Remembrances for our Deceased Brothers
Fr Noel (Fergus) O’Loan, O.Carm. (1933 – 2015)
Given at the Evening Prayer in Gort Muire on September 7, 2015, by F. Burke, O.Carm.
I welcome all who have come to Gort Muire this evening to pay their respects to Fr Noel Fergus O’Loan and to give thanks to God for his life and his ministry. We, his Carmelite brothers in Ireland and in Zimbabwe, extend our deepest sympathy to you his family: his sisters Ann and Pat, his brother Fergus, sister-in law Maureen, brothers-in-law Paschal and Des, nieces, nephews, grandnieces and grandnephews, extended family and friends. Our thoughts and prayers are with his sister, Sr Deirdre, in Singapore, and his brother, Aidan, in London.
Fergus was born in Kanturk, Co Cork, in 1933. He made his profession in the Carmelite Order in 1952. He graduated from UCD in 1956 with a B.A. in Irish, English and Maths and, having completed his studies for priesthood, he was ordained priest in 1960.
In 1961 Fergus went to the missions in Rhodesia, Zimbabwe as we know it today. Those of us who did not know Fergus as a young missionary can only imagine the enthusiasm with which he threw himself into his missionary work. A missionary has to love his people, win their trust, learn their language and their culture and above all to share with them the Good News of the Gospel, the saving message of Jesus Christ. Such was Fergus’s ability to communicate with people he would have got his message across to the Shona people even if he had never learned their language! Fergus’s fine intelligence, his wit and sense of humour, his essential decency and goodness, stood him in good stead in his ministry and endeared him to the people among whom he worked. He worked hard, called a spade a spade and spoke his mind with honesty.
Fergus worked in St Benedict’s mission (returning to it after the war and helping to rebuild it), Mutare Priory, St Barbara’s and St Thérèse missions and Kriste Mambo High School. He was proud of the fact he was elected by his Carmelite confreres to be Superior of the Missions, serving in that role from 1976 to 1982. Superior of the Mission is an onerous task at the best of times. Fergus was superior at a very difficult time in the life of the country as the war of liberation was being fought and the missionaries found themselves in an invidious position caught between both sides. The safety and well-being of his Carmelite confreres were major concerns. During this time, Carmelites were harassed, jailed and expelled by Rhodesian authorities.
All this took a huge personal toll on Fergus and he lived with the consequences of that trauma till his death. At the end of the day we could say in truth that he left his heart in Zimbabwe. Up to a day or two before his death, when Richard and Paddy visited him, the mention of Zimbabwe brought a glint to his eye and a smile to his face.
Fergus was fortunate to have lived to see the mission thrive and develop and, with justifiable pride, see his labours and sacrifices bring forth a rich harvest. The future of the Carmelite presence in Zimbabwe is now in the hands of the many young Zimbabweans who have committed to the Order over recent years.
On his return to Ireland Fergus ministered in Knocklyon Parish and then in Whitefriar Street. He moved to Gort Muire five years ago. The Carmelite Community at Gort Muire along with the nurses and carers and the catering staff will miss Fergus. One was never long in Fergus’s company until he related one of his legion of stories or jokes and before long you were joined in laughter with him. He was a gentleman to care for and look after, always grateful for anything that was done for him. I would like to express my thanks and appreciation to all the nursing and catering staff here in Gort Muire who cared for Fergus over the past five years. We miss his presence keenly.
The words of St Paul come readily to mind when we think of Noel Fergus: I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. For those who believe in Jesus, our Risen Saviour, life is changed not ended.
The Carmelite, St Thérèse of Lisieux, said of her approaching death: “I am not dying I am entering life”. We could use these words about Fergus’s death yesterday morning.
Fergus, with thanksgiving and many happy memories, we entrust you to our Loving Father and to Mary, mother of Jesus, to whom you dedicated your life.
Given at the Requiem Mass in Carrick-on-Shannon on September 8, 2015, by J. McGrath, O.Carm.
Our first reading today, from the Book of Micah, Chapter 6, Verse 8 – You have already been told what is right and what Yahweh wants of you. Only this, to act justly, to love tenderly and walk humbly with your God – words of Scripture which were close to the heart of Noel Fergus O’Loan. That we act justly, love tenderly and walk humbly with our God, the higher values of life, what matter most in life, were all very close to the heart of Fergus O’Loan.
Our main celebrant today, Fr Richard Byrne, our Provincial, has asked me to recall some of Fr O’Loan’s years of ministry in Zimbabwe from 1960 to 1984. Fergus received various assignments during his early years of ministry in Zimbabwe, at St Barbara’s Mission and St Thérèse Mission in the Diocese of Mutare. He ministered for many years at St Benedict’s Mission, again in the Diocese of Mutare. St Benedict’s Mission, founded by the Jesuit Missionaries during 1912, celebrated their Centenary in October 2012. St Benedict’s Mission personnel catered for a great number of people in a large pastoral area and also provided education for both local and boarding pupils at secondary level. The Mission also provided education for primary school pupils from the local area. Fr Fergus was very much involved in the development of the secondary school on the Mission while Frs B. McGivern, O.Carm., and A. Bowe, O.Carm., shared in the pastoral care of the Mission area. They also of course shared in the development and the various ministries of the Mission. During that time in Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, the Churches and missionaries provided secondary education to African children, the State provided very little or no educational institutions for the African boy or girl. Fergus was very meticulous in his planning of the class rooms, boarding facilities, teachers’ houses, staff rooms, offices and all the buildings required for secondary education at that level.
Fr Noel Fergus O’Loan was the Carmelite Regional Superior, now the Commissary Provincial, from 1976 to 1982. It was a most difficult time as the struggle for independence in Rhodesia/Zimbabwe intensified. During the years of war, from about 1973 to 1979, our Carmelite personnel – together with all missionaries in the country – were caught up in a most difficult situation. Fergus, as Commissary Provincial, was very much involved in the safety and security of our personnel which numbered about forty at that time. Again, during the post-war years, Fergus was involved in the restoration of missions, in particular St Benedict’s which was vandalized during the years of war. After his term as Commissary Provincial he was assigned to Kriste Mambo Secondary School where he ministered until his return to Ireland in 1984.
Noel Fergus O’Loan was a character! His stories were somewhat exaggerated to say the least and it was hard to know what to believe or what not to believe! At the back of it all he was a true gentleman, very polite, seldom spoke badly of anyone. Perhaps he had in mind the old saying ‘That there is so much good in the worst of us and so much bad in the best of us, that it ill-behooves any of us to speak about the rest of us’. He seldom spoke badly of anyone.
Fergus was a Carmelite, a priest, who used his talents generously for many years. May he be rewarded for his generosity and may his soul rest in peace.