Remembrances for our Deceased Brothers
Fr Patrick (Richard) Cunningham, O.Carm. (1936–2017)
Sermon given at the Requiem Mass in White Abbey, Kildare Town, on May 13, 2017, by F. Burke, O.Carm.
Fr P.J. died as he lived, causing little or no fuss to anyone. It was typical of the man: serene and tranquil to the end. We thank God for his long and full life, he was in his eighty-first year and fifty-third year of priesthood.
Fr P.J. was born, one of a family of eight, in Mountmellick, Co Laois. After secondary school in Terenure College in Dublin, he entered the Carmelite Order. He graduated from University College, Dublin, with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Irish and French. Having completed his Higher Diploma in Education, he taught in Terenure College. Despite the passage of time, he is still fondly remembered there.
However, teaching was not his first love and the next three decades of his life were spent in our friaries in Knocktopher and Kildare and for a short time in Moate. He moved to Gort Muire in 2001, from where he carried out an active ministry of officiating at marriages – which he loved – visiting the bereaved and assisting in local parishes. The country friaries were where he was most contented and he is warmly remembered and deeply loved by many people who came in to contact with him during those decades of dedicated ministry.
Fr P.J. was an intriguing man who made an immediate and lasting impression on people. He loved meeting people and his many interests in music, sports, yoga, swimming and nature made him relaxing and engaging company.
In Community, Fr P.J. was an easy man to live with, he had a gift for Community: gentle, even-tempered, obliging, never critical or cranky. Whatever way we want to define or describe prayer, Fr P.J. was a man of deep faith, prayer and meditation.
The poetry of Joseph Mary Plunkett, who found inspiration in the beauty of the natural world around us, inspired Fr P.J. too. ‘I see his blood upon the rose, and in the stars the twinkling of his eyes, his body gleams amid eternal snows, his tears fall from the skies.’ Fr P.J. could pray with the same ease, contemplating a beautiful river scene or a fine copper beech tree as if before the Blessed Sacrament: for him, God was present equally in both situations.
Sometimes it is the little things in life which give us an insight into a person. For example, Fr P.J. was always very kind to many young Carmelites, from various parts of the world, who came to study English in Dublin and he would take them to Glendalough in Co Wicklow, to the Forty Foot at Sandycove, Co Dublin, and often to visit his own family. He had an eye for the lost and the stray.
Throughout his life Fr P.J. retained a great love for his family. His family in return were very close to and supportive of him; an immense blessing in the life of a priest.
When word of his illness began to spread, we were inundated in Gort Muire with phone calls and messages from people inquiring about him and praying for him. Fr P.J. loved people, people energised him. He had a rural curiosity about people, where they were from and to whom they were related. He had a special interest in tracing people from Laois.
We live in a harsh world and there is always the danger that we will become hardened ourselves, inured to the needs of those around us. The gentle, comforting and reassuring presence of Fr P.J. to people in need, the sick, the bereaved or troubled, will be a treasured memory for many, many people. He had a particular sensitivity to and feeling for people with any kind of depression or prone to dark days. He related readily to an amazing range of people, from the most glamorous woman to the youngest child.
Words of encouragement came easily to Fr P.J. He enjoyed encouraging others. Words of thanks and appreciation came readily to him too. He deeply appreciated the care he received from so many people in the final weeks of his life.
In the gospel today, Jesus describes himself as the Good Shepherd, a much-loved image of our Saviour. Fr P.J. was a good shepherd, he cared, he made time for people. He had a deep concern for people and their well-being. He will be sorely missed. May the love of God, warm and true, touch and heal the hearts of all who mourn him – and they are many.
I conclude with a thought from St Teresa of Avila which Fr P.J. was fond of quoting:
Let nothing trouble you,
Let nothing dismay you,
All things pass.
God does not ever change.
He who has God
Wants for nothing;
God alone suffices
For Fr P.J., the winter has passed and he has entered the springtime of a new life.
Today, Fr P.J. goes home: home to Jesus and to Mary, Mother of Carmel, to whom he devoted his life, and home to Mountmellick where we will take Fr P.J. and gently lay him in the arms of his beloved parents, Elizabeth and Patrick.