence messages I have received:
  • Ah! Fr Leo... Great man. Caring to the core.
  • Rest in Peace my guardian, my teacher ... committed to uplift people.
  • Ever smiling, very jocular and hardworking.
  • He was always there for the people.
  • A gentle person full of humour and patience... He allowed us to make mistakes and gently correct us.
Fr Leo was a father and great missionary. He joined the Carmelites in 1947 because he had learnt that Carmelites were missionaries to Southern Rhodesia! He was sent there during 1955. For him the Great Commission of Jesus – ‘Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you’ (Matthew 28:19-20) – needed to be realized in his own person. What is it to be a missionary? To be a missionary is to be a person infused with love – love for God and love for one’s fellow human beings. Raised Catholic, Leo discovered his vocation as a response to Christ and a service of the Gospel among the people of my country. His life of faith was reflected through his humanity and his life of faith.
Leo was deeply spiritual and a man of prayer. His refrain to us was always: be men of prayer. His strength and courage flowed from his encounter with the Lord in prayer. From his prayer encounter he drew inspiration to teach, educate and instruct. To our Sisters, the Handmaids of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, he was a spiritual director and confessor for nine years. One way of understanding Leo’s life is that, like the Eucharist he celebrated daily, his life had become Eucharistic, following the example of the Good Shepherd, Christ our Lord. Like the Master who gave his life for the flock, Leo laboured to preach the Lord and to reflect the light of Christ to people. Because of his caring solicitude, one former teacher at Kriste Mambo decided to become a Catholic. He brought the people he ministered to into his prayers. During meditation, when he was considering certain decisions he would sigh heavily, even distracting us! I used to wonder what it was he was agonising over. Like the bread that is taken, broken, blessed and given away, Fr Leo also offered himself walking the path of self-forgetfulness which drew people to Christ.
In his ministry among the people of Zimbabwe he cultivated a preference for the education of the girl child and concern for impoverished widows. Leo contributed significantly to the education by helping in the training of primary school teachers at St Theresa Mission, Chiduku, from 1961 until the War caused the closing of operations. For him, teaching was a vocation within a vocation. Whatever money he received for charity work he channelled to the education of scores of girls and boys and care for widows. In a society where there was a crisis of fatherhood, Fr Leo used his spiritual paternity to good effect witnessing in his person to the virtues of serene presence, gentle accompaniment, wise counsel and discernment and reader of the sign of the times. To some he spoke a prophetic word in respect of which vocation to follow. This too is captured in some of the messages of condolences:
  • He never said ‘no’ to any request to visit the sick or go for Masses even when he was visibly sick himself
  • He wanted novices to participate in the building of churches because he would say that ‘By investing our energy into building of churches we will appreciate their value and maintain them’.
  • Thank you so much for saving my life. You always stood by me since the first day you picked me where I was dumped. You were always by my side... You loved me like your own child. Thank you so much. May you Rest in Peace, Father.
Leo was an exemplary formator. He took up the ministry of formation in 1986 until ill health forced him to return to Ireland in 2003. He did not ask his novices what he would not do himself. His approach was in the mould of St Paul who dared to say: ‘I urge you, be imitators of me’ (1Corinthians 4:16). He was a committed and diligent formator who passed on the tradition of ora et labora. I can proudly testify that our formation was not intellectual downloading but very much apprenticeship. Upon hearing of a sickness or death, Leo would respond quickly in favour of service. He would cut short classes without cutting short the coverage of his teaching lesson plans and go to help much in the same way that Blessed Titus Brandsma wrote about – ‘only charity towards one’s neighbour can be the reason for leaving God for the sake of God’ (Deum propter Deum relinquere)! Fr Leo was vulnerably available to people, serving them even when he himself was unwell. It appears that he was in a constant struggle whether to help at this time or at a later time. He always chose to help in the moment that he had. And this was done in light of the Matthean account of the Last Judgement. Leo believed deeply that Jesus identified himself with the little ones of history and so he disposed himself to their service promptly.
Fr Leo challenged us to find ways of creatively expressing the Carmelite charism in a Zimbabwean way. On this path to inculturation of the Carmelite charism, he counselled that we would need to be rooted in the Scriptures, the Tradition of the Church, a clear understanding of the positives and negatives of our own culture and a deep love to live the Carmelite life of deep allegiance to Jesus Christ expressed in contemplation through prayer, fraternity and service of God and his people. After a conference on the Carmelite Rule conducted by Fr Kees Waaijman, O.Carm., in 1995, Fr Leo’s regard for the Regula Carmelitana grew as he sought to internalize it and reflect it to his novices. He spoke often about interiorization of the Rule as the clearest demonstration of one’s Carmeliteness. Some former novices have written to me among other things:
  • Few formators are like him in this life!
  • He enjoyed manual work and would say, lads, I love work. I cant watch people work for hours. The smile rarely left his face. Jolly good fellow. Taught us that a monastery should be self sufficient. Only that which you can’t surely produce should be bought.
I propose that our response to Leo’s passing be one of praise and thanksgiving. Here lies the remains of a committed and loving missionary and Carmelite. He touched many peoples’ lives by his selfless acts of compassion to serve others and save lives. He played his very significant part in the enlightenment of many young men and women, offering them half a chance at life through offering them an educational opportunity. Leo cared about people deeply and was totally available to them – at any time of the day or night! The springboard of all his apostolic activity lay in the Gospel: the Gospel nudged him into compassionate availability even when his body may have been broken.
       God be blessed in your life and death, baba Leo!
       God be blessed in the memories harboured in our hearts!
       Go well son of Éire, Go well missionary Carmelite among the people of Zimbabwe!

       Fambai zvakanaka, Baba!
       Tionane Mwari achida!
May Mary, Mother, Beauty, Sister and Patroness of Carmel intercede for you before Her Son and Saviour, Our Lord Jesus Christ!
May all the saints of Carmel welcome you to sing the praise of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit in the choir of the heavenly Kingdom!
Zororai murugare, Baba Leo! (Rest in Peace, Father Leo!)