Fr Paul (Mark) McChrystal, O.Carm. (1935-2011)

Given at the Requiem Mass in Terenure College Chapel on May 26, 2011, by M. Kilmurray, O.Carm.

The Eucharist is the most appropriate setting for us Christians to say farewell to a fellow Christian who has died. It is the memory of the Crucified and Risen Christ, celebrated in the Eucharist that helps sustain our hope in eternal life. Our faith in the Crucified and Risen Christ is the foundation for how we, as Christian, view death. An atheist or a materialist will view death as a decline into oblivion, into nothingness. Our faith in the Risen Christ gives us the conviction, indeed, the comfort that at the point of death life is changed not ended. When St. Thérèse of Lisieux was dying she said ‘I am falling into the arms of God’.

This morning last week I sat beside Paul at breakfast in Gort Muire. We talked about the inspiring and reconciling speeches given by Queen Elizabeth and President McAleese at the State Dinner in Dublin Castle the evening before. We both agreed that these were significant days in the history of our island. Paul was in good form and there was little indication that he would be gone from among us within two days.

Paul is the name which Mark McChrystal was given when he joined the Carmelites at Kinsale in 1966. He was then thirty-one years old. His decision to become a Carmelite had not been taken lightly. He had prayed and talked about the decision. He had the support of his parents and family. Paul Mark had grown up in a large and loving family in the Waterside, Derry City.

He now belonged to two families – his natural family and the Carmelite family and he loved both of them. Paul Mark kept close contact with his family in Derry, visiting them and holidaying with them. He bonded with his Carmelite family and was a good brother to his fellow Carmelites. I never heard Paul complain about the life in the Order. He was happy and was always ready – while his health permitted – to take on the appointments and the ministries assigned to him. On the day of his first profession – February 11, 1967 – Paul Mark 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.

I first met Paul at our international college in Rome – Saint Albert’s – in the early nineteen seventies. He was a good deal older than most of the other students but he was an encouraging and mature presence among us. I am sure that life as a student wasn’t all that easy for someone in the mid to late thirties. But Paul was ever positive and grateful for the opportunity he was being given to study for priestly ministry at the Beda College. He enjoyed the new experiences of Rome – not least the pasta!

Paul was ordained priest in March 1975 and soon afterwards he was appointed to Kinsale where he served as Prior. However, in 1978 he went to St. Mary’s Parish, Abercrombie Street, Glasgow – a parish for which the Carmelite Order had recently accepted pastoral responsibility. Paul Mark would spend the next sixteen years at St. Mary’s, sixteen very fulfilling years for him. They were years he often liked to talk about. His easy and gentle manner endeared him to the parishioners. He loved to play Santa Claus at the Annual Christmas party. His great smile and rotund figure made him eminently suitable for the role. He was very proud when a picture of him as Santa Claus appeared in the local newspaper.

As curate, and later as parish priest, Paul was very generous in his ministry to the people of St. Mary’s. The presence of Monsignor Peter Smith, from the Glasgow Archdiocese, at this Funeral Mass is an indication of the esteem in which Paul Mark was held at St. Mary’s and in the Archdiocese of Glasgow.

At St. Mary’s, and later as parish priest of Ballyhale/Knocktopher in Co. Kilkenny, Paul Mark lived out the exhortation of St. Paul to Timothy in the Second Letter – proclaim the message, always be sober....carry out your ministry fully.

Zimbabwe was a new adventure for Paul when he volunteered to go there after he had completed his time in Ballyhale/Knocktopher. He was appointed Prior at Mutare where he was a great support and friend to the then Commissary Provincial, John McGrath. He was hospitable to visitors and ministered to the Sisters – the Handmaids of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. I received a message of sympathy, and appreciation of Paul, from the Mother General, Evelyn Kadzere, in recent days.

When Paul became ill in Mutare in 2007 he felt that it was time to return to Ireland. He was appointed to the Moate community but it soon became necessary for him to join the Gort Muire community. The past four years were not easy for Paul. The surgeries were traumatic for him and the recovery was slow. I feel that he endured more discomfort than we always appreciated. But he remained faithful to the Eucharist, to prayer and to the brotherhood. He participated in the prayer and life of the community to the extent that his health allowed him. He especially enjoyed listening to music in his room. He kept in touch with his family.

Paul Mark was defined by his deep faith; by his close and loving family – his parents Mary and John, his sisters and brothers, in-laws, nieces and nephews; by his life as a Carmelite and priest; by his sense of always wanting to do things right; by his sense of fun and enjoyment.

Our sadness is real as we bid Paul Mark an earthly farewell today. But our sadness is mingled with our hope and expectation that where he has gone we will follow.

 Our Gospel reading gave us the promise of Jesus to his disciples ‘I am going to prepare of place for you. I will return to take you with me so that where I am you may be also’.

St. Paul reminded us that we are loved by God in death as in life: ‘neither death nor life...not any created thing can ever come between us and the love of God made visible in Christ Jesus our Lord’.

We continue our Christian journey with the faith and hope that Paul Mark is now enjoying the peace of God.

Paul Mark, it is our prayer that you have fallen into the arms of God whom you served so well as a Christian and as a Carmelite.